Nats On A Roll, Squeeze By The Bucs, 5-4

August 16th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper had two hits and two RBIs apiece, starter Tanner Roark pitched into the 6th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano provided another nail biting ending as the Nationals squeezed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4 at Nationals Park on Friday night. This was Washington’s fourth victory in a row.

LaRoche and Harper were the big bats in the Nationals win. The Nationals took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame, with a LaRoche single plating Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, with the bases loaded, Harper followed up with a single of his own — scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn’t keep the Nationals off the board in the early going and was pulled by Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle after just three innings of work. In all, the Nationals sprayed 11 hits versus Bucco pitching, with Denard Span once again hitting his stride, going 3-4 on the night.

While Roark picked up his twelfth win of the 2014 campaign, he gave up three runs on five hits in just 5.2 innings of work. Pittsburgh got back into the game in the fourth inning, when outfielder Starling Marte powered an 84 mph Roark slider into the left field seats, which scored second sacker Neil Walker. The Pirates were suddenly back in the game.

“He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark’s performance. “Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well.”

The feisty Pirates showed why they’re still in the hunt for the National League Central crown, pushing the Nationals until the final out. The Pirates three run fourth was followed by a nail-biting 9th in which Starling Marte singled off of Nats closer Rafael Soriano, then scored on a Pedro Alvarez single to bring the Buccos to within one run of tying the game.

Soriano, struggling to notch his 29th save, then gave up a single to Chris Stewart, which put the tying run on base. But with Stewart looking to score, Soriano induced a foul pop off the bat of Josh Harrison (which landed in the glove of Wilson Ramos) to end the game.

On Wednesday, Soriano had told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore that one of the reasons for his sometimes shaky outings was that he wasn’t getting enough work. The Soriano statement was apparently heard loud and clear by skipper Williams. “That’s three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Williams said after last night’s win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Pirates fans begin each year with the dream that they’ll relive 1979, the last year that the Bucs brought home the World Series trophy. But what’s usually missing from the Pittsburgh narrative, and often forgotten by baseball pundits, is that the 1979 win was notched against a Baltimore team that was among the most celebrated in franchise history . . .

The 1979 Orioles won 102 games, had a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees, led the A.L from mid-April to the wire, featured a 23 game winner (in Mike Flanagan) and a lights-out closer (in Don Stanhouse), and dominated baseball in one run and extra inning games . . .

Which is to say: if the Pirates could just start playing a bit better (and reach the playoffs) a replay of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh seven game, down-to-the-final-out tilt of 1979 is not out of the question. To make this even plainer, we would claim that the 2014 edition of the Orioles might even be better than their 1979 ancestors . . .

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Nats Sweep The Mets, Head Home

August 15th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Washington righty Stephen Strasburg reversed his road woes (he is 2-8 while pitching away this year), throwing seven innings of snappy three hit baseball, as the Nationals extended their dominance over the New York Mets, winning 4-1 at Citi Field and sweeping their three game series.

Strasburg was all but unhittable in the Nationals triumph. “He really had fastball command from both sides of the plate. That’s where it starts with him,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his starter’s outing. “If he can do that, it just opens up everything else. He pitched well. He had a jam in the middle inning and he got out of it with a great double-play ball. He pitched well.”

The Nationals line-up, meanwhile, was just as dominant as Strasburg. The Nationals runs came on two home runs. Adam LaRoche hit his 17th home run in the first inning with Asdrubel Cabrera on base, while a revived Bryce Harper hit his sixth of the season with Ian Desmond on base in the fourth.

Harper’s recent performance has been a boon for the Nationals, who are counting on added production from their left fielder now that Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list. “If Bryce gets on track, watch out,” MASN commenter F.P. Santangelo said after Harper’s fourth inning home run.

“His strength is coming back, and if he gets a ball that is in a little bit, sometimes it hurts him. He feels it for a day or so, but that is part of the process coming back from that,” Williams said of his young star. “He is getting stronger by the day. He is seeing it better.”

The Nationals scored their runs against New York starter Dillon Gee, who proved effective against the Phillies in his last outing (one run in seven innings), but was undone by Washington round-trippers on Thursday. Gee was among the stalwarts on New York’s injury riddled starting rotation at the beginning of the year, but he left the ball in the middle of the plate in last night’s loss.

But the big news of the night was Stasburg, who was trying to bounce back from his worst outing of the season against the Braves — a five inning seven-earned-runs affair versus Atlanta. The righty ace was anything but shaky against the Mets, throwing 101 pitches, 66 of them for strikes.

“This game is funny,” Strasburg told the press after his win. “You can always learn something new. I think I’ve had bad games on the road. I think there’s things that I do that put me in a position where they can take a better swing at it. I’m just going to keep trying to learn as much as I can.”

Washington wrapped up its three game set in New York by relying on their shut down bullpen after Strasburg left the game at the end of seven. Tyler Clippard pitched a no hit eighth, while closer Rafael Soriano held the Madoffs hitless in the 9th, notching his 28th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The lone New York run on Thursday night came off the bat of Lucas Duda, whose single scored Nats killer Daniel Murphy, who’d singled off Strasburg to start the bottom of the 4th. Murphy has always hit well against the Nats, but as Matt Williams put it earlier this week — “the truth is that Murphy hits well against everyone . . . ”

The Nationals sweep in New York probably ended whatever hopes the Mets had of a post-season berth. Mets manager Terry Collins told the New York press following his team’s schooling of Philadelphia (last week), that they shouldn’t count New York out of the post-season just yet. But it now looks official: the Mets are eight games under .500 and 10.5 games back in the N.L. East . . .

Collins has been under scrutiny in New York, where Mets watchers have consistently questioned his odd in-game decisions, as well as his team’s inability to get on base. But the questions have apparently had little effect on the front office which, according to some baseball analysts, has decided to bring him back for a fifth season . . .

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Nats Blast New York, 7-1

August 13th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Washington homered four times, Doug Fister notched his twelfth win (against just three losses) and the Nationals went on to down the New York Mets at Citi Field, 7-1. This was Washington’s ninth win in a row in New York, with the team extending their N.L. East Division lead to five games over Atlanta in the N.L. East.

Fister was the key to the win. The former Detroit righty stymied the Mets offense, throwing seven innings of shutout baseball while allowing New York seven hits. Fister struck out three. The Nats righty threw 107 pitches, 71 of them for strikes and didn’t walk anyone.

“Doug throws what he wants when he wants and where he wants,” Mets manager Terry Collins said after his team’s loss. “When you go up there, especially when you’re looking at our lineup four through nine, they’re all pretty young, and he can carve you up and he does.”

Most of Washington’s runs came on round trippers, with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and rookie Michael Taylor each hitting home runs. Taylor, subbing for right fielder Jayson Werth, also notched his first career hit in his first time at bat in the major leagues in the second inning.

Newly acquired second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera also had a big night for the Nationals, going 3-5 while stroking two doubles. Harper, Desmond (who hit his 20th home run) and Taylor each had two RBIs for the Nationals, who put six runs on three home runs on the board in the five run fifth inning.

Desmond’s 20th home run marked the third season in a row the young shortstop has hit at least twenty round trippers. “It’s difficult to do,” Nats manager Matt Williams said of Desmond’s accomplishment. “He also steals some bases for us and his defense has been fantastic. So, he is certainly one of our leaders on the club and he wants to play every day.”

But the biggest celebration of the night was reserved for Taylor, the 23-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida native who was seeing his first big league action. It was a memorable start for the Nats newbie, who was 2-4 on the night with his first big league home run.

“It’s fantastic. He has worked really hard. He has taken all the BP and worked his way to get here,” Williams said of the youngster. “It’s gratifying for everybody. The bench was excited on the first base hit, and the homer, even more excited. Good for the kid and certainly a memory he’ll remember forever.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Mets pitching future is on the DL and, if recent reports are any indication, likely to remain there. The team recently announced that young righty Jeremy Hefner, recovering from Tommy John surgery, has had a setback in his rehab and may have to have surgery yet again . . .

It was devastating news for the New Yorkers, who once believed that Hefner and Matt Harvey, who’s also recovering from Tommy John surgery, would lead a 2014 Mets renaissance. Now it appears that the Mets front office will stick to their guns and slow Harvey’s return, waiting to put him on the mound for the start of the next season . . .

This is actually a double-wammy, as the Mets put rookie of the year candidate Jacob deGrom on the disabled list on Monday with shoulder tendinitis. Righty deGrom has been a find for New York, and is 6-5 on the year with a 2.87 ERA. The Nationals faced deGrom last Thursday, and the youngster threw an effective six innings against the home towners . . .

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“Wahoos” and “Chops” and “Chiefs” (cont.)

August 11th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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A reader writes of our column on the Indians, Braves and the Tomahawk Chop yesterday that, contrary to what we wrote, scalping was practiced by American Indians prior to the arrival of Columbus. The reader then provides proof of the claim. The article cited (“Who Scalps Whom?” and written by Diane E. Foulds) appeared in “Hawthorne In Salem”. It’s fascinating and well worth the read.

More plainly, the article provides solid evidence to refute what we so offhandedly and carelessly noted (but then, we are partisans on this kind of thing) and so we’ll take our medicine and bow to the facts. But we’ll add (in deference to being half right), that at least Indians weren’t the only ones to take scalps.

The reader then adds: “Personally I don’t associate the Tomahawk Chop with scalping, do you? I associate it with the Florida State cheer and axe chop that went to the Braves with Deion Sanders. The Braves have a tomahawk on their jerseys. What else do you do with a tomahawk but chop with it?”

All good points, and again we agree, but (once again) only in part. Tomahawks are (indeed) meant for chopping and that’s what you do with them, but the association with “scalping” seems to us obvious. Hmmm, well maybe not. After all, American Indians don’t seem to have a problem with the Chop, so maybe it’s just us.

Okay, okay, okay. We’ll come clean. What really bothers us is the fact that Atlanta fans do the Chop and all too regularly; it really drives us nuts. It’s particularly galling when it comes with Atlanta runners on base against the Nats (an all too often occurrence these days) and was much in evidence last night during Atlanta’s 3-1 triumph over our beloved Nine. We hate the Chop.

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Nats Drop Atlanta Series, Head To New York

August 11th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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At the end of their 3-1 loss in Atlanta on Sunday night, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez waxed philosophical on his team’s series loss to the Braves. “There is still a lot of baseball left,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not over yet. We still have to go out there and try to compete. We have the Mets coming up. We have to do our job and keep playing one series at a time.”

Gonzalez is precisely right of course, though Washington fans are clearly wondering if the Nationals can reverse their fortunes against Atlanta if the Nats end up playing the Braves in the off-season. The Nationals are 4-9 against the Braves this year, and 10-22 since the start of 2013, but squandered an opportunity to distance themselves from their N.L. East nemesis, despite a Braves losing streak that lasted through eight games.

There’s no denying — there are just some teams that Washington has trouble with. St. Louis is one of them, Atlanta is the other. “It’s almost like a playoff game when we play them, no matter when it is,” Atlanta starter Alex Wood said, following the Braves victory. “I think we’ve got some guys that are gamers in here and really enjoy that challenge and enjoy rising to that occasion.”

The Nationals inability to score with runners on board was not much in evidence on Sunday, instead it was Wood that was the problem. The Atlanta southpaw fanned twelve Nats in 7.1 innings of work, a season high for him. “Wood understood what this game meant and he made pitches when he needed,” Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. “He knew we needed some innings out of him, and he went out there and put up a really good performance.”

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Gio Set To Face The Braves In Series Finale

August 10th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Chief Wahoo and the Tomahawk Chop

August 10th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Over the last year, the sports world has been all atwitter over Dan Snyder’s defense of his team’s logo and nickname, saying that the term “Redskins” is a sign of “honor and respect.” American Indians, Snyder says, “love this team,” a dubious proposition (it seems to us) because of the obvious lack of Native Americans still living in the D.C. area.

While public pressure is growing for Snyder to change the team nickname, which critics claim is a racial caricature, Snyder adamantly claims he will never change it no matter how much pressure is applied. In his and the team’s defense, Snyder cites the blessing given the nickname by Walter Wetzel, a blackfoot Indian and one-time president of the National Congress of American Indians — who helped design the Redskins’ logo.

But Snyder isn’t the only major sports owner coming under pressure to rethink his team’s logo, nickname — or team caricature. Out in Cleveland, the Indians have become increasingly targeted by public calls for a change in the use of the “Chief Wahoo” logo. While Cleveland’s Mark Shapiro, the franchise’s president, says the “Chief Wahoo” mascot “represents the heritage of the team and the ballpark,” it’s no secret the team has been distancing itself from the mascot.

In January, uniform expert Paul Lucas said the Indians would be focusing their fans on “the block C” on the uniform, apparently phasing out the smiling Indian of franchise fame. The Indians have “more wiggle room” than the Redskins on the use of the Indians logo, reporter David Brown wrote at the time, “because the Chief is just a logo. He can hide.”

In fact, the “Indians” controversy is not nearly as superheated as the one facing Snyder, and for good reason: the Indians can rightly claim that their team name is a sign of respect (many in America’s indigenous population prefer the name “Indians” to “Native Americans”) and there have been few objections to its continued use.

The same is not true in Atlanta, however, where the “Tomahawk Chop” is coming under increasing scrutiny — manifestly because it repeats an ethnic slur that, historically, is simply not true: Indians did not “scalp” arriving European settlers. The practice was actually begun by white colonists, who returned with scalps to be paid a bounty for killing Native Americans.

The Tomahawk Chop was first seen at a Florida State University (Seminoles) game in the mid 1980s, and then brought to Atlanta by Deion Sanders, who began playing for the Braves. The “Chop” gained a lot of attention, but without any apparent reflection on just how insulting it is to Native Americans.

But what’s really extraordinary about the “Chop” is just how non-controversial it continues to be. Atlanta fans still regularly use it and the team has made little effort to end it. Even flashy liberals who are Braves fans, like Jane Fonda, Ted Turner and Jimmy Carter have stood to cheer their home team by using the chop.

American Indians are not so silent, saying that if sports franchises really wanted to honor the Indians, they could make sure “reservations had access to adequate healthcare, education, and food. Maybe we can stop pretending that everything is fine for Native people because many tribes have a casino and that, because of that, we’re entitled to take whatever we want from them for our sports culture.”

End the Tomahawk Chop? It doesn’t seem so, for the Braves themselves unblushingly extol it and feed it. Well, perhaps we should give them credit: they’ve at least eliminated their one-time mascot — Chief Noc-A-Homa.