Nats Win L.A. “Marathon” In 14

September 4th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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In what MLB pundits and analysts are describing as baseball’s “game of the year,” Adam LaRoche’s five RBIs off the bench and three separate comebacks in 14 innings of play yielded a dramatic 8-5 marathon victory for the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.

LaRoche was the hero of the game, but he wasn’t supposed to play at all. Coming into the game in the top of the 9th inning, LaRoche ‘s dramatic pinch hit home run tied the game at two apiece, while Denard Span’s single scored Danny Espinosa with the potential winning run.

LaRoche’s heroics seemed a fitting cap for the day that saw Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann throw 6.1 innings of four hit baseball. But the 9th inning home run was only the beginning of an up-and-down marathon fight that saw Washington use all but one of its players while skipper Matt Williams sent nine Nats pitchers to the mound.

The Nationals squandered what seemed like a solid win in the bottom of the 9th, when right fielder Jayson Werth lost a Justin Turner fly ball in the sun. The Turner fly tied the game and gave Rafael Soriano his sixth blown save of the year.

“It’s like the worst feeling in the world, helpless feeling,” Werth said of the play after the Nats win. “There is nothing you can do. You play this game long enough, it will happen to you. Unfortunately, it happened to me with two outs in a meaningful game.”

The Nationals then added two runs in the top of the 12th inning, with LaRoche once again the key to the rally. With the bases loaded following an Anthony Rendon walk and singles from Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, LaRoche came to the plate and stroked a two RBI single to left field — and suddenly the Nationals had a two run lead.

But, as was true all game for both teams, that lead didn’t last. With Tyler Clippard on the mound, the Dodgers fought back in the bottom of the 12th, with a dramatic two out home run from Carl Crawford once again tying the game. As Crawford’s home run sailed into the center field seats, both Span and Clippard looked on in disbelief.

“When he first hit it, I didn’t think it had enough to go over the fence for sure,” Clippard said of Crawford’s clutch home run. “I thought it might have been a double in the gap. I would have been OK with that. It was just frustrating. We had worked so hard to get to that point in the game.”

The Nationals saved the best for last. With the score tied at five runs apiece, Washington mounted a three run rally in the top of the 14th inning that dashed L.A.’s hope of a win in the game — and a win in the series. Once again LaRoche was at the center of the action — as his fielders choice ground scored Ian Desmond with the go-ahead run. Asdrubal Cabrera then followed that with a two run shot that sealed the Nats win.

“It was a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford said following his team’s loss. “Thought we had it, then we had like three chances to win it, and we just didn’t come through, so it was up and down, and it just didn’t go our way.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals used all of their position players in Wednesday’s marathon except for catcher Wilson Ramos. LaRoche finished at 2-3 with five RBIs on the afternoon, Asdrubal Cabrera was 2-6, with Bryce Harper going 3-6 . . .

The Nationals went deep into their bullpen after Zimmermann left in the 7th inning. Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Soriano, Craig Stammen, Xavier Cedano, Barrett, Blevins and Clippard pitched for the Nationals. Recently recalled Blake Treinen pitched the bottom of the 14th . . .

MASN announcers Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo described the marathon contest as “the most dramatic win of the season” for the Nationals. MLB Network commenters on MLB Tonight agreed, with Greg Amsinger describing it as “baseball’s game of the year . . .”

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Kershaw Too Much For The Nats

September 3rd, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Clayton Kershaw gave up just three hits and one run in eight complete innings of work on Tuesday night, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a ho-hum 4-1 victory over the Nats. The victory was Kershaw’s league leading 17th win on the season against just three losses.

The L.A. lefty’s only mistake came in the seventh inning, when he gave up a solo home run to Bryce Harper — a relative rarity in the Annals of Clayton Keshaw. “He just didn’t give us any opportunities,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of the southpaw. “That’s why he’s doing so well. He’s just not making any mistakes.”

“He is the best pitcher in baseball, hands down” said Harper, who went 1-for-4 in the game and notched his 11th home run on the season “He goes out there and locates his pitches. He has his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. He is very, very good.”

Kershaw showed why he’s in line to win the National League Cy Young Award, and why he’s also being mentioned as a front runner as league MVP. The L.A. southpaw, with the best curve that L.A. has seen since the days of Sandy Koufax, fanned eight and walked just two in throwing a three hit, eight inning victory. Kenley Jansen notched his 39th save of the season for the Trolleys.

The Nationals hoped to provide a counter to Kershaw in steady Doug Fister, but Washington’s righty gave up ten hits to the Dodgers over five innings of work (Fister couldn’t make it out of the 6th), which included an in-the-hole infield single to Adrian Gonzalez in the 5th (that scored Kershaw and Dee Gordon) and a home run to L.A. third sacker Juan Uribe in the 6th.

“The ball didn’t bounce our way tonight,” starter Fister said of his outing. “There were things that happened. I gave up a few hits. I have to be better. I have to be better picking up my teammates. It’s unacceptable for me. That’s what teams do. They pick one another up. I didn’t do that. I left the ball over the middle for Uribe. I have to be much better with him.”

Washington’s night included a muffed infield play in the two run fifth, when an in-the-hole Gonzalez grounder brought home both Kershaw and Gordon. Gordon should have been out on the plate on a throw from Desmond, but the shortstop wildly overthrew the ball, a rarity for the usually defense-oriented Nationals.

“I tried to throw it to first, I lost the grip, looked up and Dee Gordon is taking off for home. I just rushed it a little bit. I should have set my feet,” Desmond said of the play.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MLB Tonight’s Billy Ripken reminded viewers on Tuesday night that one of the biggest stories of the season is the seemingly sudden appearance of game-changing Cuban imports, including Cubs outfield phenom Jorge Soler . . .

Soler, the most recent rookie call-up of the retooled Cubs (they’ve won two in a row against the Brew Crew — and swept the O’s in mid-August), has only 22 at bats in the majors, but 11 of them have gone for hits, which includes three home runs and eight RBIs . . .

But Soler is only the second most exciting player in Chicago, bragging rights for the first spot still held by Jose Abreu, who is hitting a staggering .320 with a .381 OBP and .602 slugging percentage for the South Siders. Abreu has been on fire: he is hitting .500 in his last 12 games and is a lock-on favorite for the A.L.’s Rookie of the Year award . . .

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Span And Gio Lead The Nats In L.A.

September 2nd, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Two home runs off the bat of Denard Span, plus a solid six inning outing from lefty Gio Gonzalez, led the Nationals to a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Combined with a 7-0 shutout of the Braves at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals now lead the N.L. East by seven games.

Never known as a long ball hitter (the center fielder has 31 in his seven years in the majors), Span’s round trippers in the third and fifth innings provided Washington with two of its four home runs in the game. Span was 2-5 in the game with three RBIs. Jayson Werth and Asdrubal Cabrera also homered for Washington.

“I really can’t explain it other than the home runs come in bulk,” Span said of his two home run game. “I’m just hitting the ball pretty good. I’m going out there and not trying to hit home runs. I hit the ball hard somewhere, and that’s really it.” The Nationals have hit fourteen home runs in the last four games.

“It’s not something that we live by. We manufacture better than we hit homers, but we’ll take them. You can’t give them back. We’ll try to win games however we can,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his team’s home run outburst.

The Nationals homer fest in L.A. came at the expense of Dodgers’ starter Roberto Hernandez, who was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after giving up five hits and five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. Hernandez (now 2-2 on the season), attributed his poor outing to lack of command — leaving his fastball up in the strike zone to Nats hitters.

“I didn’t have command of my pitches from the first inning,” Hernandez said of his performance. “It was just a matter of things not working for me. It wasn’t that I had lost confidence.”

A frustrated Mattingly agreed that lack of command provided Washington with its early scoring opportunities:  “You get behind in too many counts and you’ve got to pay,” he said. “You help them a lot by continuing to get behind in the count.”

But while Hernandez might have lost his command, it was clear that southpaw Gio Gonzalez found his. Gonzalez, who has struggled in 2014, won his first game since his victory against the Cubs on July 5. Gonzalez picked up the victory by pitching six solid innings while striking out four.

A bevy of Washington relievers kept the Nationals in front, with Drew Storen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard giving up a single hit in two innings of work. As usual, closer Rafael Soriano provided a nail biting ending, giving up a run and two hits in the ninth inning before sealing his 31st save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Four Philadelphia pitchers combined to no-hit the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta on Sunday, providing the Phillies with a 7-0 blanking of their division rivals. While combined no hitters are unusual, they’re not a rarity. There have been eleven combined no-no’s in MLB history . . .

The combined no hitter came when Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg decided to pinch hit for starter Cole Hamels when the lefty’s pitch count reached 108 after six complete innings. With a runner on second in the 6th and the temperature in hot and muggy Atlanta soaring, Sandberg thought he had little choice. “He was pretty well spent there,” Sandberg said . . .

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Harper Homers Can’t Lift The Nats

September 1st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Two home runs from Bryce Harper, one in the second inning and one in the fourth, weren’t enough to lift the Nationals in Seattle, as Washington came out on the losing end of a 5-3 contest. The loss was the fourth in the last six games for the Nationals, who now travel to L.A. to face the Dodgers.

The Mariners win, which salvaged a single victory in the three game series, turned on the bat of Dustin Ackley, who homered and drove in four runs for Seattle — and made a loser of Washington starter Tanner Roark, who registered his ninth loss on the season against twelve wins.

The Nationals took an early lead in the game, posting single runs in the second, third and fourth innings off of Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma threw six complete innings of five hit baseball for his 13th victory on the 2014 campaign.

Seattle’s big inning was the fifth, when Brad Miller singled on a line drive to center, Austin Jackson followed with a soft single to left, and Ackley took a 92 mph Roark fastball deep to right field to plate Seattle’s first three runs.

Ackley, a highly touted draft pick out of North Carolina, has been a late bloomer for the Mariners. “Listen, he’s a good player,” Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon said of Ackley. “When he was drafted, he was the best college player in the draft, college hitter. Sometimes, it takes a while.”

The Nationals loss, coupled with Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins, narrowed Washington’s lead over the Braves to six games in the National League East. After two exciting victories in Seattle on Friday and Saturday, the Nationals offense was non-existent on Sunday, with Washington coming away with only six hits against Seattle pitching.

The good news for the Nationals is that, after several weeks of struggling (after returning from an injury that kept him out 57 games), Harper has finally found his groove — and his swing. Sunday’s outing gave him seven home runs in his last 23 games. The left fielder is hitting .306 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs since August 7.

“I feel pretty good out there. I’m trying to put together some good at-bats,” Harper said after his team’s loss. “I get my work in every day and see how I feel every single day. Stick to the same routine, same plan and try to execute.” New acquisition Nate Schierholtz also homered (in the third inning) for the home towners.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was all about pitching in Atlanta, where Braves southpaw Alex Wood struck out twelve in leading the Chops to a nail biting 1-0 victory over the lumbering Marlins. The Braves victory came off the bat of Evan Gattis, who’s second inning solo shot proved the difference in the game . . .

In San Francisco, meanwhile, the Giants showed they’re still very much in the race for the N.L. West flag by grabbing a sweep against the suddenly reeling Brewers. Sunday’s victory was a laugher, with San Francisco plating fifteen runs on sixteen hits. Pablo Sandoval had a two run homer and three RBIs in the victory . . .

The San Francisco win was the 15th on the season from Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, who notched seven strikeouts in six innings. The game also featured the first appearance of the season of Tim Lincecum in relief. The two time Cy Young Award winner pitched the eighth and ninth innings, but gave up two runs on three hits . . .

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Strasburg Sharp As Nats Sink Seattle

August 31st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.

The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.

“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.

“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”

The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.

The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .

Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .

Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .

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Nats HR Derby Downs King Felix In Seattle

August 30th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Six Washington home runs, and six steady innings from righty Jordan Zimmermann, pushed the Nationals past Felix Hernandez (perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in the American League), as the Nats went on to down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Park on Friday night, 8-3.

With “the King’s Court” along the left field line looking on in stunned silence, Hernandez gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon (in the first inning), Jayson Werth (in the third inning), and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — both in the fourth inning. It was the third poor outing in a row for Hernandez.

“It was a tough day,” Hernandez admitted to the press in talking about Seattle’s loss. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off.”

The victory snapped a three game losing streak for the Nationals, who were swept in Philadelphia earlier in the week. “They were aggressive with Felix,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted in speaking of his hitters. “They got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. But then, we put some good swings on it.”

Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, righted himself after a after a shaky first inning (Dustin Ackley tripled, Robinson Cano walked and Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager singled to score two), to throw six complete innings in striking out eight Mariners. This was Zimmermann’s tenth win of the season.

“I was a little strong the first, second inning. Fastball was up and I couldn’t get it down,” Zimmermann said after his team’s victory. “Throwing that many pitches helped me a little bit.”

The Nationals tacked on three runs in the 8th and 9th innings, once again as a result of the long ball. Bryce Harper hit the 50th home run of his career in the 8th, followed by a 409 foot shot by Wilson Ramos — his second home run of the game. Adam LaRoche put the game away in the 9th with a sacrifice fly that scored Denard Span.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched well in relief of Zimmermann. The trio gave up three hits and one run (all of them while Soriano was on the mound) in three innings of relief.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Atlanta Braves are gamely attempting to stay in the N.L. East race, downing the Marlins last night in Atlanta, 5-2. As usual, the Braves relied on the long ball to secure the victory, with Justin Upton and Jordany Valdespin each hitting home runs . . .

It’s interesting to track the fate of both the Nationals and Braves through a comparison of their schedules. Earlier in August, Atlanta made nearly the same road trip to the Left Coast that the Nationals are making now. The Braves dropped a three game set to the Padres, lost both of their games versus the Mariners and then (after facing the Nats), dropped three of four to the Dodgers at home . . .

Last night’s win in Atlanta kept the Braves just six back of the Nationals, as teams enter the final month of the season. An N.L. East pennant isn’t necessarily out of reach for Atlanta, but there’s only 29 games left to play and Atlanta would have to come close to sweeping Washington in the six games they have yet to play against them to have a shot at the flag . . .

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Swept In Philadelphia, Nats Head West

August 28th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Just a week ago the Nationals were the toast of baseball, having won 12 of 13 and authored a franchise high number of walk-off victories. But last night in Philadelphia the Nationals capped a poor three game showing against the Phillies by losing decisively, 8-4. The game marked one of the worst outings of the year from Nats starter Doug Fister.

“I let the guys down tonight with some bad pitches. That’s what it comes down to,” Fister said after his loss. “I didn’t do my job. Starting pitcher is supposed to set the tone and be the example, and from first pitch, I didn’t do that.”

The Nationals played well off their usual solid performance almost from the beginning of the game. After scoring two runs in the top of the first inning, Fister gave up a home run to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of that frame, while Philadelphia scored a second run on an unheard of error from center fielder Denard Span, who let a ball get past him.

While Fister threw into the sixth inning, he gave up ten hits and four earned runs in taking his fifth loss of the season. Fister also gave up a home run to Grady Sizemore in the sixth inning. “It’s just a matter of getting the ball down,” Fister said in explaining his so-so outing. That’s the key to any sort of success. And it’s going to be something that I really have to bear down on.”

The homer happy Phillies hit three round trippers in all in the game; in addition to Rollins and Sizemore, veteran Marlon Byrd hit his 24th of the season off of lefty reliever Ross Detwiler The Nationals fought back to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but a three run sixth (with a key hit from Dominic Brown) and a two run seventh (Byrd’s home run) put the Nationals out of the game.

The Nationals attack was led by Span, who hit his second home run of the year in the fifth inning off of Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick (who notched his seventh win of the season) and Ian Desmond, who was 3-4 on the night.

“I think it’s going to be good for us to get an off-day tomorrow,” Desmond said after the three game sweep in Philadelphia. “Everyone regroup and then go into the next series and forget about this one.” The Nationals now head to Seattle, where they will face the revived Mariners in a three game set.

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