Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Cardinals’

Nats Live On: Fister Fells The Giants

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Untitled

Facing elimination in San Francisco, the Washington Nationals lived on to play another day, as starting righty Doug Fister combined with timely hitting, and an error on pitcher Madison Bumgarner, to down the Giants at AT&T Park, 4-1. Fister threw seven innings of four hit baseball in a brilliant outing that left the Nats trailing the NLDS by two games to one.

After a frustrating series that saw the Nationals score just three runs in 33 innings, the Washington line-up put three runs on the board against Bumgarner and the Giants in the 7th inning of game four on an Ian Desmond single, a walk to Bryce Harper and a rare sacrifice bunt from catcher Wilson Ramos on a two strike count.

While the Ramos sacrifice was fielded cleanly in front of the mound by Bumgarner, the Giants ace whirled and threw wide of third base, sending the ball down the left field line and into the Giants bullpen. Desmond and Harper scampered home for two runs. The next hitter, Asdrubal Cabrera then singled home Ramos, who slid past Buster Posey for the Nats third run.

“You can’t throw the ball away,” Bumgarner said of his key throwing error. “I screwed it up for us. I thought I had a shot right there. Whether we had a shot or not, I think we still had a shot to get Ramos at first base.” The other Washington run came on Bryce Harper’s second home run of the series (a massive 421 foot shot) over the right field wall.

The game also saw Harper notch two clutch defensive gems, snagging Brandon Crawford’s drive to the left field wall in the second inning and grabbing a dead duck single off the bat of Travis Ishikawa.

“Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it’s very tough,” Harper said of his dramatic outfield plays. “We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long. It’s definitely tough, trying to battle out there.”

The 4-1 victory was a shot in the arm for Washington, which had struggled at the plate against Jake Peavy in game one of the series, and Tim Hudson in game two of the series. While the Nats were still only 1-7 with runners in scoring position, they took advantage of San Francisco’s miscues, while making none of their own.

The victory forces game four of the series, which will be played today in San Francisco. The Nationals will send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face off against the Giants Ryan Vogelsong.

“His numbers the last month were fantastic,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said in explaining why he will go with Gonzalez on the mound. “He’s been going deep into games and using all his pitches for strikes when he wants to.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 8.44.37 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Here’s what you do if you’re Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly: you run Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke out to the bump, take a snooze on the pines, and when you wake up — “presto,” you’ve taken a 2-zip lead on the what-are-we-doing-here St. Louis Cardinals . . .

Or, at least, that’s what fans of the Trolleys would have you think. In fact, it hasn’t turned out that way. Last Friday, in as close to a sure win as you can have, the Redbirds touched the All World Kershaw for eight runs in six innings and squeezed out a jaw-clenching 10-9 win . . .

The Dodgers bounced back from that first game loss with a ho-hum two hit seven inning stint from Greinke on Saturday (notching a 3-2 victory in Game 2 of the Dodgers-Cardinals best-of-five), but baseball analysts were still wondering why Donny Baseball hadn’t given Kershaw the hook when he started to unravel the day before . . .

Last night we were all given an insight into Mattingly’s thinking, which goes something like this: why in the world would you rely on a sometimes shaky bullpen when you’ve got the game’s best starter on the mound. Sure nuf, last night in St. Louis, the Dodgers bullpen waltzed their way into a 3-1 loss when lefty reliever Scott Elbert gave up a two run homer in the 7th to Kolten Wong . . .

Scott Elbert? One L.A. wag described Mattingly’s decision as “one for the birds . . .”

(more…)

Let’s Play The . . . Giants

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

sandoval

Somewhere here soon, and actually any minute now, Nats skipper Matt Williams will tell the Washington sports press that he doesn’t care whether the Nationals face the Pirates (and, well, perhaps the Cardinals) or the Giants in the playoffs — “they’re both good teams.” That’s fine for Matt, but the rest of us should have a decided preference: Let’s play the Giants.

It’s not that we don’t like the Pirates (we love them, and if the Nats weren’t in the playoffs . . .), it’s that of the two teams that the Nats are likely to face in the playoffs first round, the Giants are (arguably) the easier opponent. They’ve had an inconsistent September (swept by the Padres and dumped by the Dodgers) and, with the exception of Madison Bumgarner (and Jake Peavy) their pitching is a mess.

The Giants know it. Having backed into the playoffs, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is now juggling his starting staff to make certain San Francisco puts Bumgarner on the mound on Wild Card Wednesday, no matter who the Giants face. Which means that, if the Giants were to win, the Nationals would face either Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy or Tim Hudson in the first game of the N.L. Division series — while Bumgarner sits.

San Francisco will enter the playoffs with the worst pitching stats of any of the five N.L finishers, with a so-so team ERA (at 3.52), a habit of giving up big runs to small teams and a back of the rotation that has been absolutely shelled.

The Giants lost to the Padres 4-1 last night at home, but gave up eight runs to them on Thursday, in a game the franchise said it had to win. Earlier in the month, the McCoveys were outscored by the Friars in a three game set, 16-2.

But our argument doesn’t have as much to do with the Giants as it does with the Pirates. Pittsburgh is red hot (they’ve won nine of their last eleven), their line-up is that much more formidable and their starting rotation is tougher than San Francisco’s. Pittsburgh is the N.L.’s big secret: they can hit, they can pitch, they’re patient at the plate and they’re fast.

(more…)

Strasburg, Cabrera Spark Eighth Straight Win

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Untitled

Stephen Strasburg threw eight complete innings of three hit baseball and newbie Nat Asdrubal Cabrera’s line drive double capped a six run third inning and the Washington Nine notched their eighth win in a row, in a convincing 8-1 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

This was a dominant outing for Strasburg who notched his tenth win on the year. “I guess it’s what the doctor ordered,” Strasburg said after his win. “I just wanted to go out there and build off the last start and keep doing the things that I’ve been trying to work on. [Catcher Jose Lobaton] called a great game, we played great defense.”

Washington’s onslaught victimized Arizona starter Chase Anderson, who was pulled in the third inning after pitching to six batters, but without getting an out. The frame featured a single (and stolen base) from Denard Span, singles from Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper, a walk to Adam LaRoche and Cabrera’s gap double that cleared the bases.

Cabrera has had key hits in each of the last four games, but notched three RBIs on Tuesday. “He’s a pro,” Manager Matt Williams said of his new second sacker. “His time at shortstop I think helps everything. Coming in, he hadn’t played second base in a while, but switch-hitting capabilities, been in situations like this, hitting in the middle of the order of a team, and a contending team, helps everything.”

Ian Desmond wielded the other big bat for the Nationals, going 3-4 on the night while accumulating four RBIs. “It’s one of those nights where I didn’t hit it super well, but I got some hits,” Desmond said. “Fortunately for me, guys were on base in front of me. They have been doing that all year long. I’ve been trying to do a better job getting on for Bryce [Harper].

The punchless D-Backs were powerless against Strasburg, but even less so against close-out lefty Jerry Blevins, who fanned two in a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. But the night was Strasburg’s.

“He had his fastball working, he was locating,” D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill said. “He’s one of the better fastball pitchers in the game, and we were hoping to maybe get his pitch count up a little bit and get into the bullpen, and it just didn’t happen.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.42.19 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re not inclined to give Baseball Tonight commenter and former major league righty Rick Sutcliffe any kind of love at all — his BT monologues are off-putting, long-winded and sometime incoherent. We loved him as a player, honestly, but . . .

But just this once we’ll give him credit. Back on August 8, Sutcliffe told Baseball Tonight aficionados that the reason Strasburg had authored such a lousy outing that day against the Braves was that he “wasn’t throwing the ball inside.” Strasburg’s inability to “control the inside part of the plate,” Sutcliffe said, was allowing hitters to lean into his outside pitches . . .

We’ve learned since then that Sutcliffe’s views reflected what the Nationals themselves were thinking. In the wake of the righty’s poor outing against the Braves, pitching guru Steve McCatty had an intense side session with Stras to polish his inside pitching. The results have been impressive . . .

(more…)

Nats Walk Off (Again), This Time In Extras — And In “A Classic”

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Untitled

Think of all the baseball cliches, and you will almost certainly touch on one that describes Washington’s 6-5 eleven inning walk-off triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates: If you didn’t see it, you should have — if you weren’t there you should have been. Indeed, the Bucs-Nats tilt of August 17 will go down in D.C. baseball history as “a classic,” the kind of win remembered for a long time.

The game began modestly enough, with Washington’s Doug Fister facing off against Pirate ace Edinson Volquez. Fister had his usual ace stuff, allowing just five hits and no earned runs (the Pirates scored two in the 6th on two D.C. errors), while striking out five before being lifted after seven complete for 8th inning relief whiz Tyler Clippard.

Volquez was nearly as good (he’s 10-7 on the season, and is a workhorse), though he gave up a single earned run through 6.1 innings, while notching five strikeouts. But in the bottom of the 7th frame, the Nationals put three runs on the board, when Michael Taylor was hit by a pitch, Kevin Frandsen and Denard Span singled — and the Nationals plated three runs on fielders choice singles off the bats of Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon.

Then, with the Nationals leading 4-2 in the 9th inning (and coasting to a seemingly assured victory), it all fell apart for the home towners. With Rafael Soriano on the mound to close the game (and searching for his 30th save), the Pirates struck for three runs.

Soriano’s troubled 9th began when the big righty hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. Soriano then gave up a single to Travis Snider, then allowed Marte to score and pinch runner Michael Martinez to advance to second on a wild pitch. Ike Davis was then walked. And although the Nats picked up an out on a Gaby Sanchez fielders’ choice, rookie sensation Gregory Polanco doubled to center to score sprinting pinch runner Jordy Mercer and Sanchez.

With Soriano slumping on the bench, reliever Matt Thornton got the Nationals out of the 9th, but the Nationals seemed deflated by the blown save — and headed for defeat. It was then that the fireworks began, courtesy of Jayson Werth, who’d been sidelined for the last week with a tweeky shoulder.

With one out in the 9th, Werth (who was hitting for Thornton) drew a walk from Pirates reliever Mark Melancon. Werth’s reappearance in the Nationals line-up reenergized the Nationals, with the right fielder advancing to third on a Denard Span single and scoring on a clutch fielders choice off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera. Unaccountably, but dramatically, the Nationals had knotted the game at 5.

The dramatic Nationals fall, and rise, lasted through the scoreless 10th, with lefty reliever Ross Detwiler holding the Pirates scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, the Nationals walked off in dramatic fashion: on a Werth double, a move-em-over grounder to the right side from Denard Span and a game-winning sacrifice fly off the bat of uber-sub Scott Hairston.

“Today was a tribute to just the team mentality in general,” starter Doug Fister said of his team’s victory. “That’s a lesson learned for us, knowing that [if] something goes wrong, there’s 24 guys right behind you that pick you up. Whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, guys are playing well together.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.29.36 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Pirates came into Washington with high hopes, but have now dropped five games in a row. “We get to play in front of 120,000 people over the weekend, playing a good team,” Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said of his team’s effort. “Got to keep battling, score one more run than they — that didn’t happen for us this weekend . . .”

The three game Washington-Pirates set was worthy of October, with two walk-off Nationals wins and each game decided by a single run. The Nationals were saved from their sloppy play (two errors on Sunday that allowed two Pittsburgh runs, both in the 6th inning), by clutch at bats from Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Scott Hairston . . .

(more…)

Nats Drop Atlanta Series, Head To New York

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Untitled

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.”

(more…)

Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Untitled

After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 4.12.35 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

(more…)

Marlins Hook The Nats, 3-0

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

2014_Alvarez

Henderson Alvarez pitched seven complete innings and Giancarlo Stanton had two hits and drove in two runs as the Miami Marlins shut out the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on Tuesday night, 3-0. The victory was Miami’s sixth in a row and narrowed the gap separating them from first place in the National League East.

Alvarez showed why he’s one of Miami’s premier starters, particularly at home. Alvarez allowed just three hits while striking out four, outdueling Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg matched Alvarez’s numbers, also allowing just four hits. The Washington righty also struck out four Marlins.

The Nationals had plenty of scoring opportunities against Alvarez, but couldn’t find a way to get their runners across the plate. The Nats had the bases loaded in the second inning with no outs, but failed to score, and then had Anthony Rendon on third and Bryce Harper on first in the fifth but couldn’t push a run across.

Alvarez admitted that he struggled in the early going, before finding his command. “I was in the bullpen and I didn’t feel like I always feel before I hit the field. I wasn’t into it. For several innings I had to fight through it,” Alvarez said of his performance. “When the bases loaded with nobody out, I started to find my control of my pitches and of the game.”

After showing a solid ability to push runners across the plate earlier in the current road trip, the Nationals reclaimed their inability to score with runners on base. Washington left 26 on base last night, threatening Miami’s lead in the last of the 9th, when they again failed to score with the bases loaded.

The game also marked a revival for the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, who entered the game at zero for his last nine at bats. But Stanton certainly looked good against the Nationals, lacing a double to left against Strasburg in the bottom of the 6th, scoring Jordany Valdespin.

“I haven’t felt good for a while now,” Stanton said after last night’s victory. “I did a little setup pregame. Hopefully I’m feeling better and more comfortable at the plate. Today was a good plus to that.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 7.29.05 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers are in the hunt for starting pitchers, with both teams inquiring about Boston’s Jon Lester, who’s a free agent after the season. The Redbirds have kicked the tires on nearly everyone who’s even remotely available, according to baseball analysts . . .

The once-upon-a-time pitching rich Cardinals are mired right in the middle of the pack with their staff, at least statistically, with both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia sidelined with arm issues. Wacha has a tweaky shoulder while Garcia is out for the duration with nerve problems in his pitching arm . . .

The loss of Wacha and Garcia have not sent the Cardinals into a tailspin, but St. Louis will need to bolster its pitching to have a shot at another world title. Everyone is in play: the Redbirds have scouted Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and A.j. Burnett of the Phillies, Ian Kennedy of the Padres and Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, in addition to Lester . . .

(more…)