Posts Tagged ‘boston red sox’

Desmond, Strasburg Fell The Giants

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals blasted twelve hits (Ian Desmond had three of them) and Stephen Strasburg tamed San Francisco’s hitters — and the Nats went on to an impressive 9-2 victory over the Giants on Monday night. The nine runs given up by San Francisco pitching was the most they’d allowed all year.

It’s now official: the Nationals are playing better baseball than at any point this year, and better than they have since the end of the 2013 campaign. The key has been outstanding pitching. One day after a complete game shutout from Jordan Zimmermann, ace Stephan Strasburg was able to befuddle Giants’ hitters through six complete innings — giving up just four hits while striking out seven.

The Nationals have now won eight of the last ten games, many of them against top flight National League opponents. But the Nats remain all business: “Tonight is over. We go tomorrow. That’s all we can concentrate on is tomorrow,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams said following his team’s impressive win.

The Nationals scored on Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the first inning, with doubles from Denard Span and Jayson Werth, then scored again in the second on a Wilson Ramos single and an Ian Desmond triple. Desmond accounted for two more RBIs in the top of the third, on a single that scored Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

Then the Nationals poured it on, scoring five runs in the top of the 7th, highlighted by an Ian Desmond double that scored Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos. By then, the Nationals were into the Giants’ bullpen, with Vogelson chased from the game after six innings. Vogelson gave up six earned runs on the night.

“They have some good hitters in that lineup and they’ve been on a roll,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said following the Washington win. “They played well in San Diego, swung the bats well in a tough park to hit in, so they came in here with a lot of confidence. [Vogelsong] was a little bit off and when you find a team that’s hot with the bats, they’re probably going to take advantage of some pitches that are elevated there, and they did.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The worst-to-first World Champion Boston Red Sox have an outside shot of going from worst-to-first-to-worst, the only thing saving them is the implosion of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox are struggling, and have settled in at ten games back of the Blue Jays in the A.L. East and seven games under .500 . . .

Last night in Baltimore, the Sox showed why their 2014 campaign doesn’t resemble anything that happened last year. Facing the O’s Bud Norris, the Beantowners managed only three hits, while the Orioles lit them up with three homes runs. The final 4-0 tab wasn’t a laugher, but the game just wasn’t that close . . .

The Red Sox are streaky. We wrote them off when they lost ten straight, but then counted them back in when they won seven in a row. Then they lost three in a row in Cleveland. Streaky? Maybe it would be better to describe them as inconsistent: and there are plenty of reasons to use the word . . .

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Nats Salvage A Win In Pittsburgh Behind Fister

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

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The Nationals have good pitching and it shows: after doing a three game face plant in Pittsburgh, Washington brought out starter Doug Fister, their most recent version of a stopper, and the former Tiger shut down the Pirates in leading the home towners to a much needed 5-2 win.

Facing off against savvy veteran Francisco Lariano, Fister threw into the 6th inning, holding the Pirates to six hits while striking out four. Fister also had help from Nats hitters, who reversed their recent trend of leaving runners in scoring position. Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond led Washington’s hit parade, with Desmond accounting for two Washington RBIs.

But the big blow for the Nationals came in the fifth inning, when Anthony Rendon tripled to right center field, the ball ricocheting off the bottom of the outfield wall after the normally heroic Josh Harrison, with a reputation of robbing the Nationals of long drives, could not reach it.

The victory was a welcome change for the Nats, who needed to snap out of a swoon that saw them lose four of their last six games. The win brought them back to .500, and within easy striking distance of the first place Braves. The Nationals now return home for a Memorial Day matinee against the struggling Miami Marlins.

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Washington put ten hits on the board, the most they have had in four game losing streak. While the Nationals have not been anemic at the plate (notching 22 hits in their single loss to Cincinnati and the three losses in Pittsburgh), they have either consistently failed to come up with a big hit in clutch situations — or been robbed of hits when they most needed them.

The Nationals seemed to turn all of that around on Sunday. When it appeared that Josh Harrison had made another spectacular catch in right field in the 7th inning on Sunday, Matt Williams successfully appealed the called out. The review showed that Harrison had not caught the ball — which put Desmond on first. The Nationals ended up putting a final run on the board in that inning.

The Nationals bullpen, which is the best weapon the team has in the early going, was as steady as always in the Sunday win. Craig Stammen needed a single pitch to get out of a two on no outs situation in relief of Fister in the sixth, while Alfonso Soriano tabbed his 11th save.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The steadiest, and most underrated, National of all might well be Stammen. Hard to believe, but the once upon a time wannabe starter is now 30 — and pitching like the veteran that he is. Stammen had a little hiccup on Sunday, giving up a run in two innings, but he sports a 2.24 ERA in 26 innings of work . . .

Stammen is on track to eclipse his innings count for the last two seasons: last year he threw 81 innings and appeared in 55 games, the year before he threw 88 innings and appeared in 88. His early years, toiling as a starter, were his most frustrating. The key for Stammen is his slider, which is his out pitch, but his menu includes a sneaky sinker. He also has a Burt Hooten style knuckle curve . . .

We were pleased when we saw the Nationals opening line-up today, though not simply because Adam LaRoche was penciled in after a stint on the disabled list. The line-up did not include Nate McLouth, who raised our ire on Saturday by striking out looking in the 9th against Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon. In order to “get your swing” you actually need to swing and McLouth stood flat-footed as Melancon served up a fat 91 mph cutter . . .

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Nats, Fister Bombed In Oakland

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

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Doug Fister returned to the mound for the first time in the 2014 campaign, but struggled against the A’s — giving up five earned runs on nine hits in just 4.1 innings of work, and Oakland coasted to an 8-0 laugher on Friday night. Former Nats lefty Tommy Milone kept Washington off the scoreboard, while throwing a two hit seven strikeout gem.

Fister looked rusty in his first outing, though he later told the press that he was prepared for the game. “Physically, I felt like I was in the right place,” Fister said after the loss. “I felt strong. It was lack of execution. I was excited for tonight, no more than normal, everything felt good.”

Fister may have felt good, but he didn’t look good. His patented sinker ball was left too often in the middle of the strike zone. Fister gave up a home run to A’s catcher John Jaso in the 3rd and he allowed Yoenis Cespedes across the plate on a wild pitch in the 5th. Washington also committed three errors, which included an airmailed throw by Fister to first base in the first inning.

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“That’s what you ask for when you do that,” Nationals’ skipper Matt Williams said of Washington’s sloppy play. “Want to play clean baseball, certainly, and you’re asking for trouble if you give them extra outs.”

Soft-tossing lefty Tommy Milone, meanwhile, was brilliant for Oakland. The hard luck southpaw (he was 0-3 entering the game and struggled to start the season), befuddled Nationals hitters, moving the ball in and out of the strikezone until relieved by Fernando Rodriguez to start the 9th.

“I don’t think he missed a location all night,” A’s catcher Derek Norris (also a former Nat) said of Milone’s performance. “I don’t think he missed a location one single time.” Milone threw 108 pitches, 71 of them for strikes — and was backed by home runs from Jaso, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes. Oakland sprayed 12 hits against the punchless Nationals.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MLB Network’s late night baseball wrap-up show is often well worth watching, even if the knock-down-drag-outs between Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams can be taxing. Last night’s disagreement was more of the same, while peeling back a fascinating debate about MLB scoring . . .

The argument came as a result of Yu Darvish’s near perfect game, which ended in the 7th inning in Arlington, Texas when the official scorer decided a “tweener pop up” off the bat of David Ortiz that landed between second and right field should be scored an error. The decision ended the chances for a perfecto, but kept Darvish’s chance for a no-hitter in place . . .

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Reynold’s called the scoring decision “the worst decision in the history of baseball,” while Williams defended it by citing Baseball Rule 10.12, noting that it isn’t necessary for a fielder to touch the ball for it to be called an error if, in the scorer’s judgment, the ball could have been caught “with normal effort . . .”

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Is There A “Nats Nation?”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

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Last week the New York Times published a fascinating, and unusual, look at baseball loyalties. “Using aggregated data” provided by Facebook, the Times published a map of U.S. baseball loyalties, color-coded by team — then accompanied the map with fourteen separate maps showing the boundaries separating the teams.

As the Times explained: “The maps were created using estimates of team support based on how many Facebook users ‘liked’ each team in a ZIP code. We applied the algorithm to smooth the date and fill the gaps where the data was missing.” Put another way: using the maps, readers can find out which team a large aggregate of fans support in a specific ZIP code. The process can get obsessive, but it yields sometimes surprising results.

The Yankees and Red Sox (in particular), but also the Braves (to a lesser extent) have national followings. The Yankees are an “empire” and the Red Sox are a “nation.” The Yankees have more followers in Emery County, Utah for instance, than any of the closest nearby teams — the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Giants (who are third). Alaska? Alaska has a lot of Mariners fans, but the Red Sox and Yankees have a loyal following.

“A popular team like the Yankees has a huge presence in the New York area,” the Facebook entry on the findings says, “but its presence is felt all over the country and indeed the world.  The ‘Red Sox diaspora,’ despite being from a much smaller city, are also spread all over the country.”

As you might expect, the Braves (the Cobb Country Braves, as we have taken to calling them), dominate the Georgia fan base, but their loyalties extend well to the west and northeast, much as the Rangers dominate nearly all of Texas, except for the ZIP codes surrounding Houston.

We would have thought that the Cubs would have a loyal national following, but that’s not the case. But they dominate Chicago — except for the area around U.S. Cellular Field (on the South Side)) which then trails off into parts of northwest Indiana. But Chicago is, essentially “Wrigleyville.”

The New York Times says that California’s baseball loyalties reflect a group of “city states” — with the area divided by team loyalties based strictly on metropolitan areas. That’s right, but Angels and Padres’ fans are surrounded by the more popular Dodgers and Giants — who have been around longer (even in California) and have won more national championships.

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Nats Down The Halos In A Walk Off

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

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In a season of improbable come-from-behind wins, the Nationals come from behind 5-4 walk off victory over the Los Angeles Angels has to count as the most improbable of all. Down by a score of 4-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Nats rallied to shock the Angels, sealing a triumph that salvaged a victory in a difficult three game series.

The Nats march to victory, in frigid Nationals Park, began when the normally light hitting Jose Lobaton (.239 on the year) homered off of Angels’ reliever Ernesto Frieri to left field, bringing the Nationals to within two. Zach Walters then struck out swinging, but Denard Span kept the Nationals in the game with a single to center.

With only two outs to get, Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia stuck with Frieri, hoping he could work the same magic with Anthony Rendon that he had with Walters. But with Span dancing off first, Frieri walked Rendon, with Jayson Werth coming to the plate. Werth, with a reputation as a clutch hitter, tied the game — stroking a double to left on a 3-0 count, with Span and Rendon scampering home.

“I can’t imagine anybody thinking that J-Dub’s going to swing,” Adam LaRoche said of his teammates clutch double. “Surprised all of us.”

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The Nationals might have settled for extra innings, particularly considering their game-long futility at being unable to score runs off of Angels’ pitching. That’s certainly what Scioscia hoped — bringing in reliever Fernando Salas to keep the game at four apiece. But Adam LaRoche, who’d already had a good night against Halo arms, won the game — scoring Werth with the winning run with a single to left center.

“He left a fastball up over the plate,” first sacker Adam LaRoche said of his game winning single off of Salas. “In that situation, just trying to hit something hard.”

The Nationals triumphant last inning made goats of the Angels bullpen, denied L.A. a much needed series sweep, and sent the Belinskys record back to below .500. The narrative was quite different for the Nationals, who’ve been struggling in the field and needed a lift. “The spark we needed,” Werth said of the victory.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from New York’s tilt with Boston after throwing just 1.2 innings on Thursday night — for using pine tar (which was smeared on his neck) on the ball. This morning the baseball press hooted derisively . . .

“It’s like a small-time crook robbing the neighborhood convenience store one day, getting away with it, and returning the next week to rob the same joint again,” USA Today said. Jon Heyman described Pineda as “the pine tar pinhead.” But the best comment came from former K.C. great George Brett: “you gotta hide the pine tar better than that,” he said . . .

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Harper’s Blast Leads The Nats

Friday, September 20th, 2013

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Bryce Harper’s first inning three run home run was enough to push the Nationals past the Marlins, as Washington downed Miami 3-2 on Thursday night at Nationals’ Park. Harper’s blast with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth on base kept the Nats slim hopes of a playoff spot alive, with the home towners five games behind Cincinnati in the Wild Card hunt.

Harper’s home run provided the only scoring for Washington, leaving the game in the hands of southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez and three relievers. Harper was all smiles in the dugout after his dinger as he joined four other Nationals (Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche) in hitting twenty home runs on the year.

“He’s only going to get better,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his young slugger. “I think when you go through a period where you have all this attention and you try to live up to hype you try to do too much. I think he’s getting over that. I think he’s back to enjoying the game, and that’s great to see.”

Harper’s three RBIs might not have been enough against the Marlins line-up, but Gio Gonzalez provided a steady outing (two earned runs in six complete innings, while scattering seven hits) in notching his 11th win on the season. A trio of Nationals’ relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano) then shut down Miami in the last three frames.

The two Marlins’ runs came off an Ed Lucas single that scored Donovan Solano in the first and a Justin Ruggiano double that scored Giancarlo Stanton in the 6th. The Washington win slapped righty Henderson Alvarez with the loss, his fifth on the season.

The Washington victory came at a small personal price for Denard Span, who went 0-4, thus ending his 29 game hitting streak, the longest in the major leagues this year. The crowd of nearly 26,000 fans, realizing the Nationals center fielder would not extend his streak, gave Span a standing ovation after his fourth at bat. He was greeted by his teammates in the dugout with high-fives.

“You gotta tip your cap to Joe DiMaggio because that’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broke,” left fielder Bryce Harper said of Span’s streak after the game. “Denard made a good run at it. I tip my cap to him and I think everyone in baseball did.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Back in March, new ESPN analyst Alex Cora questioned whether the Red Sox had made the right decision in signing former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, saying that Boston should have gone after someone younger and more athletic . . .

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The Worst Baseball Card . . . Ever?

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

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If there’s one thing that baseball card collectors enjoy doing, it’s going on and on about the worst baseball card in their collection. Actually, the word card should be plural: cards — for in every collection of tens of thousands of baseball cards (that’s not a large number for some), there are hundreds (and maybe hundreds of hundreds) of worst cards possible.

So it’s no wonder that every once in awhile a writer pens his own opinion about the worst baseball card — as happened yesterday in the pages of Slate, when Josh Levin identified the 1996 Pinnacle Foil No. 289 as the worst card he’s ever seen. “First, Bob Hamelin’s enormous head takes up most of the frame,” Levin writes. “Second, the small portion of the card that is not consumed by Hamelin’s melon is filled by a placard.”

Levin makes the point that a “bad” baseball cards isn’t a card that we don’t like: those are easy to come by. Rather, a “bad baseball card is one in which errors of composition, design, or production conspire to turn a 2.5-by-3.5-inch piece of cardboard into a memorabilia crime scene.”

Levin goes on to argue that while the Pinnacle Foil No. 289 is bad, the worst cards come from the 1970s, when Topps had a monopoly on the “industry.” In true free market fashion, when Topps got competition their cards got better. They had to, particularly when Upper Deck started putting out beautiful collectables.

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The problem with competition, particularly among baseball card aficianados, was that those who bought the cards could never keep up with the sheer number of cards available. The market was flooded with cards, diminishing their overall value. Then too, who the hell wants a flashy “hologram-and-foil-bedecked‘ pic of (say) Derek Bell?

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