May 29, 2012 [LINK / comment]
For the very first time this season, surprisingly enough, the Washington Nationals pulled off a sweep in a three-game series over the weekend. On Saturday, the Braves tied the game 4-4 in the middle innings, but the Nationals kept unleashing offensive firepower and ended up winning, 8-4. Danny Espinosa (who has been improving lately) and Bryce Harper -- "the Boy Wonder" -- both homered.
In Sunday night's game, broadcast nationally on ESPN, starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez was in trouble with a high pitch count in the early innings, as the Braves took a 2-0 lead. Eventually got back his rhythm and struck out most of the batters in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, with ten K's total. Amazingly, he only allowed two hits. Once again, the Nationals were hitting consistently, and Bryce Harper hit another home run (his fourth), a bomb that landed at least ten rows up in the right field seats. See MLB.com. For once the Nats kept their composure and prevailed in a nationally televised game. Very, very satisfying.
The Nationals racked up 22 runs in that series, by far their highest total over any three-day span so far this year. In April the team relied heavily on superb pitching by their starting rotation, as their batting average lagged, but May has been almost the reverse. I'll compile monthly stats at the end of the month.
As for the Braves, I was very impressed watching Michael Bourn's hitting and fielding performance. The team has dearly missed Chipper Jones, who had been hitting pretty well in what will be his final season before retirement. He has a contusion in his calf and is expected back in early June. First baseman Freddie Freeman has a dry eye ailment that causes blurry vision, for reasons that are not clear. He has been fitted with special glasses and may resume playing very soon.
The Nationals swept the Brewers at home in Nationals Park in mid-April last year, putting their record above the .500 mark, briefly. In September last year, they swept both the Phillies and the Mets -- both of which were four-game series, and both of which were on the road.
Unfortunately, things aren't going so well for the Nats in their current series in Miami. More on that soon...
These have been tough times for fans in Atlanta and the north side of Chicago. Not only did the formerly first-place Braves lose seven games in a row, the Chicago Cubs lost twelve straight games, plunging ever deeper into the NL Central cellar. Holy Cow! Both teams have bounced back, winning their last two games.
On the American League side, the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins both lost five in a row, and then won their last two, while the Oakland A's continue to come up short, losing their seventh straight. The Jays are only three games out of first place, and may yet be contenders for the postseason, but the AL East is extremely tough competition.
On the winning side, streak-wise, the Chicago White Sox have both won seven games in a row, seizing first place in the AL Central, and the L.A. Angels have won eight in a row. (Albert Pujols is finally starting to hit like his old self, but his new team remains 5.5 games behind the awesome Texas Rangers.) The Yankees were also on a hot streak, closing in on the AL East leaders (Orioles and Rays) until they hit a bump in the road in Anaheim.