Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Cardinals’

Nats Notes: Are The Nats Tough Guys . . . Or Choke Artists?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

2014-topps-0453

The 4-game series split between the Washington Nationals and the reigning National League champion St. Louis Cardinals was a microcosm of the 2014 season so far: one blowout plagued with fielding errors, one pitchers’ duel with adequate run support, one pitchers’ duel with inadequate run support, and one come-from-behind walk off win.

Game 1 of the series brought back the worst memories of the dark times of 2008 and 2009, with the Redbirds shutting out the Nats 8-0. Nats starter Taylor Jordan gave up 5 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings and whatever the defense was, it wasn’t major league caliber. It was just by coincidence that Thomas Boswell, the great columnist at the Washington Post, wrote a piece that day about how hemming and hawing about the Nats this early in the season is fun — but they’re so good there really wasn’t much to worry about.

Manager Matt Williams was less than happy with what he saw that day and let the team, and by extension the fans, know it. This game only fueled the chatter that the Nats are bipolar: they dominate over lesser teams like the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, but they’re choke artists when it comes to playing the real contenders like the Braves and Cards.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 7.23.41 AM

Games 2 and 3 were more in line with what Washington fans have come to expect from their team. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann provided quality starts, the base running wasn’t haphazard, and the lineup clawed up the ladder of hits and runs in a sometimes you catch them, sometimes you don’t way. That one of these was a win and the other a loss can be chalked up to two things: errors and stranded runners.

(more…)

Span’s 9th Inning Sacrifice Gives Nats The Win

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Untitled

Denard Span’s walk off sacrifice fly in the 9th inning scored Danny Espinosa with the winning run as the Nationals defeated the Cardinals at Nationals Park on Sunday, 3-2. The victory assured a series split between the two teams, who are predicted to meet in the off-season, and allowed the Nats to keep pace with the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East.

The bases were loaded when Span stepped to the plate in the 9th, with the Cardinals playing five infielders to prevent the winning run. “I counted: one, two, three, four, five,” Span said of his clutch at bat. “Right there I told myself a groundball probably not going to do it. Try to get the ball in the air somehow.”

The Washington victory was another come-from-behind win, with the Nationals scoring two runs in the bottom of the 7th inning to tie the game. The 7th inning rally featured classic station-to-station scoring from a team that has too often relied on the long ball — with singles from Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 9.46.47 AM

The Cardinals scored their runs against Washington ace Stephan Strasburg, who pitched six complete inning of five hit baseball, but failed to get the decision. Strasburg threw 90 pitches, 63 of them for strikes, before yielding to Washington’s suddenly effective relief corps. Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins and Rafael Soriano kept the Cards off the scoreboard, with Soriano notching the win.

The Washington win was particularly gratifying because it came off one of the best bullpens in baseball and included a return to the lineup of Bryce Harper, who was benched on Saturday for failing to hustle. Harper met with Washington skipper Matt Williams prior to Sunday’s game to talk of the incident. “[Williams] just said, ‘Go get ‘em.’ That’s the three words he said. He was every enthusiastic,” Harper said of their pre-game talk.

While Span was the hero of Sunday’s game, the key to the Nats resurgence was Danny Espinosa, who was 3-4 and got key hits during the 7th inning rally and then again in the 9th — scoring the Nationals’ winning run. “His approach is good, his intensity is good, his attitude’s fantastic, and he loves to play,” Williams said of Espinosa’s reemergence.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Nearly every year the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are picked to win the American League West, and nearly every year they disappoint. That was particularly true for 2012, when the Angels signed free agent Albert Pujols, and then against last year, when they signed slugger Josh Hamilton . . .

(more…)

Late Nats Rally Falls Short, Harper Benched

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Untitled1

A late, 9th inning, rally from a trailing Nationals team against Cardinals’ reliever Trevor Rosenthal fell just short on Saturday afternoon, and St. Louis downed Washington, 4-3. The Cardinals , who lead the series two games to one, have a chance to take the series today at Nationals Park when Stephen Strasburg faces off against Shelby Miller.

The miscues that have dogged the Nationals in the early going were in evidence again on Saturday, giving the Cardinals a chance to score early. A throwing error from Anthony Rendon in the top of the 2nd on a possible double play ball allowed the Cardinals to put two on the board, on a single off the bat of Tony Cruz, which was followed by an improbable double from pitcher Lance Lynn.

The Nationals now lead the majors in errors, having committed twenty in eighteen games. “It’s not because of a lack of effort. We are just a little unlucky, right now,” outfielder Jayson Werth said about his team’s defense. “I feel like it’s going to come back around. We’ll be all right.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 11.48.11 AM

The Nationals battled back from their early bobbles behind the hitting of Danny Espinosa (who notched his first home run of the season), Denard Span (who was 2-5 in his first game back from the 7 day disabled list) and Rendon — who was a nifty 2-4 on the day, raising his season average to .324.

The loss squandered a workmanlike outing from righty starter Jordan Zimmerman, who threw seven solid innings of seven hit baseball. “Zim pitched well. He got in a situation with Holliday in his last inning in which he gave up a base hit,” Washington skipper Matt Williams acknowledged. “But other than that, he pitched well enough to win.”

As good as Zimmerman was, St. Louis starter Lance Lynn was just as effective. Lynn, who said he had his best stuff of the year, held the Nationals to five hits in pitching into the sixth inning. The victory was his fourth of the year, with no losses.

The Nationals had a chance to win the game in the 9th after Rendon’s double brought the team to within two in the 8th. After notching the first out, Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal walked pinch hitter Zach Walters then allowed Denard Span to reach base after he threw his slow grounder late to second. Rosenthal then balked Walters and Span to third and second.

With the sellout crowd of 41,000-plus on their feet, Keven Frandsen grounded out to third — which scored Walters, and suddenly the game was 4-3 with the tying run a single away. But Jayson Werth struck out swinging on a 99 mph Rosenthal fastball to end it, and give St. Louis the victory.

Team Rank                                                                        Games      Errors                Percentage          

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 12.20.16 PM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Diehard fans of the Nationals will tell you, albeit quietly, that their one criticism of now-retired skipper Davey Johnson was that he wasn’t tough enough. Most Washington fans would tell you precisely why they thought this, but often it came down to Johnson’s handling of phenom Bryce Harper . . .

(more…)

Nats Boot The Ball, Drop St. Louis Series Opener

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Untitled

In his post game press conferences, Nationals skipper Matt Williams sometimes appears as a barely controlled caldera — like Yellowstone, he seems always on the verge of exploding, particularly after a loss. So it was on Thursday night, after his Washington Nationals dropped a sloppily played error-filled game to the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-0.

The loss led to a short post game team meeting, at which Williams spoke — but he said the message he conveyed would not be made public. “That’s for me and my team.” he said. “I seem very upset? I’m just not answering that question. That’s for me and my team, and nobody else’s business. Regarding the game, it was probably the worst one we played.”

Williams had plenty to be upset about. The first play of the game featured a booted ball by shortstop Ian Desmond, which was followed by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to dig a squiggler off the bat of Kolten Wong out of his glove. The play was scored as a single, but it was an error — and suddenly the Cardinals, with the fans still filing into the ballpark, were threatening.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 7.08.01 AM

That’s twenty errors in Washington’s first sixteen games, and this from a team whose manager prizes defense. “The first ball of the game, you boot it, that doesn’t set the tone,” Desmond said of his performance. “If I ever want to be the captain of this team — and I do — I’m going to have to be better than that.”

St. Louis, meanwhile, played flawlessly behind the two hit pitching of righty Adam Wainwright. Wainwright kept the Nationals off the bases and off the board, depending on an attack from Matt Holliday (2-3 with two RBIs), Matt Adams (1-4 with three RBIs) and Jhonny Peralta (who was 2-5).

We’ll keep grinding away at it,” Williams said. “We will go out there tomorrow and we’ll certainly take a full [batting practice], full grounders. It is scheduled to be extra work for the pitchers tomorrow. It’s part of the schedule. … We do it all the time. What to make of [the bad defense]? I don’t know.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There was an odd semi-takedown of MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and F.P Santangelo on the Sporting News website last week. Headlined “Nationals broadcasters let cliches, homerism get in the way . . .” the article purported to show how amateurish and boorish the two are . . .

(more…)

Nats Take The Miami Series, Head Home

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Untitled

The hobbled Washington Nationals escaped Miami with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night, taking two games of three from their division rivals. The Nationals were powered by sloppy Marlins fielding, a three run home run off of Miami starter Jose Fernandez by Jayson Werth in the top of the 6th (which tied the game at 3) and a pinch hit home run from rookie Zach Walters.

The errors from Miami and the two Nats home runs were the difference in the game, besting Miami ace Fernandez. In the 6th, the usually sure-handed Jerrod Saltalamacchia allowed Jose Lobaton to scamper to third on a throwing error and the Miami catcher then dropped a pop foul off the bat of Anthony Rendon.

“We’re in a funk out there, for whatever reason,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after the loss. “We just have got to keep throwing these guys out there and get them going. Another pinch-hit home run. Stuff like that just can’t happen late in the game. We’ve given up a lot of big hits late in the game. Those are crushers. We’ve got to find a way to make an adjustment.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 11.26.04 AM

The Nationals were shut down by Fernandez, who owns a snappy 2.66 ERA on the season — and who only gave up a four hits in seven innings last night. “He’s an animal,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Fernandez. “He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.”

The Nationals’ runs in the 6th inning were all unearned, leaving Fernandez the victim of his teammates poor play. After the Fernandez departure, the Nationals put three runs on the board off of two Miami relievers: Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos.

After being swept in Atlanta, the Nationals needed the Miami salvage operation, and they got it. The team put up nine runs on sixteen hits in the first game of the series, and last night were able to get a solid starting performance from righty Tanner Roark, who pitched into the 7th inning while notching five strikeouts.

Roark was at his best in the 5th, when he ended a Miami rally that had Marcell Ozuna on third with one out. Roark struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Garrett Jones flied out to left to end the threat. “It was a big momentum swing,” said Roark of his clutch pitching. “I felt like we had a good weight off our shoulders and my shoulders as well.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the standard of success in the American League is the New York Yankees; it’s impossible to read anything about baseball without reading about them. But that’s also true for the St. Louis Cardinals, the N.L. version of the Bombers. For good reason . . .

(more…)

The Nats Head Home After An 86-76 Season

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Untitled

The Washington Nationals finished their season in Arizona with a loss to the Diamondbacks, 3-2. In many ways the loss was representative of what the team had done all season: entering the eighth inning with a one run lead, the Nationals’ bullpen gave up two runs to an Arizona team they’d beaten handily in the previous two outings.

While the game was the last in a season that saw the Nats drop out of contention for the N.L. East title back in June and July, the team came back in September with a run at the Wild Card. The key to the Nationals resurgence was a revived offense and pitching contributions from unlikely rookies, including Tanner Roark, who held the D-Backs to just three hits in seven innings on Sunday.

“I feel I can play up here for sure. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Roark said after his performance on Sunday. “Just workout in the offseason, do my best and come back ready to go in spring training.” Roark has been outstanding since arriving in the majors in early August: he finished at 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 11.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.03.45 AM

The final game of the season also marked Davey Johnson’s last game as the Nats’ manager. “Time to go home,” Johnson said after the game. “Put me out to pasture.” The Nationals praised their 70-year-old skipper, with Tyler Clippard noting that a good manager “builds confidence in his players and we benefited from that because he never wavered, no matter how good or bad you were doing.”

Johnson was philosophical about what is apparently the end of his career, choosing to bypass comments on the Nationals’ season. “I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” he told the press after the Arizona loss. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: An 86-76 record would have sparked celebrations in Washington just a few years ago, but the Nationals (picked by many as the premier team in the National League) must be disappointed. Even so, there is good reason for celebrating a season that saw the Nationals finish ten games out of the hunt in the N.L. East . . .

(more…)

Cardinals Sweep The Nats, 4-1

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Untitled

With their chances of a playoff berth at an end, the Washington Nationals played flat in St. Louis on Wednesday, losing to the Cardinals, 4-1. The loss notched a St. Louis sweep of the Nationals in the three game set and put the Cardinals a single game from winning the N.L. Central crown.

The loss also ensured that Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann will not reach twenty wins on the season, his 2013 campaign finishing at 19-9. The Cardinals were led by rookie pitcher Shelby Miller, who stifled Nats’ hitters through six innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run.

The St. Louis offense was not overwhelming, but it was enough to seal the win: St. Louis got its first run on a Matt Carpenter ground out that scored Daniel Descalso in the 3rd, a Yadier Molina single that scored two runs in fourth and a Matt Adams home run in the bottom of the 6th.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 8.10.08 AM

The Cardinals have dominated the Nationals following their victory against them in the playoffs in 2012. The Nationals have faced the Cards six times this year and lost every game; they were swept in Washington in April (in three close games) and, now, in St. Louis in September.

“I’ll tell you: They kicked our butt in just about every aspect of the game,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said in the clubhouse after this team was swept yesterday. “I tip my hat to them. Matheny has done a good over there, I wish them luck. They had their way with us.”

In each of the two series this year, the Nationals have had trouble scoring runs off the Cardinals pitching staff. The key in the most recent series has been the St. Louis relief corps, and on Wednesday four Cardinal relievers (Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal) combined to hold the Nationals to a single hit and no runs.

“The Cardinals have done a good job with their pitching staff. They have good starters, but I think what sets them apart is their bullpen,” right fielder Jayson Werth acknowledged after Wednesday’s loss. “The bullpen is good. They have a lot of velocity and they have a lot of depth.”

MLB relief statistics show just how effective Cardinal relievers have been — they’ve given up just 3.74 runs per game, good enough for fifth best in baseball and are particularly good when holding a lead (fourth best in the National League). More impressive still is that the Cardinals relief corps is young: each of the four relievers on Wednesday were rookies.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The media powers that be are yakking about the “unbalanced schedule” in baseball, the topic providing running commentaries yesterday on both Mike & Mike on ESPN and then, later in the evening, on the MLB Network . . .

“The schedule is designed with the division races in mind,” Jayson Stark noted on ESPN. “For the first time every team in a division plays essentially the same schedule.” The problem (Stark noted) is that while baseball’s schedule emphasizes division rivalries (with each team in a division playing other division rivals up to nineteen times) that unbalance has a significant impact on the Wild Card races . . .

(more…)