Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

August 10th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 4.12.35 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Nats Notes: The Road To October Still Goes Through Atlanta

August 9th, 2014  / Author: Jason Knobloch

St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals might have lost in Atlanta last night, but they’re still sitting on a solid lead in the National League East. And their lead is now the second largest in the majors (the Baltimore Orioles’ lead is just a tad more impressive). The recent homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Fighting Showalters, and the New York Mets delivered everything the Nats have been doing well and (let’s admit it) everything they haven’t.

The Nats were given a chance to set the pace for the NL pennant run, but they let two blowouts and a scraper to two sub-.500 teams get past them. As much as we like to complain about how well they should have done, we can take heart that the hated Atlanta Braves fared even worse. The Barves were swept on their West Coast road trip and returned to Atlanta reeling from an eight game dip.

Nice as it is that Washington is in first place, the Washington 9 get blown away whenever their starter has a meltdown — or can’t make it past the third inning. And they drop one and two run games whenever the bullpen can’t lock it down or the defense is sloppy. Conversely, they win squeakers when the pitching is on point, the defense is tight, and their baserunning is smart. And they blow away the other guys when everything is firing on all cylinders.

We admit — that’s pretty standard stuff for any team. When the Braves, Marlins, Mets or Phillies can’t “lock it down,” they look as bad as (or worse than) anyone.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the Nats could (just once) author a blow-out of the Chops (as they did with the Phillies) that would leave Fredi Gonzalez reeling, and the Upton Brothers wondering what hit ‘em. That’s the kind of win the Nationals need just now to seal the feeling of inevitability that’s the hallmark of a champ.

Pointing out the positives from the homestand, Bryce Harper’s two-run opposite-field walk-off homer in the 13th inning against the Mets was well timed, both for him and the team. Each of the outfielders (Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth) notched at least one outfield assist, and Span is working on a 34 game on-base streak, a definite plus for a lead-off hitter.

And there’s this: New acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera (2B) slotted right into the defense and even Danny Espinosa (2B) demonstrated that he shouldn’t be counted out of the lineup, at least when he’s batting right-handed.

That said, the team did some things that are still a cause for concern. Jayson Werth has been playing through tweaky knees and a sore ankle (“he’s pretty banged up,” the Post says) the past few weeks and it has shown in his defense. Lately, in right, it has taken him awhile to make it to balls down the line, in the corner, or blooped behind first. First-sacker Adam LaRoche, while healthy, has always been prone to streaks both hot and cold and, until his two-run homer on Wednesday, he’s been pretty cold.

So, was this the best homestand in Nats’ history? No, but neither was it the worst. All of the ingredients are there, a few nitpicks aside, and things should be trending up. A good test is the current series in Atlanta. The road to October always (always) goes through the Barves.

But never fear: this year, and thanks to the way the Chops are playing, that highway may actually be smoother than it’s been in a long time.

bal-2013-mlb-awards-fredi-gonzalez-20131007

 

Strasburg Stunned By 4 HRs, Nats Rally Falls Short

August 9th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg gave up a career high four home runs to the Braves last night on the road and a late inning rally for the home towners fell just short, as the Nationals fell to their N.L. East Division rival, 7-6. This was a tough outing for the young righty, who gave up seven earned runs in five complete innings.

“Just not executing pitches — that’s the bottom line,” Strasburg said after the loss. “It feels good out of the hand, I’m just not hitting the spot well enough. I really don’t know how to work on it. Some days I’m hitting the spot and some days I’m a couple inches up, so I’ve got to roll with it, try to miss down instead of miss up.”

Strasburg was shelled early. Atlanta’s Justin Upton homered after Strasburg walked Freddie Freeman in the first inning, B.J. Upton and Freeman homered off him in the second (both of them with two men on), and before Braves fans could stop cheering their team had put six runs on the board.

Even Atlanta’s hitters were surprised by their offense, but noted that they’ve always had success against Washington’s ace righty. “I can’t put a finger on that,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “He’s got great stuff. The mistakes he makes, for some reason, we’re able to hit them. That’s what he did tonight. He left some pitches out over [the plate], and we were able to jump on him early.”

Washington rallied against Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the sixth inning, when they tagged the Atlanta starter for four runs. An Asdrubal Cabrera single scored Scott Hairston and Anthony Rendon notched three RBIs on his fifteenth home run of the season. Washington added another run the next inning on a towering Wilson Ramos homer.

But the Washington rally fell short, as the Nationals couldn’t get to Atlanta’s bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel closing out the game to earn his 33rd save. “We were down early, but we fought back hard,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted. “An ordinary team would fold. Down that many runs early, it’s easy to fold. Our guys don’t do that. They fight until the end. They proved that once again tonight.”

Denard Span continued to swing a hot bat for the Nationals. The fleet center fielder was 3-4 on the night, while Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon accounted for five of the team’s six RBIs. Span has reached base safely in 34 straight games.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 9.35.50 AM

Harper Homer Hammers Mets In Extras

August 8th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

A Bryce Harper home run in the bottom of the 13th inning broke a 3-3 tie as the Washington Nationals took their three game set against the New York Mets 5-3, in walk-off style on Thursday at Nationals Park. The home run was only Harper’s fourth of the year, but it was probably his most important.

Harper’s dramatic and timely blast, a long line drive into the left field seats, came against Mets reliever Carlos Torres. “I knew it was gone. I mean, I felt it,” Harper said in his post-game comments. “I haven’t felt like that in a while. I haven’t got extension on a ball in a pretty long time.”

Harper’s home run provided an ironic coda to a mini-controversy that erupted when members of the press speculated that Harper might be demoted to Syracuse. The left fielder had been struggling at the plate, before going 2-6 on Thursday. “We’re all pulling for him,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said of his teammate. “Hopefully he gets out of this little rut he’s in.”

The Nationals and Mets were locked in a classic pitchers’ duel prior to entering extra innings, with righty Zimmermann facing off against flashy New York rookie Jacob deGrom — the best feel good story in the Big Apple this summer. Zimmermann was solid in 6.1 innings of work, while deGrom matched Zimmermann’s numbers through six complete.

The Nats got on the board first with two runs in the bottom of the second, with shortstop Ian Desmond depositing a deGrom fastball into the visitors bullpen in left center field. It was Desmond’s 18th home run of the year. Desmond’s long ball season has been matched by Denard Span, who continued his hot hitting. Span was 4-6 on Thursday, raising his average to an even .300.

New York responded with a single run in the top of the third. But a two run top of the 7th knotted the game at three apiece, with the Mets pushing across two runs on singles from Wilmer Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, an Eric Young, Jr. sacrifice fly and a Curtis Granderson RBI.

It was then that the Nationals bullpen went to work. Five Nats relievers went to the mound (Drew Storen, Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano and newbie Matt Thornton), before skipper Matt Williams brought Craig Stammen in to finish the game. Stammen was brilliant, throwing three innings of one hit baseball and taking the victory.

Stammen has been inconsistent over the last month, but his performance on Thursday showed why he’s so valuable for the Nats. “I felt more comfortable out there,” Stammen said of his performance. “I’ve been working on a few things that kinda clicked. Made some good pitches. Got some outs early and gave me a little bit of confidence and I could keep going.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 9.00.34 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: New York might be all atwitter over the arrival of rookie hurler Jacob deGrom, but nothing can match the excitement of Cubs fans, who are turning somersaults over the promotion of rookie second sacker Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa . . .

So far, at least, the 21-year-old Baez is everything the Chicago press has said he’d be. Baez has only had 14 at bats in the bigs, but they’ve been big ones, fueling fan excitement over what they hope will be a Cubs renaissance. Baez has taken Chicago by storm, going 4-14 in three games . . .

Yesterday in Colorado, Baez was 3-4 with two home runs and notched three RBIs against the Rockies, leading the Cubs to a ho-hum 6-2 triumph over the fast-sinking Heltons. On Tuesday, in his debut, Baez deposited a Boone Logan fastball into the far reaches of Coors Field to give the Cubs the win . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

LaRoche Rocks The Mets, 7-1

August 7th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

Adam LaRoche homered twice and Doug Fister threw 7.1 innings of six hit baseball, as the Washington Nationals downed the New York Mets at Nats Park on Wednesday night, 7-1. LaRoche’s two round trippers brought his total to 15 home runs on the year, while his RBI count stands at 59.

LaRoche is the first to admit that he’s been struggling at the plate, having hit a less-than-mediocre .159 in July while seeing his power numbers fall off. “It’s nice to see them go in the seats and not to the warning track or just foul,” LaRoche said after Washington’s victory last night. “I felt like I was snake bit last month.”

But if LaRoche has been struggling, Doug Fister has thrown his hat into the ring as Washington’s best front-of-the-rotation starter. The former Detroit righty now has 11 wins on the year against three losses and is the proud owner of a snappy 2.49 ERA.

On Wednesday against the Mets, everything seemed to be working for him. Fister threw 101 pitches, 69 of them for strikes and stymied a New York line-up that has often been the bane of Washington pitchers. The key for the Nationals is that Fister works quickly, which keeps the D.C. defense on its toes.

It helps the Fister doesn’t walk anyone, issuing only 1.20 free passes per nine innings. That skill was very much in evidence on Wednesday, as Fister issued zero base on balls and induced twelve ground ball outs. The Mets flailed vainly at his sinker.

The Nationals victory handed the loss to sore armed Mets starter and southpaw Jonathan Niese, who threw six complete innings while giving up six earned runs and eight hits. Niese took his eighth loss on the season against just five wins.

While LaRoche and Fister were the big stories from the Nationals win, the Washington Nine received unexpected help from Danny Espinosa, who rocketed a 386 foot homer to left field in the sixth, with Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper at the plate.

While Espinosa is not a fan favorite, he’s a popular teammate and has labored this season while playing second fiddle to a host of second sackers who are auditioning to take his place — including new Nat Asdrubal Cabrera. But Espinosa has taken on his new role with nary a complaint.

“It’s great,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said of the second sacker. “We all pull for each other, obviously. But Danny is one we really want to see him do well. The guy works so hard, hasn’t been getting in there a whole lot. He’s had some bad luck on top of that. It’s good to see him hit a big three-run homer for us.”

Washington’s win, coupled with an Atlanta loss (their eighth in a row) in Seattle opened a four game lead for the home towners over the Braves, who the Nationals will face this weekend.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 9.52.43 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Here’s a hint — don’t piss off Matt Williams. After saying during a radio interview that a young player who’s not hitting well is always in danger of being optioned to the minors, Williams was asked whether this applied to Bryce Harper, who’s been struggling at the plate . . .

During a pre-game meeting with the press on Wednesday, Williams lashed out at reporters, his standard low boil bubbling over and his eyes flashing in anger. Here’s what Williams said: “I would caution everybody in this room: The minute you think you can read my freaking mind, you’re sorely mistaken . . .”

Read the rest of this entry »

Lost Opportunities Sink The Nats

August 6th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

The book on Zack Wheeler is that if you give him enough time he will implode — losing his command, walking hitters and giving up key hits. But after a mid-game tweak on Tuesday, New York’s young righty worked through his problems and delivered a strong outing to lead the Mets to a 6-1 victory against Washington at Nationals Park.

“I didn’t have my best stuff. And it wasn’t very fun. But you’ve got to find a way through it,” Wheeler, who picked up his seventh win said after his victory. “You’re mad at yourself, and you’re trying to figure out what it is. I wouldn’t say it’s mentally draining, but it’s just frustrating.”

Which is to say: while Wheeler pitched well when he needed to, the Nationals failed to take advantage of his weaknesses and were unable to score big in a tough second inning that might have knocked Wheeler from the game. The Nationals scattered eight hits on the Mets, with Adam LaRoche going 2-2.

The lost opportunities continued on into the third inning, when Washington again seemed poised to score. Denard Span and Anthony Rendon led off the inning with singles, but Jayson Werth grounded into a double play. After Adam LaRoche walked, Ian Desmond followed with a ground out.

The Mets victory came against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, who had difficulties of his own. The southpaw pitched through six complete innings, but gave up four runs on six hits. While Tuesday marked an improvement over Gio’s last outing (a 3.2 inning eight hit disaster against Philadelphia), Gonzalez has not returned to the form the Nationals expect.

The Mets got a big night from Daniel Murphy who was 3-4 and pushed across two runs. Murphy has been the big bat this year for the Madoffs and last night raised his season batting average to an even .300. Murphy has shown he’s one of the best contact hitters in the league, leading the N.L. in hits with 137. At the age of 29, he’s arrived.

There’s little doubt that Washington has hit a rough patch, after performing well (and hitting well with runners on) against the hapless Phillies. The team has lost two in a row and is now just nine games over .500. Luckily, the Nationals have maintained their grip on the top spot in the N.L. East with the Braves losing seven in a row.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.45.29 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was forever our intention to provide a longish piece on Atlanta’s chances in the second half, but it never seemed to quite happen. What we were going to say was that the Bravos had recovered nicely from injuries to their pitching staff, and were poised for a solid run as top team in the N.L. East . . .

We were also going to mention that the Braves are a streaky bunch, having accumulated nine wins in row just before the All Star break, before going on a short but pointed losing streaking. Staying consistent (we were going to say), was Atlanta’s big problem . . .

The Braves haven’t done anything recently to change our view. The pre-All Star nine game winning streak has been more than offset by a cripping seven game losing skeen, complete with a 10-1 pasting at the hands of the Padres last Friday. That embarrassment inaugurated a San Diego sweep of the Bravos, who suddenly looked like they would join the Mets and Phillies as N.L. also-rans . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Strasburg Returns To Form, Blanks The Phillies

August 4th, 2014  / Author: Mark

Untitled

After a short stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field (where we saw the Indians blank the lowly Rangers, 2-0), we returned just in time to see Washington righty Stephan Strasburg reclaim his rightful place as the Nat’s starting ace. On Sunday afternoon, Strasburg showed the form that he first exhibited in his first 14k game, taming the Phillies with 10 strikeouts and leading Washington to a 4-0 victory.

Strasburg was dominant: he threw 17 of 25 first strike pitches, tossed seven complete innings, walked a single batter and lowered his season ERA to 3.39 in notching his eighth win of the season. “Stephen was the guy we went to the first day of the season, he’s the guy we went to after the (All-Star) break, and he’s proven why he’s a really good pitcher,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said after the win.

While baseball analysts point to Strasburg’s fastball as the primary reason for his success, the flamethrower’s most effective weapon on Sunday was his curveball and change-up, which had Phillies right handed hitters chasing balls that were low and away and had left handed hitters flailing at inside pitches on their hands.

“He was focused on every hitter,” Washington backstop Jose Lobaton said. “He was just in the corner a lot. He was throwing the breaking ball, changeup, he was using everything today. Everything was good. He knew what he was doing. Today, he was pounding the zone. The fastball had more life today. The key was, he knew the hitters.”

Strasburg (and Washington’s) victory came against Phillie Cole Hamels, who finds himself still in a Philadelphia uniform after everyone had him heading to nearly every team in baseball at the trade deadline. Hamels was not nearly as effective as Strasburg, but he put up a seven inning fight to keep his team within one run of the Nats through seven innings.

This was another wasted game for Philadelphia, which saw their GM do nothing at the trading deadline to improve the team’s chance of lifting themselves out of the National League East cellar. “Tough games, it comes down to timely hitting and execution,” Hamels said after the loss, his sixth of the season. “I wasn’t able to execute the one pitch, and then we weren’t able to execute and get some timely hitting.”

Washington piled on three runs in the eighth inning, after center fielder Denard Span had put the Nationals on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the third. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon each had RBI doubles for Washington.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.24.41 PM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re gone for three days and what happens? The Nationals score eleven runs on fourteen hits in a romp against the Phils (and who wouldn’t want to see that?) and Washington extends their lead over Atlanta in the N.L. East . . .

But the trip to Asdrubal Cabrera’s former home city was worth it — as we were treated to a 2-0 Cleveland Indians shutout over the holy-cow-are-they-bad Texas Rangers . . .

Our stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field provided us the opportunity to eyeball an Indians franchise that is gamely attempting to recreate the magic of the mid and late 1990s, when the Wahoos were the class of the American League and came itchy close to being the best team in the game . . .

Read the rest of this entry »