Posts Tagged ‘Washington Nationals’

It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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The Nationals edged closer to playing in October Monday night, downing the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field behind the shut-down seven inning pitching of righty ace Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg stymied the Braves, 4-2, leaving the Nationals on the verge of their second National League East championship in three years.

Strasburg has always had difficulty pitching against the Braves at Turner Field and entered the game with a stiff neck, but none of these problems were much in evidence on Monday. The righty gave up five hits while striking out seven and walking none in a 90 pitch outing. The win gave the Nats their league leading 86th win on the season.

“I’ve never seen him pitch bad against us,” Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said after the Nats win. “You see the numbers, the seven-plus ERA his last four starts here. He’s a pretty darn good pitcher every time we face him. I know those numbers don’t bare that. But he’s a guy that we respect. He’s a guy who has been a big pitcher for them.”

Strasburg’s win was also the result of timely Nationals hitting, which began with a Denard Span double off of Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the third inning. Span’s double plated Wilson Ramos for Washington’s first score. Ramos then homered in the top of the 5th inning for the Nats second score. The Nats added their third run on a Strasburg single in the 7th and a Nate Schierholtz RBI in the 8th.

The Braves mounted a comeback in the 9th inning, with Rafael Soriano taking the mound to protect a 4-0 lead. Andrelton Simmons greeted Soriano with a double and then scored on a Justin Upton double to left. When Soriano walked Chris Johnson with two outs, Nats manager Matt Williams brought in Drew Storen to get the third out — a B.J. Upton grounder that ended the game.

The Braves frustration at falling out of both the race for the N.L. East crown and a spot as a Wild Card team was evidenced in the 6th inning when first sacker Freddie Freeman was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Freeman slammed his bat in disgust and was ejected from the game; when Gonzalez defended his player, he was also tossed.

We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting.”

The loss symbolized the demise of the Braves who, despite their early season woes with a rash of pitching injuries, were supposed to contend with the Nationals for the N.L East title. That’s not what happened: Atlanta played well against the Nats, but poorly against the rest of the league. Last night’s loss put them at a so-so 75-75 for the year. A disappointment . . .

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Baltimore’s Orioles are a single win away from clinching their first American League East title since 1997. Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, they continued their dominance of their division, finishing off the struggling Jays, 5-2. If they win again tonight, they’ll win the A.L. East crown . . .

It seemed only right that Wei-Yin Chen would be the pitcher to lead the O’s in Toronto. After last night’s performance (the underrated southpaw scattered nine hits in 5.2 innings of work), Chen is 16-4 on the season, the first time a Baltimore lefty had 16 or more wins in a season since Jimmy Key did it way back when . . .

“I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle,” Chen said of his performance after his team’s victory. “I was trying to keep the ball down without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates . . .”

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Nats Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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Mets End Drought Vs. Nats, Win 4-3

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

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The Mets have been nearly hopeless in playing the Nationals in New York, but on Friday night they ended their drought, notching a 4-3 victory over Washington behind the pitching of starter Dillon Gee and the bat of Juan Lagares. The victory ended a twelve game winless streak for New York against the Nationals at Citi Field.

The New York victory came at the expense of Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who reacted angrily to Matt Williams decision to take him out of the game in the 7th inning. Gonzalez slammed the ball into Williams’ hand when the skipper relieved him, then exchanged words with him in a heated conversation in the dugout.

Gonzalez later downplayed the mini-confrontation. “Matt did his best to defuse it as much as possible,” he said. “It’s part of the sport. It’s high intensity, trying to keep the game close. He has been part of it; it’s part of baseball. You want to keep pitching, you want to keep going out there.”

Gonzalez pitched well on Friday night, but not well enough to notch the win, or keep the Mets out of the scoring column. The Mets put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first inning on an Eric Young, Jr. single, a Juan Lagares HBP, a walk to Lucas Duda and a Travis d’Arnaud double to deep left field. The three run inning forced Gonzalez to start over in the second.

“Second inning, it was a clean start, and I just tried to pound the strike zone, keep going after them,” Gonzalez confirmed after the loss. “Throwing the changeup for strikes. I’m trying to work fast and get us back in the dugout as soon as possible to get our guys to swing the bat.”

The Nationals struck back by plating two runs in the top of the third and a single run in the fifth, but New York answered with another Lagares double in the bottom half of that frame. Anthony Rendon provided most of Washington’s offense, including a home run in the top of the 5th (his twentieth of the season) to tie the score at three.

“He has been unbelievable,” teammate Denard Span said of the Nats third sacker. “He has been our most valuable player from start to finish. He has been in the lineup pretty much every day, giving us everything we need. He is scoring runs. We need him to steal a bag, he steals a bag, driving in runs. He is doing it all.”

Mets manager Terry Collins was visibly relieved by his team’s win, particularly after a winless lull against Washington at Citi Field that goes back 14 months. “There’s been a lot of nights where we’ve had them late in the game and they’ve come back and done some big damage against us, but it was a good win for us tonight for sure, ” Collins said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The nation turns its lonely eyes to the West Coast, where the most interesting baseball is being played. The Giants opened what could be a winner-take-all series against the Dodgers in San Francisco last night, derailing the N.L. West leading Trolleys 9-0 in the first of a three game set . . .

This is a damned near ancient rivalry in the Great Game, made all the more important by the fact that prior to last night’s contest the Giants trailed the Kershaws by just two games. Madison Bumgarner stepped up in his start last night, throwing seven innings of three hit baseball . . .

Dodger fans need to take a quick gulp: southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was removed after the first inning with left shoulder irritation — he’d just given up four runs. Bumgarner, meanwhile, notched his 18th win and struck out eight . . .

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Nats 6-4 Victory Extends N.L. East Lead

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

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The Nationals sent nine hitters to the plate in the first inning against Atlanta starter Ervin Santana last night at Nationals Park and scored four runs, an avalanche of offense that stunned the Braves and led Washington to its second win in a row against their division rivals. The final 6-4 score extended the Nationals lead in the N.L. East to nine games.

“They came out swinging the bats and were really, really aggressive with the first couple pitches of every at-bat,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Usually, when they do that against [Santana], they get quick outs. But they found the outfield grass and put a big number up — four runs. We weren’t able to recover after that, but we battled.”

It would now take a near miracle for the Braves to overtake the Nats for the division crown, though four games remain between the two teams. The beneficiary of last night’s victory, played before an excited crowd of nearly 30,000 partisans, was Jordan Zimmermann, who threw six complete innings in picking up his eleventh win on the season.

The Nationals first inning onslaught included a double from Denard Span, a Jayson Werth walk and singles from Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos — all of which led to three early D.C. runs. An Asdrubal Cabrera sacrifice fly scored the fourth run of the inning.

The Washington victory marked another great game for hot-hitting first sacker Adam LaRoche, who was 2-3 with two RBIs on the night. “It feels like we’re just that much closer,” LaRoche told the press after the victory. “Not to take anything for granted until this thing is sewn up, but these are big. This time of year, playing the team chasing you, to be able to win a couple.”

While the game dimmed the end-of-season prospects for the Braves, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said his team wasn’t about to give up. “We still have a chance,” Freeman said. “Once we’re fully eliminated from the division race, then we’ll worry about the wild card.”

Atlanta attempted to climb back into the game by putting two runs on the board in the fourth and sixth innings, which included a home run off the bat of Justin Upton. But other than the Upton home run, righty Jordan Zimmermann was steady and efficient in setting down Atlanta hitters.

“I felt OK. I didn’t have my best stuff. The fastball was like a tick off. I ran into some deep counts,” Zimmermann said of his six inning outing. “A couple of at-bats by Bonifacio cost me 15 to 20 pitches. That’s why I wasn’t able to go longer. Overall, I felt OK. It was just a little bit of a battle tonight.”

As has now become common practice, Nats manager Matt Williams successfully mixed and matched his relievers against Atlanta’s long-ball hitting line-up. Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen took the Nationals through the end of the eighth inning, while Drew Storen notched his third save in a row and his fourth on the season.

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Nats Edge Atlanta In Dramatic 2-1 Win

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

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The Nationals are playing October playoff baseball in September at Nationals Park, with dramatic pitching performances and clutch come-from-behind victories that are vaulting Washington to the top of the National League East. Last night, in a dramatic playoff atmosphere, the Nationals edged the Altanta Braves behind the pitching of Doug Fister, 2-1.

The victory put the Nationals eight games ahead of second place Atlanta and reduced the team’s magic number to win the East at 12 games. Fister, who threw seven inning of two hit baseball to notch his 13th win of the season, was the key to the win. Fister induced eleven ground ball outs and struck out three in the victory. Atlanta’s Mike Minor took the loss.

“We’ve struggled all year against the Braves,” Drew Storen, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to register his second straight save, said of the win. “It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game — and that’s a tight game that can swing either way — for us to lock that down is really good.”

The Nationals scored early against Minor, with Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond singling in the first inning. Desmond’s single scored Rendon for the Nationals first run. The Nats scored again in the bottom of the 7th when Jeff Kobernus, pinching running for Wilson Ramos, scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Rendon.

Atlanta’s Mike Minor matched Fister pitch-for-pitch, until being pulled by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez after six complete innings. The scrappy Minor kept the Braves in the game just enough that, in the seventh inning, the Braves threatened to grab the lead after Fister walked Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella. But Fister was able to pitch out of the jam, inducing a ground ball out from shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

“Tonight was a baseball game, a well-played baseball game on both sides and well pitched,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “No errors or mistakes there for either team. Their pitcher was able to hold us to one less run, and them getting the extra run with a groundout. It didn’t take a lot. That’s the definition of a good game.”

A crowd of 25,000-plus watched the Nats victory, but was more raucous than usual — a sign that Nats fans know that their team doesn’t always play its best against their division rivals. Which gave added drama to the victory and made the contest feel like a do-or-die October playoff game.

“It would be nice to win the division knowing that we can beat the Braves more than winning the division knowing that we can’t beat the Braves,” Washington reliever Craig Stammen said. “This proves we can play good baseball against a good team and prepare us for a playoff-type atmosphere if we get to that point.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Crew has lost 12 of their last thirteen games and plummeted out of first place in the National League Central. They now trail the St. Louis stinking Cardinals by six games and are struggling to stay in the Wild Card race . . .

Last night in Miami, and against a team that is three games under .500, Milwaukee lost a 6-4 decision to the Marlins, while gamely attempting a last gasp two run effort to rally in the eighth inning. It was not to be. “We can’t make the pitch when we need to,” first sacker Mark Reynolds said after the loss. “We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration . . .”

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Nats In “Epic Collapse” As Phillies Win In 11

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

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If there are “epic wins” (and there have been this season), then there are certainly “epic losses” — and, for the Washington Nationals, Friday night was one of them. Leading by three runs going into the 9th inning, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano gave up two home runs (to Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere) and Washington went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in 11 innings, 9-8.

The loss featured nearly every up (and down) that Nationals fans have seen this year: a solid outing from starter Stephen Strasbug (who threw six solid innings of four hit baseball), a hot hand from a heroic Adam LaRoche (who hit yet another home run and notched three RBIs), and a wobbly 9th from an embattled closer whose job is now in jeopardy.

And there was also the unusual, and surprising — including a muffed fly ball off the bat of Dominic Brown in the 11th inning that featured a keystone cops-like outfield collision between Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Two batters later, a throwing error from Tyler Moore allowed Brown to score. Philadelphia’s two runs in the 11th held up to give the Ashburns the win.

After the loss, left fielder Harper confirmed that he was at fault in the rare outfield play, which gave the Nationals three errors on the night. “It got to the point where I thought I could get it, he called it and we bump into each other,” Harper said. “Center field priority, of course. I got to get out of there.”

So what now? As the boos rained down on Soriano when he walked from the mound to the dugout in the 9th, it was clear that skipper Matt Williams would have to rethink who will close games for the home towners, a viewpoint that a testy Williams confirmed during his tense post-game press conference.

“We’re certainly going to have to take a hard look at it,” Williams told the press after the game. “It’s not an easy decision. None of them are. But we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that, he’s been around the block.”

The Soriano decision, and the two home runs he gave up in the 9th, overawed what had been a solid outing for the ballclub, and one in which one of the toughest line-ups in the game had put seven runs on the board in nine innings.

The Nationals seven runs had come courtesy of a cascade of hits from Adam LaRoche (who’s first inning home run scored Anthony Rendon), Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper (whose fourth inning singles yield a third run), a Rendon double that scored Denard Span (in the 5th) and a Jayson Werth ground rule double and Adam LaRoche sacrifice fly in the 7th.

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Nats Notes: And Down The Stretch They Come . . .

Friday, September 5th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals have entered the home stretch: there are only some 20-plus games remaining in the regular season, all of which the Nats are playing against their N.L. East rivals. The bookmakers currently have the odds the Nationals make it to October at 99.8 percent.

Don’t let that number fool you – there’s no guarantee here, and there’ll be meaningful and exciting baseball through the end of the month. But no matter what happens down the stretch, Nats fans will remember the past month as confirmation that the Washington Nine are genuine contenders in the top tier of Major League teams.

The Nats put together a hardscrabble 10-game streak and a 9-for-10 homestand in August, sweeping one NL wildcard contender (the Pittsburgh Pirates) and winning a series against another (the San Francisco Giants). They then took two series on the West Coast, one from an AL wildcard contender (the Seattle Mariners) and one from the NL West leaders (the Los Angeles Dodgers). The Nationals were 4-2 on the recent West Coast swing, and let’s not kid ourselves: that’s no mean feat.

That month-long series of victories wasn’t ho-hum, by-the-numbers videogame baseball. Multiple walk-offs and come-backers were a part of the streak, with Nats’ hitters feasting on some of the best pitching in the Majors (e.g., the Sailors’ “King” Felix Hernandez: 10 hits, 4 homers, 5 ERs; the Trolley’s Kenley Jansen, third in saves in the NL: 4 hits, 1 homer, 3 ERs).

Of course, like all quests, there were setbacks and insurmountable obstacles along the way. A sweep at the hands of the Ashburns, bottomfeeders in the NL East (and longtime Washington irritants), stung without mercy. And the Nats have yet to discover the key that unlocks Trolleys’ ace Clayton Kershaw: he pitched a three-hitter, giving up one run in 8 innings.

The fact that the remaining games are all against the N.L East is worrisome. While it’s possible (though unlikely) that the wheels will come off and the Nats will be consigned to playing golf in October (they wouldn’t be the first team that’s happened to), the more realistic concern is that Washington forsakes home field advantage in the NLCS – which is granted to the team with the best regular season record.

But if you eye the schedule logically, you wouldn’t think that was really a serious risk. The Atlanta Braves are fighting gamely to stay in the Wild Card race, while the Marlins, Mets and Phillies are all sub-.500 teams. But the fact of the matter is that (with the exception of the Madoffs), the Nats just don’t play their fellow Easterners all that well. Their season records are (an embarrassing) 4-9 against the Barves, 6-5 against the Fish, 10-2 against the Mets, and only 8-8 against the Phils.

Right now, the magic number for the Nationals is 17. Which means the Strasburgs are at the point in the season when what their opponents do against anyone else is mostly irrelevant. But to put it away, to seal it all, the make themselves the one, the true cham-peens on the right coast, the Nats will have to figure out a way to feast on the East.

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