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,”┬áJayson 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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Harper Returns, Zim Leads Nats Over Rockies

July 1st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Bryce Harper returned to the Nationals line-up on Monday night in D.C., but it was Ryan Zimmerman who led the way, going 3-4 and leading Washington to a 7-3 victory over visiting Colorado. Harper, who was out of the line-up for the last 57 games, chalked up his first RBI since returning, singling home Zimmerman in the bottom of the 4th.

“It’s good to get that W. It’s huge,” Harper said following the Nats victory. The win allows the Nationals to keep pace with the Atlanta Braves, who beat the Mets in New York, and who remain one-half game in front of Washington in the N.L. East.

While the Nationals stroked nine hits against Colorado pitching, it was starter Jordan Zimmermann who kept the Rockies off the board. The righty gave up seven hits and struck out five in six innings of work, notching his sixth win of the season.

“I thought I pitched pretty well,” Zimmermann said of his outing. “I really had only two pitches — fastball and slider — the whole game. I didn’t throw any curveballs. I threw a few changeups. I mixed them up pretty good.” Drew Storen, Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins closed out the games for the Nationals, allowing Colorado a single run in the late going.

While Harper got most of the fan attention on Bryce Harper Bobblehead night, Zimmerman’s apparent return to form at the plate was the other big story. Zimmerman has been struggling since his return from the disabled list, hitting well below his usual .270-.290 clip.

The turning point in the game came in the bottom of the 6th, when the Nats broke through for five runs, sending 10 hitters to the plate against starter Yohan Flande and reliever Rob Scahill. The big blow was an Ian Desmond double, which scored Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: “So far as I know, Bryce Harper doesn’t fill out the line-up card,” MASN commenter F.P. Santangelo said last night during the Colorado-Washington broadcast. F.P. was responding to Bryce Harper’s pre-game comments that implied he should be playing centerfield, with Zimmerman in left, Espinosa at second and Rendon at third . . .

F.P.’s got it right, of course, and we agree. Boiled out to its minimum, Harper should not have said anything at all. Since we’re available for counseling, here’s what we would have Harper say: “I’m just happy to be back and will play where the skipper puts me,” or how about “these kinds of decisions show just how great this team is, with lots of everyday players . . .”

The Post’s Thomas Boswell danced all over Harper’s comments this morning, quoting G.M. Mike Rizzo’s defense of him. Harper, Rizzo recently said, “has had two great seasons.” But Boswell’s Fred Astaire routine couldn’t cover up his final judgment, which is F.P.’s — it’s Harpers job to be in the line-ups, not make them . . .

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That Other Chicago Team

June 29th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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There hasn’t been much to cheer about on the South Side of Chicago since the Pale Hose made their last, once-every-half-century, appearance in the World Series in 2005. The White Sox have flirted with greatness since (they appeared in the LDS in 2008, but lost) but mostly (mostly) have been vainly struggling to recoup their former 2005 triumph.

But this year is different. While the Aparicios are limping along at 38-44 and are trailing the Tigers by 8.5 in the American League Central, the Pale Hose have put together what figures to be a core group of starters that could lead them back into contention for an American League title.

The figure at the center of that dream is Jose Abreu, the celebrated Cuban slugger (with Yoenis Cespades and Yasiel Puig) who Chicago signed to a $68 million, six year mega-deal this last off-season. While baseball analysts mouthed their obligatory “oh yeah, sure” response to the Abreu signing, the vast majority showed a half-smiling, let’s play it safe, disinterest. Jose Abreu?

“For players who haven’t played in the states, it’s a calculated risk, but one we had to take,” Chicago G.M. Rick Hahn said of the signing. “If we are going to get this thing right, and get it done as quickly as we want it done, we are going to have to be bold and be aggressive.”

The pre-season projections for Abreu seemed to suggest that the White Sox were smart in making the deal, as Abreu was thought to have enough power to hit in the .270 range with perhaps 20-25 home runs. In fact, as it turns out, the projections were just flat-out wrong. With the 2014 season just one-half gone, Abreu has already matched those numbers, with a .280 BA and 25 home runs.

“There’s going to be an adjustment period,” Hahn told the press, hedging his bets. “There’s going to be him getting used to the daily grind of a major league season, the travel in the states and the games every day for six-plus months.”

Pretty good? A calculated risk? An adjustment period? Abreu has turned out to be a monster at the plate and, for our money, the most dangerous hitter in the game.

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Nats Recover In Chicago, Take Two From The Cubs

June 29th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals relied on their starting staff, and the arms of Gio Gonzalez and Blake Treinen, on Saturday to sweep an unusual doubleheader in Chicago (the first since 1983) on scores of 3-0 and 7-2. The sweep of the twin bill followed on two successive losses to the last place Cubs, placing Washington’s hold on the top spot in the N.L. East in jeopardy.

While Nationals fans were treated to acrobatic plays from Denard Span in the 4th inning of the first game, it was Gio Gonzalez who dominated the game’s headlines, throwing seven innings of two hit baseball in shutting down a weak Cubs line-up. The Nationals capped their scoring in the first game victory in the 8th inning with a triple from Anthony Rendon (which scored Denard Span) and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Adam LaRoche.

Gonzalez now appears to be all the way back from the shoulder aches that sidelined him for two weeks. “Obviously coming (off) the DL and trying to work your way back is going to be a process,” Gonzalez said after the victory. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s good to see little by little using fastball and changeup at the same time. It’s good to know when you need them they’ll be there.”

“It’s important for us. I’m happy for him that he feels good about it and he’s had no shoulder issues, so that’s a good sign,” Nationals skipper Matt Williams said of Gonzalez’s recovery. “Velocity’s come back, the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes is huge for him. He pitched really good.”

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The Nationals leaped on Chicago pitching in the second game of the twin bill, notching seven runs on ten hits, victimizing Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. The big blows came off the bats of Wilson Ramos, Kevin Frandsen and Jayson Werth in the four run fifth. The outburst followed on Adam LaRoche’s 11th home run in the 2nd and an Anthony Rendon sacrifice fly in the 3rd.

“They came out of the rain delay and they jumped on me right off the bat,” Samardzija said of the Nationals 5th inning rally. “They hit some fastballs over the plate and hit them up the middle and made me keep throwing pitches. They did a good job. They were ready out of the break. I probably needed to spin a couple more pitches and give them a different look.”

The Nationals victory also marked the first MLB career victory for rookie Blake Treinen, who threw five innings of four hit baseball in a game interrupted for one hour because of rain. “It means a lot,” Treinen said of his first victory. “I’m definitely excited, that’s for sure.”

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Cubs Maul The Nats — Again

June 27th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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After a solid series in Milwaukee, the Washington Nationals dropped their second in a row to the Cubs in Chicago. The Nationals were simply outplayed, and seemed sluggish at the plate and on the field. The loss dropped them to just three games over .500 on the season.

“There’s just no way to explain it,” MASN post-game analyst Ray Knight told his viewers in the wake of the Nationals 7-2 defeat this afternoon. “Sometimes, these teams at .450 or whatever, you come in and ‘wack.’ and it happens. After all, these are major league players.”

MASN color commenter F.P. Santangelo agreed but was disappointed that Washington seemed to lack a killer instinct. “I just didn’t see this coming,” he noted during the Nats loss. “There’s just not a swagger there. The Nationals are a first place team, the Cubs are a last place team. We’ve got to come in here and step on them.”

But no matter what the explanation, the 7-2 defeat at Wrigley Field on Friday reflected Washington’s inability to play well on the road (where they’re four games under .500), as well as hitting slumps from Jayson Werth (6-40 in his last ten games) and Danny Espinosa, who is hitting .200 in the same period.

But then there’s the Cubs. The Cubs are 21-17 over their last 38, which is four games over .500. Which means that if the season had started just 38 games ago, the Cubs would be good enough to be in first place in the N.L. Least, where Atlanta is dueling Washington in what appears to be a race to see who can play above .500.

The good news for the Nationals is that while Werth and Espinosa are struggling at the plate, first sacker Adam LaRoche is not. LaRoche was 2-4 on Friday while towering his tenth home run of the season. Anthony Rendon also seemed unfazed by Cubs pitching, going 2-4 while raising his season BA to .276.

The Cubs continue to swing a hot bat. Chicago accumulated 13 hits on Friday, with no-hit catcher John Baker having an all-career day at 3-3 while stroking a three run double. The Cubs notched ten hits against usually steady starter Anthony Rendon, then tattooed lefty reliever Jerry Blevins for three runs in just 2/3 of an inning.

Meanwhile Jason Hammel, who is nearly unbeatable when he faces the Nationals (he is now 7-0 in his career against them), threw into the 7th, while striking out six. “They hit today,” Roark said of the Cubs in his post-game comments. “We’ll face them again in Washington and so we’ll have to beat them. What can I do? Just keep throwing strikes. That’s the key.”

The Nationals face off against the Cubs in a double header on the North Side tomorrow, with Gio Gonzalez scheduled to throw in the first game (against Cubs rookie Dallas Beeler) and Blake Treinen (who will be recalled today from Syracuse) throwing against Jeff Samardzija in the second.

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Cubs 7th Inning Rally Downs The Nats

June 27th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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These are the last place Cubs, the Chicago Doormats who can’t pitch, can’t hit and can’t run. But you’d never know it from the way they played on Thursday night on the North Side of Chicago, where they rallied for two runs in the 7th inning to down the Washington Nationals, 5-3.

The Chicago 7th came after the Nationals fought back on a 3-0 deficit to tie the game — punching a single run across the plate in the 6th, then putting two more on the scoreboard in the 7th. Chicago’s runs came off of Washington long reliever Craig Stammen, who gave up a double to light hitting Darwin Barney, a Chris Coghlan walk and a two RBI double to Justin Ruggiano. The Ruggiano double was just inside the third base line and past Anthony Rendon.

“Stammen’s been really good for us, and it started with Barney and him trying to go down and away with a slider and hung it over the middle of the plate,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said following the loss. “He was one pitch from getting out of it. It’s tough to see from the dugout, but I don’t how that ball [the Ruggiano double] was fair, but not by a lot.”

Nats starter Doug Fister, who’d had multiple quality starts over the last month, struggled to keep the Cubs off the board. But a three run fourth inning gave the Cubs the early lead, with the middle of the Cubs line-up of first sacker Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro and catcher Welington Castillo providing Chicago’s firepower.

“Felt like I was executing, but at the same time, the pitches need to be a little bit better,” Washington righty and starter Fister said. “I need to make sure they’re in or out a little bit more, down more. If I get it in a little bit further on that jam shot over the infield, then who knows. A lot of ‘shoulda-woulda-couldas,’ it’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done.”

The game was played under less than ideal conditions. A fog rolled in off of Lake Michigan in the afternoon and caused havoc among outfielders, including Nats centerfield Denard Span, who lost a fly ball in the gray soup. “Just rough conditions,” Span said after the loss. “Nothing you can do to prepare for that. I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game with that much fog.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Cubbies may be a last place team, but they’ve been a tough team over the last forty games. They are 20-17 in that period (and 13-11 in June) as their younger players have begun to hit, and their bullpen is ranked seventh in the majors and fourth in the National League . . .

Baseball analysts will tell you that the Cubs rebuilding process is taking a little longer than either President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and G.M. Jed Hoyer thought it would take, but there’s no doubt the Cubs farm system is packed. It’s only a matter of time before Cubs fans see the results with the Big Club . . .

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