Posts Tagged ‘atlanta braves’

Nats Outhit The Crew, But Fall 4-2

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals proved that Milwaukee Brewers righty Kyle Lohse is very hittable, spraying ten hits in seven innings against him at Nationals Park on Friday night. But it was Lohse who had the last word, working out of threat after threat in delivering the Brewers a surprising 4-2 victory.

All of Lohse’s acrobatics came with two outs, as Washington failed to move runners off the bases — a habit that has victimized the D.C. Nine all season.

In all, Lohse pitched out of jams in the second, third and fifth innings. Of course, the Nationals could rightly claim that it was their lack of hitting with runners on base (and not Lohse’s pitching) that was the problem: The Nats were 1-10 with runners in scoring position.

Lohse was able to joke about his on-base troubles, and his win, after the victory. “I think it was five out of seven innings that got led off with a hit,” he told reporters in the Brewers’ clubhouse. “I was thinking about starting off innings out of the stretch, but I didn’t want to let everybody know I was aware of it.”

The Nationals were hardly anemic at the plate. Denard Span was 3-4 on the night, Ryan Zimmerman was 2-4 (and stroked his 19th double) and Ian Desmond added an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth.

Lohse faced off against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, who gave up seven hits in seven innings while striking out nine. But unlike Lohse, Strasburg was victimized by two round trippers (off the bats of second sacker Scooter Gennett and outfielder Khris Davis) and a Brewers’ offense that capitalized on their scoring opportunities.

“With Stras as a fastball pitcher, they are a home run-hitting club. That’s going to happen sometimes,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams noted following the loss. “If you are going to hit a home run, you want it to be a solo home run.”

But the difference in the game was not the long ball, but a bloop single off the bat of Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the third inning. With Gennett and Ryan Braun on base, Ramirez hit a blooper just inside the right field line that scored both runners. The hit was the difference in the game.

The good news for the Nationals was that Bryce Harper seems to be on track after being sidelined for a good portion of the season, and struggling at the plate since his return. Armed with a new and more upright batting stance, the Nationals young left fielder was 3-4 with a home run, his third of the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: While the Nationals were losing at home against Milwaukee, Atlanta was winning at home against Philadelphia. The Braves 6-4 victory was their third in a row and put them a single game ahead of Washington in the National League East . . .

The Bravos celebrated the All Star break by making an uncomfortable roster move, releasing second sacker Dan Uggla who had struggled at the plate during the 2013 campaign, then repeated that performance again this year. Uggla has hit just .175 since the beginning of last season and without the power that greeted his arrival in Atlanta in the 2010 off season . . .

You really have to wonder what happened to Uggla’s power stroke. While the former Marlin could never hit for average, his penchant for hitting high and long drives into the upper deck made him a nemesis in the N.L. East. Uggla hit thirty or more home runs five seasons in a row, including 36 in 2011 . . .

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Nats Recover In Chicago, Take Two From The Cubs

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

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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

Friday, June 27th, 2014

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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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Roark (And The Nats Bullpen) Stump The Braves

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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Nationals skipper Matt Williams remained his usual unsmiling self after the Nationals bested the Braves on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, but allowed himself a fleeting moment of semi-humor. “I am going to respectfully not answer that question, if that’s okay,” he said when asked if the Nationals now had momentum in the N.L. East. “I know how this works.”

It’s not superstition exactly, but it’s pretty close: As Williams himself noted, “there’s a long way to go” and “we need to take one game at a time.” But Washington’s 4-1 win and a split in the Atlanta series in front of 39,000-plus Nats fans must have come as a relief to Williams, as it did to the Nationals players.

“Oh yeah, they’ve had our number,” Nats center fielder Denard Span, who got a key hit in the win, said after the victory. “So it’s good to come away with a win today.” The Nationals Sunday win came on yet another strong pitching performance from starter Tanner Roark — and a shutdown bullpen that yielded nadda, zippo, zero (3.2 innings, no hits and three strikeouts) to a tough hitting Braves line-up.

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Roark, who lasted 5.1 innings, did not have his best stuff, but set the tone by holding the Braves to four hits. Roark was frustrating for Braves hitters, who argued several high strike zone calls from home plate umpire Mark Carlson. The Braves Chris Johnson was ejected in the top of the 6th (here’s the video, and we trust you can read lips) and Justin Upton was tossed just prior to the end of the game.

The Nationals put two runs on the board in the bottom of the 1st (on an Adam LaRoche single and a Ryan Zimmerman sacrifice fly), added single runs in the 5th (on a clutch Denard Span double that scored Sandy Leon), and added an insurance run in the 8th when Anthony Rendon scored on a wild pitch.

The Nationals broke out for nine hits in their win on Sunday, but the key to the series split was the team’s pitching — and particularly their relief corps. Storen, Clippard and Soriano all pitched well in the series, but Craig Stammen was the standout, throwing 4.2 innings in relief while giving up a single hit. If we had to pick a hurler to go to Minneapolis for the All Star game, it would be Stammen.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Speaking of superstition — as soon as we wrote that Cincinnati should shovel their bats into a wood chipper they scored eleven runs on Saturday and another four today. This followed the 14-8 stunner on Friday night, in which they led Toronto 8-0 after two, but ended up losing the game . . .

We know how it looks, but we’re going to stick with what we said. Of all the teams in the National League, the Cincinnati Bridesmaids are the most disappointing. They hit more home runs than the Nationals (not a surprise, come to think of it), but can’t seem to put runs on the board when they need to, and seem to fall asleep in big games. It’s a puzzle . . .

The only reason we mention this is that our cheeky coverage of the Redlegs sparked an avalanche of reader emails (well, an avalanche for us), decrying our anti-Cincinnati bias and our “premature prediction” (all predictions are, by nature, premature — but nevermind) in counting them out of the running in the N.L. Central . . .

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Nearly Flawless: Fister, Rendon Lead Nats Past The Braves, 3-0

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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In what has to count as one of the best games Washington has played all year, righty Doug Fister shined through eight shutout innings and Anthony Rendon was 3-4 with two big RBIs, as the Nationals dominated the Atlanta Braves, 3-0 on Saturday night in front of 40,000-plus at Nationals Park.  The win nudged the Nationals back into first place in the National League East.

Fister, who is now 6-2 on the year, surrendered just five hits while striking out three. The righty threw 117 pitches, 78 of them for strikes and induced twelve ground ball outs. “He controlled the strike zone, threw all of his pitches for strikes, and worked ahead in the count,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Fister’s performance. “All of those things pitchers do when they go deep in the game.”

Washington scored its first run in the bottom of the 3rd when third sacker Anthony Rendon singled home catcher Jose Lobaton, who had reached on a leadoff single. Ryan Zimmerman added a second run in the 6th on a ground ball up the middle that scored Adam LaRoche and Rendon finished off the Washington attack with a double in the 7th.

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Washington’s runs came at the expense of Atlanta righty Julio Teheran, who hadn’t given up a walk in 94 innings before giving a free pass to Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the 6th. Teheran struggled through most of the game, though he kept the game close and struck out ten Nationals.

Teheran’s frustration was evident in mid-game, when he continued to shake off pitches from Atlanta catcher Evan Gattis. “I showed a little bit of frustration,” Teheran later admitted. “It didn’t happen before to me, but I was really working hard to concentrate on the game and to control my emotions. Today, it was just the first time that it happened.”

But the key to the much needed Washington victory was the pitching of their starter. “He’s funky,” Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said of Fister’s night. “He’s a big guy. He seems like he’s releasing the ball right in front of your face. He’s so quick he makes you want to kind of rush things to get things going.”

Rafael Soriano pitched a flawless 9th inning to notch his sixteenth save of the year. The Washington victory marked only the second time the Nationals have beaten the Braves this year, but they have a chance to even the four game series on Sunday, when they send Tanner Roark to the mound to face tough Atlanta righty Ervin Santana.

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Nats Rally, But Braves Win In 13

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

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Anthony Rendon’s dramatic 9th inning homer knotted a game at four apiece last night at Nationals Park, but Atlanta prevailed in a 13 inning strike out fest to win their second straight against their in-division rivals, 6-4. The Nats loss and Bravos win edged Atlanta into first place in the National League East.

Atlanta starter Mike Minor was the key for the Braves in the early going, throwing seven innings of seven hit baseball and holding the Nationals to just two runs. In what is becoming a season-long habit, the Nats left four runners in scoring position in four key innings, but couldn’t bring them home.

“He was keeping us off balance,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said of Minor’s outing. “He didn’t get into any patterns. I don’t remember a lot of hitters’ counts. He was getting those early strikes and he was playing around with the offspeed and mixing in some fastballs.”

The Nationals responded to the Braves challenge by sending their own ace to the mound, but while steady righty Stephen Strasburg struck out eight Atlanta hitters, he gave up four earned runs on nine hits through six innings.

The Nationals seemed destined for a loss until Rendon’s 9th inning heroics. After a Nate McLouth walk to lead off the inning against all-world closer Craig Kimbrel, the Atlanta fireballer set down Greg Dobbs and Denard Span. But Rendon, who followed Span to the plate, put a 98 mph Kimbrel fastball into the left field seats to tie the game.

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Rendon’s homer not only lifted the Nationals, it seemed a turning point in what has been Washington’s tradition against Atlanta. The Nationals are 7-20 against the Braves since the start of last season, one of those teams (along with St. Louis) that the team can’t seem to beat when they need to.

The score remained tied at four until the top of the 13th, when the Braves rallied for two runs against Nats reliever Jerry Blevins. Blevins started the inning by walking B.J. Upton, then gave up a single to the heavy hitting Freddie Freeman before giving up a run scoring line drive single to Evan Gattis. Atlanta plated another run on a fielder’s choice grounder from Andrelton Simmons.

Nats skipper Matt Williams remained his usual unflappable self after the defeat, shrugging off Washington’s inability to beat the Braves in big games. Williams focused on the positive — that the Nationals were able to get to Kimbrel.

“We came back against one of the best closers in the game to tie the game. We had an opportunity,” Williams told the D.C. sports press. “We lost it. I’m proud of them for fighting back, staying in it, getting ourselves an opportunity. He doesn’t give up many homers.”

The Nationals seemed over anxious at the plate on Friday, notching an astonishing 17 strikeouts in facing Braves pitching. Jayson Werth struck out four times. Perhaps the team, and Jayson, were over anxious after their anemic three hit performance on Thursday.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: While the Nationals and Braves were running up the Ks (33 in all on Friday), the rest of the league was racking up the homers . . .

After taking an eight run lead against the Blue Jays in Cincinnati (yes, it was 8-0 after two innings), Toronto rallied for three in the 3rd, two in the 6th, one in the 8th and (count ‘em) five in the 9th to down the Reds 14-9 . . .

Cincinnati is the closest thing to a stand-up comedy routine as there is in baseball, and Friday was a classic. The Reds haven’t hit all season, so their fans went nuts when their team scored eight in the bottom of the 2nd. But Toronto (who’s never finished, it seems), rallied on four home runs, two of them from Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Birds version of Babe Ruth . . .

Prior to their eight run outburst on Friday, the Redlegs were contemplating consigning their bats to a wood chipper. Maybe they should. The Reds are 12th in the league in runs scored and 10th in home runs, despite the presence of Joey Votto & Co. in their line-up. But Cincy rarely faces the likes of the Blue Jays, who hit home runs like we eat peanuts . . .

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The Nationals “RISP Problem”

Monday, June 16th, 2014

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It wasn’t that long ago that we were pondering the hitless-homerless St. Louis Cardinals, a team that (we said) was struggling at the plate and headed for a mediocre season. Wouldn’t you know: The punchless Cardinals had plenty of punch against the Nationals, sweeping their three game set in St. Louis and sending Washington home at just two games above .500.

Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Busch Stadium was a depressing coda for the road trip, which started with a series win in San Diego and a celebrated series win in San Francisco. But the 5-2 loss on Sunday saw the Nationals slip back into their old ways, consistently challenged to drive in runners and stymied at the plate by a very good pitching staff. The Nationals left 15 runners on base yesterday and 14 on Saturday.

So, what does the St. Louis sweep mean? The Nationals, our friends at Nationals Journal say, “need to find more consistency” — and point out that Washington is lucky to be where it is: the Braves have also been sluggish, going 5-5 over the last ten games. That’s the same record as the Nationals.

By more consistency, the people at Nationals Journal mean that Washington needs to put together longer strings of wins of the kind that saw the team put up ten wins in a thirteen game run. Which begs the question: Just how precisely can the Nationals repeat that?

Our answer now has been the same as it was in April, or May. The Nationals offense just isn’t that good: The team is eighth in the National League in runs scored, ninth in hits, tenth in home runs, eighth in OPS and sixth in on base percentage. So, this much is clear: While the Nationals hitters get on base, they usually stay there.

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