May 4, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Harper's big bat ends Nats' skid
Bryce Harper is quickly erasing any doubts that he belongs in the major leagues, now. Even though he went a disappointing 0 for 3 in his debut [home] appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Nationals Park on Tuesday night, in the next two games he provided the offensive firepower that the Nats have so desperately needed. In Wednesday night's game he went 3 for 4, including two doubles -- one of which led off the ninth inning. The next two batters struck out, when up to the plate stepped the Nats' shortstop, Ian Desmond. Down one run, with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning: the perfect situation for a clutch performance. Sure enough, Desmond rose to the occasion by swatting a home run just over the left-center fence, giving the Nats and their fans a much-deserved walk-off victory.
Last night was almost as much fun, as Harper once again delivered a clutch RBI double, scoring Ian Desmond who had also just doubled. Final score, Nats 2, D-Backs 1. See MLB.com. It was nice that they won the series, bouncing back from that five-game losing streak.
UPDATE: Stephen Strasburg gave up his first two home runs of the year tonight, and left the game after six innings with his team behind the Phillies by two runs. The Nats came back to tie it 3-3, however, as the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, the Nats loaded the bases with two outs, and pinch hitter Wilson Ramos singled home the winning run. Yet another thrilling walk-off victory! Weirdly, neither Bryce Harper nor Jayson Werth had any hits in six plate appearances each, though Harper did walk three times. Tonight's attendance: 34,377 -- the third highest of the year, but it's not certain how many were "friendlies."
The Nationals' great April
Other than the lack of consistent batting, the Nationals have played magnificently in the early 2012 season. As shown on the newly-updated Washington Nationals [page], they amassed a record of 14-8 in April even though they lost their last four games of the month. It's the first time since June 2005 that they finished a month in first place in the National League Eastern Division.
Where are the Nats fans?
In today's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga notes the meager attendance at Nationals home games so far this year, in spite of the team's great success. Well, that's bound to change before long. Tonight the Nats welcome arch-rival Phillies to town, and we'll see if the PR campaign to get more Nats fans to show up and offset those noisy visitors from Philadelphia works out as planned.
Green cathedral for Osteen
Last Saturday, Nationals Park was filled to capacity by devotees of televangelist Joel Osteen, a noted exponent of the "Gospel of Prosperity." See Washington Post. It was the second major religious event there, after the visit of Pope Benedict in April 2008, when Nationals Park was brand new.
Deadly storm in St. Louis
Not long after the FOX Game of the Week between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers last Saturday, a thunderstorm cast aside a huge party tent near Busch Stadium. a St. Louis Cardinals game. Seventeen people were injured enough to be taken to hospitals and one person died. I remember watching that game, which was one of the few games in the Midwest that day that weren't rained out. See ESPN.
May 14, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals suffer massive injuries
The Washington Nationals have been plagued by more than their share of bodily harm this spring, but this past week was adding insult to injuries. Even before the regular season began, outfielder Michael Morse and closing pitcher Drew Storen went on the disabled list. They were two of the best performers who led the way in the Nationals' much improved season of 2011, and it's amazing that the team has been in first place without either of them on the active roster. In early April, Ryan Zimmerman hurt his shoulder, and finally returned to the lineup just last week. Same thing for Adam LaRoche, who leads the team in batting average and is a definite contender for the All-Star Game. Morse strained a back muscle, and should be back in a few weeks. Another ray of hope is that Chien-Ming Wang has resumed pitching duties at the minor league level in Syracuse, and may be available to the Nats by next month. But no sooner do injured players return to active status than healthy ones get hurt.
While diving to catch a fly ball in right field one week ago (Sunday), Jayson Werth landed on his left arm and broke his wrist. (He throws right-handed.) He had surgery and is expected to miss the next three months or so. But even after he returns, he won't have as much batting power as usual, and he'll have to be careful while his bones fully heal. Evidently, he has been bionically engineered: "It is believed a steel plate was inserted in his wrist." See MLB.com. In lieu of Werth, Roger Bernadina has been given more opportunity to play, and he has been hitting pretty well, with two home runs and some clutch RBIs.
Finally, Wilson Ramos twisted his knee while chasing a passed ball on Saturday, and tore his anterior cruciate ligament. See MLB.com. He [will soon have] surgery and will probably be out for the rest of the season. That's a terrible shame, and his absence will be a huge loss to the Nationals. Ramos was kidnapped while visiting his family in Venezuela last November, and was rescued after a few days. He is known primarily for being solid defensively, with unremarkable batting statistics. He does have plenty of power, however, and has been a clutch hitter on several occasions. Jesus Flores will become the first-string catcher, and the Nats called up Sandy Leon from their affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Is it too late to call Pudge Rodriguez?
Get well soon, Jayson and Wilson! And Michael, etc. ...
UPDATE: I neglected to mention two other Nationals players who have suffered injuries: relief pitcher Brad Lidge, who has a hernia, and rookie slugger Bryce Harper. Lidge has begun throwing pitches again, but isn't expected back on the field until mid-June. Harper suffered a facial laceration after a bat which he threw down in angry frustration bounced back. His face was all bloody for the rest of that game, and it took ten stitches to close the wound. Now there's a good lesson in anger management! (Are self-inflicted wounds covered by health insurance?) Fortunately, it didn't prevent him from playing. In tonight's game, Harper hit his very first big league home run, which I'll discuss in detail tomorrow. Meanwhile, however, there was yet another injury: the catcher who was just called up from the minors, Sandy Leon, sprained his left ankle in the fourth inning. Good grief! It's not clear how serious it is.
Pudge Rodriguez retires
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez announced he is formally retiring, after a superb career spanning 21 years altogether. Pudge began with the Texas Rangers in 1991, and played there for 12 years, routinely batting over .300. He then became a free agent and was a key part of the (then-) Florida Marlins in 2003 when they won the World Series, and likewise helped the Detroit Tigers (playing there five years) to win the American League pennant in 2006. He spent his last two years with the Washington Nationals, helping the younger players to gain the skills and wisdom needed to win. See MLB.com.
Reds stun Nats, no longer #1
I have complained about Henry Rodriguez's unreliability as relief pitcher before, but the way he performed in Saturday's game -- striking out three straight batters to end the game -- almost had me changing my mind. Ha! [In Sunday's game in Cincinnati, the Nationals were going for what would have been their first series sweep of the year, with a 6-3 lead over the Reds after seven innings.] The Nats led 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, and true to form, Rodriguez choked on the pitcher's mound once again, unable to hit the strike zone with any consistency. And once again, "For some incomprehensible reason, manager Davey Johnson kept him in there." Rodriguez gave up a single to the first batter, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, then got the second batter out but after that he walked the next two batters. That loaded the bases for Joey Votto, who had already hit two home runs in the game. With two balls and two strikes, Rodriguez threw a high fastball down the middle, and Votto knocked the ball to deep center field, just out of reach of Rick Ankiel, falling onto the grass slope: a grand slam to end the game. Final score: 9-6. Read it and weep: MLB.com and/or Washington Post.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the banged-up Washington Nationals fell into second place for the first time in over a month; April 10 to more exact. Tonight the Nats return home to D.C. and welcome the San Diego Padres, who are currently in last place in the NL West. The team still looks strong, but with such an injury-plagued roster and with ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg on a strict innings-limit this season, to make sure his arm stays healthy, it's going to be very tough for them to contend for a postseason slot.
Two walk-off grand slams!
That dramatic finale to the game in Cincinnati was a virtual repeat of what had happened in Miami just a couple hours earlier. Down 4-2 [against the Mets] in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Miami Marlins staged a rally and had the game tied 4-4, with the bases loaded. That's when Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate and belted a long blast to left center field, winning the game by a score of 8-4. That ball hit the staircase on the left side of that psychedelic art thing in center field, a distance of about 430 feet I'd say. See MLB.com. [I heard that it was the first time since 1998 that there had been two walk-off grand slam home runs in one day.]
I really enjoyed watching the Game of the Week on FOX on Saturday, the second chance I had to see Marlins Park on TV. I noticed that the oufield fence gradually slopes down from center field toward the right.
Hamilton hits four dingers
Speaking of multiple home runs, Josh Hamilton became the 16th player in major league history to hit four homers in a single game, as the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 10-3 last Tuesday. He also hit a double that day, and he has hit two homers since then, making 18 total for the year. If he keeps up this pace, he'll finish the season with about 85 home runs. (!!!???) He also leads the majors in batting average (.402) and runs batted in (44). Those numbers are just insane! Maybe, just maybe, he'll become the first guy to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967. For his amazing feats of slugging prowess, he was named American League Player of the Week; see MLB.com. I heard on ESPN that the Rangers' owners may not be willing to pay top dollar to keep Josh once his contract ends. They still remember the previous owners getting burned on the Alex Rodriguez mega-contract, a sizable chunk of which they had to "eat" when he was traded to the Yankees.
U.S. Cellular Field update
It's always something: I got started doing what I thought would be a quick touch-up of Comiskey Park, then realized there were some serious discrepancies I needed to clear up, and so I did a quick touch-up of its "successor" instead: U.S. Cellular Field. The respective ends of the upper decks near the foul poles curve in more tightly than before, the exit ramps are now 15 or so away from the grandstand, each level is about 12 feet high rather than 10, and the space between the outfield fence and the bleacher seats is bigger than before, about six feet. Plus a few other minor details, and an addition to my suggested alternative, in which there would be a new second deck replacing the existing tiny second deck and one of the suite levels.
Stadium proximity page update
Part of the reason I took up revisions on Comiskey Park was because of another project which I undertook recently: comprehensively revising the Stadium proximity page. (It was formerly just called "Proximity," but that was too vague.) What that page does is let you see exactly (well, almost exactly) how the stadiums that were built next to older stadiums were positioned relative to their respective predecessors. In two cases (St. Louis and Cincinnati), lack of downtown real estate forced the architects to build on land occupied by the old stadiums, which is why they "overlap" in those diagrams.
And that's not the only project I've been working on lately. Stay tuned more more exciting developments!!!
There is also a lot of stadium news to get caught up on, thanks to reports from Mike Zurawski, Bruce Orser, and other fans.
May 18, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Harper hits home runs #1 and #2
Bryce Harper proved his slugging abilities right from the bat (literally), but it wasn't until this week (Monday evening, to be more precise) that he finally uncorked a four-bagger. It just barely cleared the fence in center field, landing on the green slope just to the left of the corner, which is 409 feet from home plate. You can watch the video replay at MLB.com; link from Bruce Orser. Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady also contributed home runs that proved decisive in the Nats' 8-5 win over the San Diego Padres, the first game of their current home stand.
The next night Harper hit another homer, also a solo shot. Unfortunately, it was the Nats' only run, while starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg had one of his worst outings ever. He gave up three runs in the first inning, and left the game after the fourth. We later learned he was extremely uncomfortable on the mound because he had applied some "Hot Stuff" ointment on himself to help loosen up before the game, and some of it got on his ... Ahem. Live and learn. On a related note, here's a helpful household hint: Always remember to wash your hands thoroughly after chopping up hot chili peppers. Final score: Padres 6, Nats 1.
On Wednesday, Harper hit a triple -- his first in the major leagues.
Not Henry Rodriguez!??
The win on Monday was a closer call than one might guess from the three-run margin. Once again, Henry Rodriguez was called in from the bullpen to pitch in the ninth inning, and sure enough, he loaded the bases on three walks with only one out. Just the day before, the Reds' Joey Votto had hit a ninth-inning grand slam off of Rodriguez to win the game, and the Padres would have taken the lead if they had done likewise. In spite of that awful blown save, manager Davey Johnson had expressed full confidence in Rodriguez; see MLB.com. This time, however, Johnson wised up, and sent in Sean Burnett to fix the mess. The next batter grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the game. Whew!
On Thursday, Washington Post Columnist Jason Reid discussed Davey Johnson's extreme patience with Rodriguez, who he (Johnson) thinks is making progress. Excruciatingly s-l-o-w progress, perhaps. Reid aptly writes that the relief pitcher "has a 100-mph fastball and apparently no clue where it's headed." Indeed. By the time regular closing pitcher Drew Storen (on the disabled list) resumes pitching after the All-Star break, the Nats may have lost too many close games to contend for first place in the NL East.
Pirates, Nats split two
On Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Pirates were visiting, Rodriguez did his job and got credit for a ninth save, as the Nationals won 7-4. First baseman Adam LaRoche once again got some clutch hits, including his 1000th career hit. He says he hopes to stay with the Nationals next year and beyond. The team front office has not yet picked up the one-year $10-million contract extension on LaRoche, but at this point, I think that's a foregone conclusion. LaRoche is currently batting .323, with 7 home runs and 30 RBIs.
On Thursday, the Pirates bounced back and beat the Nationals 5-3, thanks largely to Andrew McCutcheon's two home runs. That guy is very impressive, and dangerous in the batter's box! Henry Rodriguez did not pitch, since it was not a situation for a closing pitcher.
It was the fifth day in a row of alternating wins and losses for the Nationals, like a pendulum. That is much different than the pattern of the first five weeks, in which the vast majority of game outcomes were part of a winning streak or losing streak. This week was also noteworthy in that the Nationals and Atlanta Braves alternated between first and second place on the same five consecutive days. That is, on the days the Nats won, the Braves lost, and vice versa.
Partly because of my recent work on Stadium proximity, I made several corrections and enhancements to the Kingdome diagrams, including an all-new lower-deck version. The profile is much more accurate than before, but I largely confirmed my earlier estimate of an unusually steep lower deck. I had a hard time reconciling the number of rows (40 maximum in the lower deck, 36 maximum upper deck) with the stated diameter of the stadium (660 feet for the dome itself, 720 feet including the external ramps). But once I accounted for more overhang than originally estimated, and what appears to be tighter space between rows than in most stadiums, it all worked out.
The Kingdome had bleacher-style bench seats in parts of the upper deck, much like Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium, another multi-use stadium with a bias in favor of football. Another special (not necessarily good) characteristic was having ground-level "dugouts," like at Three Rivers Stadium and Riverfront Stadium.
Dodgers get new owners
The embarrassing legal battle over control of the Los Angeles Dodgers is finally over. As promised last year, bankrupt former owner Frank McCourt sold the team (and Dodger Stadium, one of the few remaining MLB stadiums that are privately owned!) to a syndicate fronted by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. They paid a total of just over $2 billion, but details are hazy, so further updates will be forthcoming. See a video report at washingtonpost.com. One key part of that group is Stan Kasten, who resigned from his position as president of the Washington Nationals in September 2010. He says the new owners are committed to acquiring new talent and upgrading (not replacing) Dodger Stadium. See MLB.com. The transfer takes place at a successful moment for the team, which has surprised many people this year by taking a big lead in the NL Western Division. Too bad Matt Kemp got injured...
And so, I made a few updates to the MLB Franchises page.
Stadiums in the news
I am woefully behind in stadium news and general baseball news, needless to say, but I aim to get caught up in the next few days. For starters, speaking of Los Angeles:
The L.A. / Anaheim / California Angels are getting antsy about their rather plain, aging (though renovated) stadium near Disneyland. The recent action surrounding the Dodgers has the owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, a little jealous and he is dropping hints about alternate sites for a new stadium, including near downtown Los Angeles. To me, that sounds dumb, since a large portion of the vast wealth in the L.A. metropolitan area is concentrate on the southeast, where Orange County is located. As an article in the L.A. Times notes, "... the Angels can exercise an escape clause in their stadium lease in 2016. If they do not, they must remain in Anaheim until 2029." Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Regarding the recent bittersweet centennial of Tiger Stadium, Patrick McAtee shared the following link on Facebook: tigerstadiumdetroit.com.
Zero stadium construction
On the right column of the baseball blog page, the following text now appears:
For the first time since September 1986 (just before groundbreaking on Skydome in Toronto), there are no major league baseball stadiums currently under construction. Therefore, the table that used to occupy this space has been removed.
Oakland? Tampa Bay? In this case, no news is bad news.
May 22, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Battle of the Beltways 2012: Nats outscore the Orioles
In most years when interleague play gets underway, the matchups between the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles don't garner very much attention outside the immediate region. This year, however, both teams are in hot contention for the lead in their respective divisions, and there is a real possibility that they will both make it to the postseason. Indeed, the weekend series played in D.C. just might be a preview of the World Series. Now wouldn't that be something!
Even though the Nats lost the first two games in that series, they played well and made it an enjoyable contest. The Orioles are certainly a worthy opponent this year. It was a real pitchers' duel on Friday, when Ian Desmond homered to tie the game 1-1. But Nick Markakis homered in the top of the elevent to win it, 2-1. On Saturday, Ross Detwiler gave up several runs in the early innings, but the Nats kept fighting and gradually climbed back from a 6-0 deficit. In the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run (his second of the year) to narrow the gap to 6-5, but the next batter was out and that was that. Still, a strong performance by the team, overcoming Detwiler's lapse. On Sunday, Stephen "Hot Stuff" Strasburg took the mound and unlike the previous fiasco, he kept his cool. He also hit his first career home run, running up the score. Nats 9, Orioles 3. So for the three-game series, the cumulative score was Nats 15, Orioles 11. Not bad against one of the best teams in baseball right now.
As of next year, there will be interleague games throughout the season, because the Houston Astros will move to the American League, so that both leagues will have the same number of teams (15). The downside of that is that there will be [a "leftover" team in each league, making interleague games a matter of routine necessity rather than a special feature. I hope this doesn't end up further diluting the distinctive identities of the two major leagues, which were organizationally separate until the 1970s, more or less.]
After watching the games in D.C. (on TV), I made some minor corrections to the Nationals Park diagrams, such as the precise configuration of the dugouts and the two-foot gap between the fence and the seats in left field. I also put back a suggested alternative configuration with the second deck enlarged and pushed forward. There is also a deep corner in center field, for the sake of extra-base excitement.
Nats back in first
Meanwhile, the Nats are showing improvement at the outset of their road trip, winning the first two games in Philadelphia. (More on that later.) As a result, they pulled ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East race once again. The Nats will be going for their first series sweep of the year tomorrow evening, broadcast on ESPN. Unfortunately, the Nats lost their previous two nationally-televised games: on May 6 (Phillies won, 9-3) and on May 19 (Orioles won, 6-5). They gotta get over that "stage fright" before October...
May 25, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals: back in first place
After a disappointing home stand, during which they failed to win any of the three series, the Washington Nationals have bounced back. They beat the Phillies in the first two game of the series in Philadelphia, thanks in large measure to home runs by Ian Desmond. He is really coming around this year, benefitting from being moved from first or second to fifth in the lineup. Another positive change: Manager Davey Johnson announced that Henry Rodriguez will no longer be the usual closing pitcher. H-Rod almost blew another save in the ninth inning on Monday, and had to be replaced. The Phillies averted a sweep on Wednesday, during which H-Rod managed to give up a home run to Shane Victorino in the eighth inning. It was a non-save situation and probably didn't matter. In fact, the Nats would have been shut out in that game had Adam LaRoche not homered in the top of the ninth. But thanks to consecutive losses by the Braves, that series was good enough for the Nats to regain first place in the NL East. A nice way to enjoy their day off on Thursday.
Tonight's game in Atlanta -- the big showdown between division rivals -- got off to a great start as Ian Desmond doubled in two runs, and Rick Ankiel tripled in two more. Four runs in the first inning, off the Braves' best pitcher, Tim Hudson! But the Nats' starter Ross Detwiler kept getting into jams, and was taken out in the fifth inning after his pitch count had exceeded 100. Chien-Ming Wang came in as a reliever, in his first big league appearance this year. He pitched three solid innings, giving up a home run. But the crucial play of the night was when Ryan Zimmerman hit a clutch double into the left field gap with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. That raised the margin to 7-3, pretty much assuring a Nationals win. Final score: Nats 7, Braves 4. Tyler Clippard got the save. See MLB.com.
Sweeps week in Ohio
The two teams from Ohio accomplished some impressive sweeps this past week. In fact, both of them have surged into first place in their respective divisions. The Cincinnati Reds beat the Atlanta Braves in four straight home games, the first time they have done that since April 13-16, 1990. Wow! A grand slam by Devin Mesoraco (!?) proved decisive in Thursday's 6-3 victory. See MLB.com. Nationals fans appreciate Cincy's role in knocking the Braves off the division-leader pedestal. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians swept the Detroit Tigers in three games, and The Tribe's manager Manny Acta (formerly of the Washington Nationals) must be feeling pretty good about himself; he's a good guy. Both the Reds and the Indians lost tonight, however. Maybe we'll see an all-Ohio World Series for the first time ever this October!
Feelin' stronger every day
The successful return of Chien-Ming Wang from the disabled list this evening was not the only piece of good news for the Nationals, health-wise. Last year's slugging leader, Michael Morse, has mostly recovered from his back muscle pull and has begun playing "extended spring games" in Viera, Florida. Today he hit a home run. He plans to begin regular minor league play with the Potomac Nationals and hopes to rejoin the real Nats in about two weeks. Once he rejoins the Nats' lineup, things will definitely be looking up for the "D.C. 9."
Sprucing up Camden Yards
Belated but important news: On the 20th anniversary of their wonderful brick ballpark, the Baltimore Orioles have been renovating Camden Yards. The wall in right field has been lowered slightly, and there is a new elevated viewing area (with a bar) above the center field batter's eye. Also, there will be enhancements to the main concourse, and sculptures of the six Orioles in the National Baseball Hall of Famers will be unveiled during the season: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. See MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. (He brought that to my attention back in January; Obviously, I'm still way behind in my e-mail in-box.)
May 29, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Braves
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...
Long losing streaks end
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.
May 31, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Marlins sweep the Nationals
As they say, "What goes around comes around." What began as a very encouraging road trip through Philadelphia and Atlanta ended on a disappointing note for the Washington Nationals in Miami this week. It was their very first visit to brand-new Marlins Park, whose fan-friendly atmosphere helped generate game-winning enthusiasm for the Miami (no longer "Florida") team.
Monday's game was distinguished primarily by the home run hit by starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Otherwise, the Nats couldn't do much in the batter's box, clearly suffering from lack of sleep. It was rather unfair to schedule the Nationals for an afternoon game immediately following a late night game hundreds of miles away (in Atlanta). But it was Memorial Day, and most of the games across the country were in the afternoon. The Nats had two runners on base with no outs in the seventh inning, and Bryce Harper hit a line drive to left field, but Chris Coghlan made a diving catch to rob him of an RBI double. Then Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play. Arghh! Final score: 5-3.
That was the second home run by a Nationals pitcher this year; Stephen Strasburg did so on May 20. The Nats' starting pitchers are not only dominant on the mound, they have the best collective batting average in the major leagues right now!
On Tuesday, Edwin Jackson was pitching very well, but committed a crucial error in the seventh inning. Trying to pick Chris Coghlan off first base, he threw the ball off target, giving two free bases to the runner. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly to take the lead, 2-1. Most disheartening, with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, neither Bryce Harper nor Ryan Zimmerman managed to get any runs in. Hanley Ramirez homered in the bottom of the eighth, making the final score 3-1. One bright note: In his first major league at-bat, with his parents watching in the stands, pinch-hitter Jhonatan Solano hit a double in the top of the ninth inning, but then Xavier Nady flied out to end the game.
Last night, Chien-Ming Wang was the starting pitcher for the first time this year. He pitched three innings of solid relief earlier in the week, but this time he struggled and was pulled during the bottom of the fifth inning. Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi each got two hits, continuing their recent upsurge, but Bryce Harper went 0 for 4, as his eight-game hitting streak came to an end. And so, the Marlins beat the Nats 5-3, completing a three-game series sweep. In all three games it was a two-run margin. Perhaps that is payback for the Nats having spoiled the Marlins' "farewell" game at Dolphin ("Sun Life") Stadium at the end of last September.
As a result of that series, the Marlins have pulled to within a half game of the Nationals in the National League Eastern Division. After a disappointing slow start this year, the Marlins have won an astonishing 21 games in May, while losing only eight. That set a franchise record. And speaking of records, so far this year, the Nats (currently 29-21) have held first place in the NL East at the end of two consecutive calendar months for the first time ever! For the first two months of this year, they have outscored their opponents 180 to 158. I have updated the Washington Nationals page with monthly data, player notes, etc.
Lest anyone forget, the Nationals were on the verge of sweeping the Marlins in Washington last month. They won the first two games of the weekend series, on April 20 and 21, but the Sunday game was postponed due to rain. It will be made up when the two teams will face off again in D.C. in early August, or else in early September. The Nats and Marlins will play again in Miami in mid-July and in late August.
Tomorrow the Nats return home to D.C., welcoming the Atlanta Braves. Pitching ace Stephen Strasburg will take the mound, and will have a chance to allay fears that his surgically-repaired arm is suffering from fatigue already. In addition, there is an outside chance that dearly-missed slugging star Michael Morse will return from the disabled list. (There's a good chance I'll be there as well! )
Marlins Park update
To commemorate the Nationals' very first series at the new home of the Marlins, I made some major corrections and enhancements to the Marlins Park diagrams. (The update which I announced last month was rather trivial by comparison.) This latest update took a lot of work, but I finally figured out (I think) the geometric logic behind that quasi-domed stadium, which is kind of circular, but not really. That pages now features a "dynamic" diagram, with a regular (exposed) view, a natural-looking view showing the roof open (like in the adjacent thumbnail image), another view with the roof closed but "translucent," showing the field details, one with an opaque closed roof, and one with the first deck only showing. I hope that serves to clarify the innards of what is a very complicated structure. Videos on the team's Web site helped get a few of the details just right. It is certainly unique, and may not suit everyone's taste, but that's OK. Actually, I kind of like it.
I also did some preliminary revisions to another stadium's diagrams, but then realized I had to make some more changes, so I decided not to announce it yet. One of my more astute fans happened to notice, and asked me about it, so the "secret" is already out. I should have it finished over the weekend...
Soccer in Wrigley Field
Goodness gracious! There is going to be an international soccer match in Wrigley Field on July 22, pitting the AS Roma club of Italy with and Zaglebie Lubin of Poland. See MLB.com; hat tip to Mark London. You know what that means...