Zimmerman Single Seals Series Win

July 6th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals got a taste of Cubs righty Jake Arrieta on Sunday, and he was everything Cubs fans say he is. Arrieta battled Washington ace Jordan Zimmerman for six full innings, a toe-to-toe pitching duel that was among the best played and hardest fought games at Nationals Park this year.

But the difference between Arrieta and Zimmermann in this game was that when Zimmermann left the contest (after throwing 105 pitches and keeping the Cubs off the board), the Nationals had supported their starter by scoring a single run, which was something the Cubs had failed to do for Arrieta.

It’s not surprising, then, that Sunday’s match-up came down to who had the better bullpen — and the better clutch hitting. In the end, Washington proved why their relievers are considered among the best in the game, while Cubs relievers are just so-so (and are 13th in the majors), with Pedro Strop giving up the go-ahead run on a single off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman in the 8th inning.

Zimmerman’s hit gave the Nats the win, as closer Rafael Soriano came on in the 9th to shut down the Cubs, notching his 21st save on the year. It was another high pressure performance from the Nationals third sacker, known for his plate discipline in clutch situations when playing at home.

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“It’s good to get the win against these guys,” Zimmerman said after the game, “and its good that we have such strong starting pitching. This was a tough game.”

The Cubs Arrieta (“he came as advertised,” Zimmerman said), agreed: “It was a dogfight,” Arrieta said after the game. “I really had to grind it out there. I had guys on base. I had to make pitches in big situations. I was able to do that.”

In fact, the Cubs outhit the Nationals on Sunday, spraying ten hits against five Nationals pitchers, while the Nats made do with seven. But the Cubs weren’t able to move their base runners home, stranding 20 of them through nine innings and were 1-9 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals win gave Washington the series against a tenacious Chicago line-up, but the triumph didn’t come easy. Starter Jordan Zimmermann had to wriggle out of a jam in the 3rd, reliever Drew Storen got into trouble in the top of the 7th (and gave up the run that tied the game), and Tyler Clippard got in trouble in the 8th, but got two outs after putting two Cubs on base.

Zimmerman’s GW/RBI capped what was a monster series for him, as he now seems all the way back from an early season injury that sidelined him and left the Nationals line-up punchless. Zim has notched 13 hits in his last ten games, raising his average by 30 points. He was 6-12 in the Cubs series.

Jordan Zimmermann has been just as impressive, albeit on the mound. In June, Zimmermann put himself in contention for this year’s Cy Young, notching a 1.43 ERA in 44 innings. In all of June the Ace of Auburndale gave up six walks while striking out 41. Opponents in June hit .189 against him.

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13 Runs, 19 Hits — Plus Gio

July 6th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Saturday’s whipping of Chicago was an offensive outburst like no other, as the Washington Nationals sprayed 19 hits (including eight doubles) and scored six times in the 3rd and four times in the 7th, victimizing the suddenly pitching poor Cubbies, 13-0.

The offensive onslaught was supported by an outstanding outing from lefty starter Gio Gonzalez, who held the Cubs scoreless in eight complete innings. Gonzalez allowed just four hits in his outing, while striking out seven, notching his sixth win on the 2014 campaign.

“He stifled our offense,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the trouble his line-up had against Gonzalez. “He locates his fastball, works it to both sides of the plate. And his breaking ball is really good. … It’s got sharp, late break, good tilt. He can use it effectively against both lefties and righties.”

Every Nationals in Saturday’s line-up had a hit, including Gonzalez. Anthony Rendon was 3-4 (with three doubles), Jayson Werth was 3-4 (with two doubles), Ryan Zimmerman was 4-5 with three RBIs and Gonzalez stroked a 7th inning single that advance Wilson Ramos (who’d led off the inning — with a double).

“Obviously, this isn’t going to happen every day, but with the type of at-bats we put together today, even when the game is out of hand, it’s good to see every one grinding it out, even when it doesn’t matter,” third sacker Ryan Zimmerman, who is now hitting.272, said of the Nationals’ offensive outburst. “Everyone finished the game strong.”

The Nationals batted around in the third inning and scored six runs, eight Nationals batted in the 6th inning (while scoring “only” two runs) and nine Washington hitters came to the plate in the 7th inning, scoring four runs. The game marked the highest run and hit total for the home towners this season.

While Washington chased Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva after two innings, it was reliever Chris Rusin who was the designated goat for the North Siders. Rusin gave up nine hits and five runs in just 3.2 innings of work. Rusin’s shaky work raised his ERA from 1.80 to 6.23 on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s all about tunnels in Chicago. Both major dailies, the staid and standard Chicago Tribune and the tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, headlined Theo Epstein’s comment that yesterday’s swap of 40 percent of the Cubs rotation to Oakland now allows the North Siders to see “light at the end of the tunnel . . .”

We might expect Cubs fans to be skeptical, particularly after yesterday’s 13-0 drubbing of their beloveds at the hands of the Washington Nationals, but Epstein was all smiles during a press conference in which he announced the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. “We certainly hope we’ve improved our future,” Epstein said . . .

Epstein also said that the trade had nothing to do with Starlin Castro, who must be wondering what the Cubs are going to do with the (at least two) premium minor league shortstops (Javier Baez and Addison Russell — winging his way east to Chicago from the A’s), who are poised to challenge for his slot . . .

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Cubs Swap Samardzija, Hammel

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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It was a bad day for the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, as the Oakland Athletics pulled the trigger on a trade that strengthens their shaky but tough pitching staff — and makes them the odds-on favorite to not only seize the American League West division championship, but to play deep into October.

Just hours after taming a potent Washington Nationals line-up in a 7-2 Independence Day victory, Jason Hammel was shipped out to Oakland along with tough Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija. The two will buttress an Oakland starting rotation that has had trouble competing with the likes of the Detroit Tigers, which just swept the A’s in three straight.

In exchange, the Cubs received Addison Russell (one of baseball’s top shortstop prospects), pitcher Dan Straily (who will report to Triple-A Iowa) and developing outfielder Billy McKinney.

It is not clear why the Cubs decided to complete the swap with the A’s as opposed to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were rumored among the front runners (with the Baltimore Orioles) in the race to get Samardzija. It was also thought that the Cubs would trade their two pitchers in separate deals, instead as a part of a package.

Then too, the Cubs already have a top flight shortstop in Starlin Castro and a shortstop waiting in the wings in Javier Baez, though as MLB Trade Rumors noted, “But [Cubs] president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will gladly add the top-end prospect piece now and figure out any logjams in the future.”

For the Cubs, Russell has to be viewed as the key to the deal. It seems likely to us that when Billy Beane offered him to G.M. Jed Hoyer, the Cubs simply couldn’t pass him up. Russell is a solid hitter who grades out at 15-20-plus homers in the majors and a good glove. He’s as close as it’s possible to get to a “can’t miss” minor league middle infielder.

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Cubs Rout Roark, Nats 7-2

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Fresh off a sweep against the reeling Red Sox in Boston, the Chicago Cubs continued their mid-summer surge, touching Washington starter Tanner Roark for nine hits over seven innings, while coasting to a 7-2 victory over the Nationals at jam-packed Nationals Park on Independence Day.

This game looked lost from the start, with Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano stroking successive singles to start the game against a sluggish Washington defense. While Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play, his grounder was enough to score Coghlan, with the Cubs taking the early lead.

While Jayson Werth tied the game with his long overdue 8th round tripper in the bottom of that frame, the Cubs were off and running — putting single runs on the board in the 2nd and 3rd, then clinching the game with three in the top of the 9th.

This was Roark’s second straight poor outing against the North Siders: Back on June 27, Roark gave up four runs on ten hits in just six innings of work, while on Friday he lasted an inning longer while giving up nine hits. This was also Roark’s second successive loss; the righty is now 7-6 on the season.

Nationals skipper Matt Williams said that Roark was consistently missing his spots with his fastball, which is what got him into trouble. Roark agreed, shaking his head at his own performance, while giving credit to Chicago’s hitters. “They did what they did last time — base-hit me,” he said. “Got beat.”

The Cubs attack was led by Justin Ruggiano, who is now getting playing time in the Cubs outfield after nursing a strained hamstring for the last month. Ruggiano was 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs. His third inning home run was absolutely tagged, landing well up in the outfield stands in left center field. Ruggiano is hitting .333 over the last ten games.

Cubs starter Jason Hammel kept the Nationals from putting together in-game rallies, providing continued evidence that he’s poison for the Nationals. Hammel threw six innings of five hit baseball and was irritated that he was lifted after the 6th inning — and unaware that he was about to be shipped to Oakland in a stunning pitchers-for-prospects swap.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were visitors from Miami down in Row AA, a family of Marlins baseball fans in town to enjoy Independence Day, visit the monuments — and take in a Nats game. The father, with son, wife and daughter in tow, gave the section some much-needed leavening . . .

The Marlins family was particularly outspoken after hearing fans criticize Bryce Harper for his recent comments on who should play where for Matt Williams, and grumbling about Jayson Werth when a first inning single fell in front of the normally wide-awake right fielder . . .

“You should try to root for the Marlins,” the father of the brood piped up in the 3rd inning. “You have a tremendous team here. Werth and LaRoche are terrific, you’ve got pitching top-to-bottom and look at this stadium. And we’ve got none of that.” His son shook his head: “We’ve got Giancarlo Stanton,” he said, “and from the looks of it, that’s what you guys need here . . .”

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The Iron Horse

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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On this Independence Day, major league baseball paid tribute to Lou Gehrig who, 75 years ago gave his famous “luckiest man speech” before a packed house at Yankee Stadium. In his address (July 4, 1939) Gehrig told fans that he was suffering from ALS, a rare fatal illness which affects muscle function without a cure. The illness forced Gehrig to retire from the game at the age of 36.

Seventy-five years later, baseball paid tribute to Gehrig the man. Here, we pay tribute to Gehrig the hitter: 2130 consecutive games (every day for fifteen years), 2721 hits, 1995 RBIs, 1888 runs, 534 doubles, 163 triples, 493 home runs, a career batting average of .340, a career .447 OBP, a two time MVP and a seven time All Star.

To celebrate Gehrig’s life, all players on Friday wore a Gehrig commemorative patch and select major leaguers read parts of Gehrig’s farewell speech as part of a video tribute. The only tasteless aspect of Lou Gehrig Day (in our humble opinion) was the decision of the Yankees to hand out a commemorative Lou Gehrig bobblehead . . .

“Fans,’ Gehrig said in his speech, “for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Strasburg, Werth Crush The Rox

July 2nd, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Nats ace Stephen Strasburg recouped from his last outing, when he gave up seven earned runs against the Brewers, by thrashing the Colorado Rockies in 7.2 dominant innings. Coupled with Jayson Werth’s stellar 2-3, three RBI night at the plate, the Nats forged a 7-1 laugher at Nationals Park.

Strasburg’s outing was among his best of the year. The righty threw into the eighth inning, giving up five hits while striking out eight and was only relieved after giving up a home run (to D.J. LeMahieu) and a walk (to Cory Dickerson) in the 8th inning. Long reliever Craig Stammen finished the game on the mound for the Nationals.

“I was able to command the fastball a little bit better,” Strasburg said after his strong performance. “They were fouling them off. I wouldn’t say they were great pitches. I was able to execute the pitch a little bit better. I had them put it in play and make weak contact.”

Rockies’ starter Christian Friedrich, meanwhile, was victimized by a line-up that hit him hard. But Colorado pitching, suspect all season, gave seven free passes on the night, which included Friedrich’s two walks to start the game. Washington scored three runs in the 1st and four runs in the fourth.

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Friedrich’s first two walks came back to haunt him. The Colorado youngster walked Denard Span and Anthony Rendon to start the game and they were driven home by a Jayson Werth double down the left field line that followed an Adam LaRoche single. A sacrifice fly off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman accounted for the first inning’s third run.

The Nationals continued the onslaught in the fourth inning, starting with a Stephen Strasburg double after Wilson Ramos struck out. Chad Bettis came on in relief of Friedrich, after the embattled starter walked Denard Span. But Bettis couldn’t close the door: An Anthony Rendon double scored Strasburg and Span, while another Jayson Werth double scored Rendon.

The Nationals have now won four in a row and are seven games over .500, their best mark of the year. “For the better part of the last few weeks, just the way we are going about it, the pitching has been great, the defense has been good,” Jayson Werth acknowledged after the team win. “The offense is coming around. I like the way we are setting up here going into July.”

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The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: There were complaints about the game from season ticket holders on Tuesday night, but they had nothing to do with the Nationals. “The only reason I got Rockies tickets was to see Troy Tulowitzki play,” one of the section’s regular complained, “and wouldn’t you know it — they decided to rest him . . .”

The comment sparked a lively argument on Tulowitzki’s career, which has been marred by injuries. “He’s the best hitter in the National League,” one fan claimed, a statement that garnered broad agreement, along with one dissent. “[Giancarlo] Stanton is better, more power,” this fan said . . .

This year’s statistics show the two in a dead heat: Tulowitzki leads the league in batting average, but Stanton has three more home runs (21 for Stanton, 18 for Tulowitzki). But Tulowitzki leads everyone in OBP, Slugging and OPS. The numbers show that Tulo is having a monster year . . .

Nor surprisingly, the other main topic of discussion focused on remarks made by Bryce Harper about who should be starting for the Nationals — and where. The comments generated a lot of criticism from baseball analysts, who reflected that Harper would be better off playing the game, while leaving the job of filling out the line-up card to Matt Williams . . .

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Purple Haze

July 1st, 2014  / Author: Mark

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies

It’s great to have the Rockies in town, even if we no longer get to watch Todd Helton. Helton was the face of the franchise for a decade before the arrival of Troy Tulowitzki. They were and are (both) great hitters, but then the Rockies produce hitters, which is not a surprise considering that they play in the thin air of Denver. Coors field is a hitters paradise, a stadium where hitters tee-off in those gaps, just as Helton once did.

But then there’s Troy Tulowitzki. He’s the best shortstop in the game, one of baseball’s best hitters and still the one in Colorado — the primary and perhaps the only reason why the people of Denver show up to watch their pathetically poor pitching team play (particularly with Carlos Gonzalez out with a very ugly, but apparently healing, finger injury).

Only once, one time, in the team’s twenty-one year history have the Rockies had a top-of-the-line overpowering arm on the mound. That was back in 2010, when Ubaldo Jimenez was 19-8, with a rising fastball that struck fear into anyone who dared crowd the plate. Even in 2007, when the Rockies climbed to the top of the National League, their pitching was just average.

So it was that last night (smack dab in the middle of the Nationals win) that we asked ourselves to rank the greatest Rockies pitchers of all time. Our speculation then was that the list would read a lot like the list of Belgium war heroes — not that long. And we assumed that former Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez would be right at the top of that list.

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