August 14, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Baseball road trip 2012: Chicago & Cleveland
My annual expedition to visit far-away baseball palaces was very rewarding and quite special, from a personal point of view. Much like last year, I didn't actually accomplish a great deal in quantitative terms, but I made the most out of the two "close encounters" I had, eagerly scrutinizing the architectural details and taking pictures from every conceivable angle. This time, for a change, I planned my trip in advance with the express intention of fitting the schedules of the various teams in the Midwest, and I did manage to see games in Chicago and Cleveland.
Cubs beat the Marlins
On Thursday July 19, I saw the Cubs play the Miami (!) Marlins in the historic Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. The traffic in Chicago was even more horrible than usual, but at least the snail's pace gave me a chance to snap some quick photos of U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, while en route to the Cubs' game. Even though I gave myself an extra hour "just in case," I still didn't get inside the ballpark until the top of the second inning. I was fortunate to get a parking space in the alley-garage of a local resident who lives on Racine Avenue, only a couple blocks from the ballpark. The folks in "Wrigleyville" have a well-organized system by which late-arrivees (like me) can get nearby parking for a reasonable (premium) price -- in my case, $25. (They even give their customers a ticket, so it must be legit!) For evening and weekend games, out-of-town visitors can park for a modest price at DeVry University, about two miles west, and get a free shuttle ride to Wrigley Field, but this was an afternoon game.
The weather that day was relatively mild, but rather humid and cloudy. In northern Indiana that morning, I drove through some fierce thunderstorms, and I was afraid the game might be rained out or delayed. Fortunately, that didn't happen. I didn't miss anything important during the first inning and a half, and no runs were scored until the bottom of the fifth inning. That's when aging slugger Alfonso Soriano (who played for the Nationals in 2006) hit a lead-off home run to start a big rally. Luis Valbuena later hit a sacrifice fly to score Jeff Baker, and Reed Johnson hit two-run double (scoring Geovany Soto and Darwin Barney) to cap the four-run inning. Soriano has shown overall improvement this year, but no other teams seem to want him, because of the costly contract that he carries. I should note that in the fourth inning, he made a great catch of a long fly ball to the left field corner hit by Carlos Lee. The Marlins came back with one run in the sixth inning and another run in the ninth inning, allowed by the Cubs' often-shaky closing pitcher Carlos Marmol. Final score: Cubs 4, Marlins 2, with 32,741 fans in attendance. I was delighted to hear the happy crowd singing "Go, Cubs, Go!" after the game was over. That loyal, devoted fan base is what keeps that franchise going, through good times and (more often) bad times.
The Marlins' starting pitcher, veteran Mark Buehrle, was tagged with all four runs, and was replaced after the fifth inning. I was very impressed by the Cubs' starter Paul Maholm (pronounced "mah-HALL-um"), but it turned out to be his last start as a Cub in Chicago, as he was traded to the Atlanta Braves a week later, along with Reed Johnson. Meanwhile, pitching ace Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto were traded to the Texas Rangers, as the Cubs held a virtual fire sale in preparation for a long-term "rebuilding" effort. During the game, I saw the Cubs' roguish former pitcher Carlos Zambrano grinning in the visiting team's dugout. He didn't pitch that day, so he had no occasion to throw a violent temper tantrum.
For the record, the last time I saw a game at Wrigley Field was in 1963, which was 49 years ago! "Believe it or not!" It later occurred to me that the exact same number of years had elapsed between the construction of Wrigley Field, a.k.a. "Weeghman Park," (1914) and my first game there as have elapsed between my first and second games there. It boggles my mind to think that the beloved home of the Cubs was only half as old when I first saw it as it is now. Does that make me old? Is the Pope Catholic??
I submitted my impressions of Wrigley Field (scroll to the botttom of that page), and will elaborate on that in the days to come.
Hesitation plus indecision
On my return trip from South Dakota, I was hoping to see games at U.S. Cellular Field (which I had photographed while stuck in Chicago traffic three weeks earlier) and/or Comerica Park in Detroit. The first option didn't work out because I took an impromptu detour through northeastern Iowa, thinking I might stop at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville. That threw me behind schedule, however, and as a result, I didn't reach south Chicago until the sixth inning of the Royals-White Sox game on August 6. D'oh! The next day I toured the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, and drove into southern Michigan to keep my options open, but ultimately decided against seeing the Yankees play the Tigers in Detroit that evening, in which case I would have seen the Twins-Indians game on the following afternoon. At the time, playing it safe and not overdoing it seemed the prudent thing to do, but I soon had second thoughts. Can I have a do-over? Darn.
Twins torture the Indians
In any case, I arrived at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field), home of the Cleveland Indians, about an hour before the 7:05 game time on [Tuesday], August 7. I was amazed by how easy and cheap the parking was, just two quick turns after the exit from where I-90 crosses the Cuyahoga River. Only twelve bucks for a ground-level space in the adjacent parking garage!!?? That is a sad reflection of the poor attendance at Indians games in recent years: only 14,813 were there that evening.
The weather was just perfect, with mild temperatures and camera-friendly crystal blue clear skies. The Indians were hosting the Minnesota Twins, who had won the first game of the series 14-3 the night before. The Tribe was in the midst of a terrible slump, having lost ten games in a row, so I was rooting for them that night, even though I have stronger regional sympathies with the Twins. Both teams scored a run in the first inning, and then the Indians scored three more in the second, thanks to a home run by Shelley Duncan and an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. In the sixth inning, Carlos Santana (no, not the guitarist) hit an RBI double to give the home team a 5-1 lead, giving the crowd much to cheer about. But something happened in the top of the seventh to make you wonder if this team is really jinxed: a routine ground ball went right between the legs of second baseman Jason Kipnis, allowing two (unearned) runs to score. The Indians were still ahead 5-4 in the top of the ninth, whereupon their closing pitcher Chris Perez (who was introduced with a blazing scoreboard display) totally flubbed his appointed task. Three of the first four batters reached base, including two hits and a strange ball hit by Justin Morneau that looked to me like it bounced from foul territory over first base back into fair territory, as if it were a pool shot with a lot of "English." Casey Kotchman misplayed it and was charged with an error. (See MLB.com for others' descriptions of that play.) A double, two singles, and a walk later, the Twins were ahead by two runs, and Perez was replaced on the mound amid a chorus of boos, having blown the save opportunity. The Indians (and their fans) were too stunned to react coherently, going down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Twins 7, Indians 5. Make that eleven losses in a row: "the agony of defeat." Ouch! Quite a contrast to the upbeat vibes I had experienced on the north side of Chicago.
Listening to Cleveland talk radio after the game, it sounded like the Apocalypse had come. Gloom, doom, misery, and despondency. The next day the radio hosts were inviting callers to confess their various sins that might have led to the unbelievably horrible twist of fate the night before. Well, maybe all that expiation did some good, because the Indians actually beat the Twins the next day, finally ending their losing streak.
Clockwise from top right: Wrigley Field southwest external panorama and grand view, the wrought-iron gate at Prentis Ballpark (Vermillion, SD), U.S. Cellular Field east external panorama, and Progressive Field southwest gate and the scoreboard / bleachers in left field.
As one might imagine, since returning from my trip last week, I have been busy making changes to the Wrigley Field and Progressive Field diagrams, especially the latter. Obsessed with accuracy? That's putting it mildly. I have also been editing a large number of photos which I took at those stadiums, which will appear on the respective pages in the very near future...
Nationals lead the major leagues
Someone at the Cleveland game commented on the Nationals cap I was wearing, saying he was glad the Nats are doing so well this year. That was nice. Yes, folks, it's true. The Washington Nationals have the very best win-loss record of all 30 Major League Baseball franchises: 72-44, a .621 percentage. That is the culmination of an eight-game winning streak that was interrupted on Sunday by the Arizona Diamondbacks. No other team has yet reached the 70-win plateau.
Prior to the series in Phoenix, the Nationals swept the Houston Astros in four games straight. The first two games of that series were extra-innings affairs that really should not have been so close. In the Tuesday game, Danny Espinosa got all three RBIs for the Nationals, including an early home run and a clutch single in the 12th inning. But equal credit (at least) goes to Roger Bernadina, who made an amazing catch to deep left center in Minute Maid Park, in one of those corners out of view of most fans, turning what would have been a game-tying (or game-winning) RBI double into the final out of the game. Whew! Wednesday's game was also close, 4-3, with the notable feature being that starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez pitched a complete nine-inning game. The Nats won the final game of that series on Thursday 5-0, thanks in great measure to the two home runs hit by Michael ("The Beast Is Back") Morse, and the eleven strikeouts thrown by starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
But perhaps the highlight of the entire 2012 season came last night, as the Nationals began a three-game series in San Francisco by tearing the NL West first-place Giants limb from limb. Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI double in the first inning, putting pressure on the pitcher, Ryan Vogelsong. In the third inning they scored seven more runs, helped by some unusual infield singles. The newest National, catcher Kurt Suzuki, got his first big hit, a three-run double down the left field line. The Nats scored three more runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, including a home run to center field by the surprising slugger Danny Espinosa. Not exactly the pitchers' duel that most people expected. Vogelsong gave up eight runs (all earned) in only 2 2/3 innings, and was thereby toppled from the #1 spot in major league ERA, replaced by Jordan Zimmermann. The Nats' starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez gave up two runs in the eighth inning, and earned his league-leading 15th win of the season. See MLB.com and/or the Curly W blog. The 14-2 blowout was the Nationals' highest score of the year, and tied the team record (since 2005) for biggest victory margin. See the Washington Nationals page.
Speaking of data trends, the Nationals now have an average home attendance over 30,000 for this year -- the first time they have reached that mark since their inaugural season of 2005. This has been helped by a big post-All Star Game surge. As the pennant race heats up, they could draw as many as 2.5 million fans for 2012 as a whole.
Of course, the innings limit imposed on Stephen Strasburg by General Manager Mike Rizzo will put a crimp in things, making it harder to keep up the pace during the final month of the regular season, but the Nationals have plenty of depth in all departments. John Lannan pitched just fine in his two brief starting appearances this year, and can be expected to be called back up from the minors and fill a slot in the rotation very soon. Maybe they'll use a six-man rotation, or just have Strasburg skip every other cycle. But what about October???
The Nationals: "We're #1!" (at least for now)
Etc., etc., etc.
Speaking of "fire sales" (see Cubs above), the Miami Marlins have sharply reduced their payroll in recent trades that have angered many people in southern Florida. It reminds one of what happened after the Marlins won the 1997 and 2003 World Series. Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante were traded to the Detroit Tigers, and young slugging star Hanley Ramirez, who has had a mediocre year, was traded to the L.A. Dodgers. Owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson are being blamed for raising fans hopes in the first season of the new stadium, and then cashing in as quick as they could: "Two charlatans, ripping off a major American city and laughing all the way to the bank." Is that description fair? You be the judge. See Yahoo Sports; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Last month I stated that I had updated the Anomalous stadiums page, but it turns out that I had never uploaded said file (until today, that is), so I made a few more updates and minor corrections to that page.
Now that I've gotten caught up on recent events, I can turn my attention to recent stadium news from Mike Zurawski as well as e-mail correspondence from other friendly folks out there. I'm sorry for the slow response time, and I appreciate your patience.
August 15, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Another perfect game in Seattle
Lightning isn't supposed to strike twice in the same place, but it appears there are no natural laws against multiple perfect games in the same place. Felix Hernandez did just that today, throwing the second perfect game in Seattle this year, with 12 strikeouts, as the Mariners edged the Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0. It was the first perfect game in team history, the third perfect game this year, and the 23rd perfect game in Major League history. See MLB.com. What in the world is going on? Are all these perfect games a side-effect of global warming??
Phil Humber (White Sox) pitched a perfect game against the Mariners in Seattle on April 21, and Matt Cain (Giants) pitched a perfect game against the Astros in San Francisco on June 13. See my June 15 blog post.
Nationals edge the Giants
Speaking of the Giants, they certainly bounced back after the 14-2 defeat inflicted upon them by the Nationals on Monday night. Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner outdueled the Nats' Jordan Zimmermann in the very kind of close, low-scoring game that had been expected, and the Giants added four insurance runs in the eighth inning to win by a score of 6-1. It was rough going for relief pitcher Drew Storen, who is still trying to regain his form after having surgery on his elbow this past spring.
In today's rubber match of the series in San Francisco, Stephen Strasburg prevailed over Tim Lincecum, who gave up two runs in the first inning and the third inning. Once again, Danny Espinosa (now playing shortstop, while Ian Desmond heals) belted a home run that proved crucial in the game's outcome. The ball landed in the bleachers on the right side of center field, almost the deepest part of AT&T Park. Wow! Also "werthy" of mention: three RBIs by Jayson Werth and four hits (including two doubles) by Steve Lombardozzi. Final score: Nationals 6, Giants 4.
Melky Cabrera was out of the Giants' lineup today because he tested postive for excessive testosterone, violating MLB drug rules, for which he received a 50-game suspension. ("Is it Low T?")
So, the Nats are now 73-45, having won eight of their last ten games (all on the road), with a 4 1/2 game lead over the Atlanta Braves. After a day or rest on Thursday, they will return home to D.C. and welcome the New York Mets to town. With any luck, I'll be there to watch a game or two!
AT&T Park photos
Speaking of AT&T Park, I was kindly reminded by Glenn Simpkins of the photos from AT&T Park that he forwarded to me twelve months ago. It's another example of how far behind I sometimes get in e-mail correspondence. Four of those photos are now posted on the AT&T Park page. I noticed a few details on those diagrams need to be enhanced, such as the platforms in the upper deck. Many thanks to Glenn, and to all other fans who have shared their ballpark photos.
Speaking of which, does anyone have some good shots of Marlins Park???
August 18, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Wrigley Field MAJOR update!
By Jove, I think I've got it! After spending hours and hours squinting at all the photos I took at the game on July 19, the Wrigley Field diagrams are now 100% up to my highest standards. And they said it couldn't be done! The biggest change is that the upper deck is positioned about ten feet forward of where it had been in the previous diagrams. I have also included a few special details, such as the ivy which covers the outfield wall. One thing I noticed right away while exploring the upper deck is that there is a 6-foot wide walkway that stretches almost all the way from the right corner to the left corner. That is visible as a "notch" in the diagram profile. One of the things I was most curious about during my inspection was the relation between ground level outside and the playing field. That too is illustrated by the profile, showing the two stairways by which fans get access to the lateral walkways in the lower deck. To get to the up-close box seats, you have to walk about eight feet down a ramp-tunnel, and then back up again.
Of particular note is the all-new lower-deck diagram, which shows the ramps along the narrow concourse at the rear of the lower deck. For a stadium with so much overhang, that is especially useful. The "UP" symbols are experimental, and I may remove them later on. Another change is the letter "B" to indicate the bleachers. I tenatively plan to do this on the rest of the diagrams, eventually. Some of the diagrams show buildings across the street; I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with those neighborhood features. Finally, please note that the 1914 version diagram is a "work in progress," since I still haven't reconciled all the various photographs and other information from the early days, when it was called "Weeghman Park."
Those are merely the technical details, however. I will elaborate more fully on the aesthetic aspects of Wrigley Field in the days to come. Needless to say, it was a pretty big experience for me. And of course, that page now features several new photos that I took on July 19. Too bad it was cloudy that day.
There is still no work on the triangular plot of land just west of Wrigley Field, just a trailer with a store selling official Cubs merchandise. See the Chicago Tribune for details on the plans for developing that area, with a parking garage (desperately needed!), etc.
Nats beat the Mets
Thanks to a grand slam by Michael Morse, and a two-run homer by Bryce Harper, the Nationals took the first game against the Mets in the weekend series back home in Washington. Ross Detwiler got off to a shaky start, giving up two runs in the top of the first inning, but then he pitched four scoreless innings before giving up a third run. He still got the win, and now has a 7-5 record. See MLB.com for a full game recap. The Mets' Johan Santana is suffering from some kind of ailment, and it's possible he may be shut down for the rest of the season to recuperate.
That was the 24th grand slam hit by the Nationals since their D.C. "rebirth" in 2005. Surprisingly, it was the first grand slam hit by a Nationals player this year. The last such blast occurred almost exactly one year ago: August 19, 2011; Ryan Zimmerman helped the Nats beat the Phillies 8-4. See the Washington Nationals page.
Friday's game marked the return of Ian Desmond to the lineup. He didn't get any hits, but his defensive abilities are very much welcome. That pushed Steve Lombardozzi, who had been playing second base while Danny Espinosa was filling in for Desmond at shortstop, back to the bench. Lombardozzi has had a great year, illustrating once again the incredible depth the Nationals roster has this year.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves won as well, and in fact they gained a half game in the NL East race since the Nats were resting on Thursday. The Braves are now four games in back. What an incredibly competitive race there is for the National League Eastern Division!
R.I.P. Johnny Pesky
Famed Red Sox right fielder Johnny Pesky, for whom the "Pesky pole" in Fenway Park was named, passed away this week [at the age of 92. His real last name was Paveskovich, and his parents were from Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia. He played with the Red Sox for ten years, beginning in 1942, and was then traded to Detroit, and finally to Washington, retiring after the 1954 season. He led the American League in hits three times, and later managed the Red Sox and worked as a broadcast announcer. He had a lifetime affiliation with the team and with the city of Boston.] Read a full obituary in the Washington Post.
August 20, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nats take 2 of 3 from Mets
The New York Mets are not going to be postseason contenders this year, but they played very well in the Washington weekend series nonetheless. "Los Clems" (Jacqueline and I) drove up to see the game in Washington on Saturday, making sure to arrive an hour and a half early in case there was a sellout. Guess what? All we could get was standing-room-only tickets, even though I could see a hundred or so upper-deck seats that remained empty for the whole game. I doubt that those were held by season ticket owners, however, raising my suspicions about [how] all those scalpers along nearby streets got those tickets.
Anyway, we made the most of it, spending the game on a bench in the "Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk" party deck, which was jam-packed with other SRO fans. The game got off to a promising start from the Nats' point of view, with Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman getting back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing came of it. For the rest of the game, only three Nationals players got hits, and only one of them (Adam LaRoche) got as far as second base. The Mets' starting pitcher Jonathan Niese must have some pretty good stuff. He went 7 1/3 innings. The game was quite a pitchers' duel, with the Nats' Edwin Jackson having his best outing of the year, striking out 11 batters and only giving up one walk and two hits over the course of seven innings. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a two-run home run by Ike Davis in the seventh inning, just barely clearing the bullpen fence in left field. That provided the only scoring in the game. I was disappointed that Bryce Harper was not in the starting lineup. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, but flied out to center field in his only at-bat.
In the rubber game on Sunday, the Nationals came charging back, as Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper both hit home runs. Gio Gonzalez held the Mets to only two runs, thus becoming the third National League pitcher to win 16 games this year. Final score: Nats 5, Mets 2. That makes five consecutive series wins for the Nationals, and they are 14-5 for the month of August.
Attendance at Saturday's game was 42,662, the highest all year, and the second highest ever at a game in Nationals Park, which opened in 2008. The seating capacity this year is 41,487, down from 41,888 previously. With sell-out crowds expected for postseason games, the question arises as to whether they are going to install temporary bleachers either in the plaza behind left field, or on the right side of the scoreboard on the party deck.
* so far
Panorama of Nationals Park, at full capacity. Click on the image to see it full size.
That photo and a few other new ones have been added to the Nationals Park page.
I noticed a few minor corrections that need to be done on the Nationals Park diagram, and I will likewise add some details to otherwise-OK diagrams such as PNC Park in coming weeks.
[UPDATE: I should have mentioned another reason for the sellout crowd: There was a free postgame concert by the rock group "Third Eye Blind," which has had a few pretty big hits over the last decade or two. I estimate that well over half of the fans stayed after the game to listen to them. They were really good, so I bought their "Collection" CD today. Somebody in the Nationals marketing office must know what they're doing, drawing a younger fan base to see a ball game.]
[LATE UPDATE: The Nationals got off to a roaring start against the Braves tonight, getting four runs across the plate in the first inning, and then failed to get any more for the next eleven innings, coming oh, so close a couple times. In the bottom of the thirteenth inning, they finally lucked out with a couple weird infield hits and an error called on second baseman Dan Uggla, winning the game 5-4. NATITUDE!]
August 24, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nats take 2 of 3 from Braves
A day after their big 13-inning victory against the Braves late on Monday night (or very early the next morning), the Nationals followed up with a win of a more routine nature. In Tuesday's game, Stephen Strasburg shut down Atlanta's offense, Ian Desmond homered for the second night in a row (a solo shot), and Jesus Flores added three more runs with a home run that just barely cleared the left field wall. Final score: Nats 4, Braves 1. On Wednesday night, the first four innings were scoreless, but then Ross Detwiler walked a batter and then gave up two earned runs. Both sides committed multiple errors, possibly because of the rain-soaked turf, and the one by Ryan Zimmerman led to two unearned runs in the ninth inning. Final score: Braves 5, Nats 1.
That series win meant that Washington increased its lead to six games over Atlanta in the NL East. After the Braves lost to the Giants last night, the lead is now six and a half games. The Nationals are playing in Philadelphia tonight, and will fly down to Miami on Tuesday for a two-game series.
Some wild & crazy games
While the Nationals were resting last night in preparation for their road trip, there were some tense and exciting games elsewhere in the majors. In Boston, the L.A. Angels edged the Red Sox 14-13 in 10 innings, after some amazing back-and-forth scoring. In Detroit, the recently-surging Tigers beat the Blue Jays 3-2 in 11 innings, and likewise, the Phillies beat the Reds 4-3 in 11 innings. In Arlington, the Texas Rangers beat the Twins 10-6, breaking a 4-4 tie with a six-run rally in the eighth inning. The Twins fought back with two runs in the top of the ninth, and got two more runners on base, to no avail.
Progressive Field MAJOR update
Based on my recent visit there (August 7), I have made numerous enhancements and corrections to the Progressive Field (formerly known as "Jacobs Field") diagrams. Note that I have depicted the intricate arched roof structure, Also, the sharp bends in the lower-deck seating bowl are depicted with a gray line, since it is not otherwise obvious where those bends are located. I may do likewise in other diagrams in which such bends are especially prominent. I uploaded what I thought were finished diagrams yesterday, and then found several more discrepancies that I had to iron out. They should be pretty darned accurate now.
I noticed in my photos that the distance marker in center field has been changed from "405" to "400," but there has been no change in the position of the walls. Perhaps it was always 405 feet to the deep corner just left of dead center, rather than 410 feet. Further research is necessary.
It's a shame the Indians have resumed their downhill trajectory, losing eight straight games after showing brief signs of life during the second week of this month. How much longer can the too-patient manager Manny Acta keep his job there? He was fired from Washington three years ago in part because he seemed to relaxed in the face of repeated defeat.
Speaking of Cleveland, I happened to see an old movie The Fortune Cookie a couple days ago, and was surprised to see several scenes of of Cleveland Stadium, in its football configuration.
August 27, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Phillies sweep the Nationals
For the first time in two months, the Washington Nationals have been swept in a three-game series, and it's their fourth consecutive loss. They got off to a bad start on Friday night, when Michael Morse was hit on his hand by an inside pitch thrown by Kyle Kendrick. I was hoping it wasn't going to be another ugly Cole Hamels episode, and apparently that's the case. But Morse missed the rest of the series, and so did Ian Desmond, who hasn't fully recovered from the oblique muscle strain. The rest of the Nats got a fair number of hits, but just not at the right time. In all three games, the Phillies scored exactly four runs, and the Nats could only manage one or two. The low point of the series came on Sunday when Adam LaRoche was tagged out while trotting past second base under the mistaken belief that he had hit a home run. The ball clearly bounced off the top of the rail beyond the wall in Citizens Bank Park, but the ground rules there specify that such balls are in play. The baserunning mistake ruined what could have been a big comeback rally. See the Washington Post.
It's pretty annoying for a team that has been playing so well this month (and all year), but on the bright side, the Nats still enjoy a 5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, after the Padres beat the Braves in San Diego tonight. Even the best teams have slumps occasionally, and any realistic fan should be prepared for that. You win some series (the last six straight for the Nats, in fact), and you lose some series. The Nationals (77-50) still have the highest winning percentage in the majors, .606, but as of tonight the Cincinnati Reds (78-52) now have one more win than the Nats.
Red Sox - Dodgers mega-deal
It's the end of an era, as the Boston Red Sox front office gave up any hope of contending for the postseason this year (or next year either, probably), and just hit the "reset" button. Those scrappy fighters who overcame injuries and staged miracle comebacks to win two World Series titles over the past decade had become a mere shadow of their former selves, and there was no use in keeping up the pretense any more. And so, the team made a blockbuster "trade" (highly asymmetrical) with the Los Angeles Dodgers, unloading pitcher Josh Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and outfielder Carl Crawford, thus saving the Boston franchise hundreds of millions on payroll over the next few years. Beckett is having a lousy year, with a 5-11 record and 5.23 ERA, and had already lost his favor among fans in Boston. It looks like owner John Henry will give the new GM Ben Cherington another year or two to get the long-term rebuilding process underway. See MLB.com. That was the second major trade by the Dodgers over the past few weeks. This transaction was after the July 31 deadline and therefore (presumably) had to go through the waivers process. Trades this late in the season are inherently disruptive of the competitive spirit of professional sports, and I'm inclined to think the waivers process needs to be tightened up.
In Denver, tonight, the Colorado Rockies gave a rude awakening to the L.A. Dodgers, who had ace Josh Beckett on the mound for the first time since the mega-deal announced. Beckett did OK, giving up just three runs over 5 2/3 innings, but the relief pitchers crumbled, and the Rockies crushed the visitors 10-0. To me, that's poetic justice. Money isn't everything, in life or in baseball.
Progressive Field tweak
Bruce Orser rose to the challenge of figuring out the true distance to center field at Progressive Field*, and I think he is right that it has really been 400 feet all along, not 405 as we used to think. So, I rotated the walls around the bullpen, etc. in center field, and it does indeed yield a slightly better fit. Since I am not yet sure, however, I have colored the 400-foot marker orange to indicate there is some question. For the time being, I have left the 1994 and lower-deck versions alone, so you can compare them for yourselves.
I finally figured out what that weird white spiral thing on the roof near the right field corner of is Progressive Field: a wind turbine that was installed last March. For more information, see cleveland.com.
August 31, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Harper gets hot, Nats end skid
It's about time! Bryce Harper's two home runs on Wednesday night were the key to the 8-4 win over the Miami Marlins that put an end to the Nationals' embarrassing five-game losing streak. The second homer was just crushed by the lefty slugger, landing about seven rows up in the upper deck over the right field bullpen in Marlins Park. Bruce Orser estimates it would have gone 425 feet, which seems low given the height (40+ feet) and distance from home (390 feet) at impact point, but the ball apparently had overspin. In the ninth inning of that game, Harper was ejected after throwing his helmet down in anger after getting thrown out at first. He was almost certainly mad at himself and not the umpire, but it was still an example of not being fully mature. Plus, it was pointless: the Nationals were about to celebrate the win, their only one on that miserable five-game road trip.
In contrast, the night before was just a nightmare, as the Nationals' ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg gave up seven runs, of which five were earned, in five innings on the mound. The Marlins piled on two more runs in the late innings, winning by a score of 9-0, the worst defeat for the Nationals this year. The team's previous biggest margin of defeat this year was an 8-0 loss at the hands of the Phillies, on July 31. The Washington Post [link added] noted that Strasburg has won eight games immediately following losses by his team this year, specializing in getting the team out of a rut. This time, he just fell flat. With Strasburg only expected to start two or three more times this year, because of the innings limit imposed on him by General Manager Mike Rizzo, it's a shame for him to have put in such a lousy performance.
On Thursday night, the Nats welcomed the (2011) World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to town, and proceeded to take them apart without mercy. With Jayson Werth on first base in the bottom of the first inning, Bryce Harper smashed a home run (his 14th) into the right field bullpen, putting two runs on the scoreboard. The Cardinals' only run in that game was unearned, resulting from a bad throw to first by Ryan Zimmerman in the late innings. Edwin Jackson was just superb on the mound, getting ten strikeouts over eight innings. It also helped that Michael Morse and Ian Desmond were back in the lineup. Final score: Nats 8, Cardinals 1.
Tonight (Friday), the Nats did it again, in a virtual carbon copy of the previous game. There were two runs in the first inning, batted in by Adam LaRoche on a single. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all had multiple hits, and Werth reached base five times in five plate appearances (two walks). Zimmerman homered in the eighth inning, his 17th of the year. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez was simply dominant, allowing just five hits and zero runs over a full nine innings. It was his very first complete-game shutout, as he won his 17th game of the season. Final score: 10-0. Wow!
That marked the Nationals' 80th win of the season, matching the total number of wins from all of last year (which was pretty good by the Nats' previously humble standards), but with one less month! 2005 was the Nats' best year, 81-81, and they'll be exceeding that number of wins in just a couple days or so.
So, in each of the last three games, the Nationals have scored more runs than they had scored during the entire five-game losing streak (six runs total). That's great, but I just hope they can play with greater consistency as the postseason approaches. You can't afford a flukish losing streak when you are facing elimination in a playoff series.
Thanks to the Phillies' 8-5 win in Atlanta tonight, the Braves have slipped back a game in the NL East race. The Phillies tied the game in the top of the ninth inning, and then scored three more in the top of the tenth. Spoiler alert!
The Nationals-Cardinals game will be broadcast by FOX Sports at 4:00 Saturday afternoon.
Oh, what a month!
The Nationals now have a record of 80-51, once again with the highest percentage (.611) in the majors, barely ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, with 81-52 (.609). For the month of August they were 19-10, almost equalling their best-ever month, June 2005, when they went 20-6. If not for that losing streak earlier this week, they would have set a team (not franchise) record for most-ever wins in a month. With a 6 1/2-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and 31 games left in the regular season, the Nationals' "magic number" is now 25; that's the number of Nats' wins plus Braves' losses needed for them to win the NL Eastern division. The best part of all is that they play 19 home games and only 12 games on the road. They couldn't be positioned much better than they are right now...
I updated the Washington Nationals page with win-loss records, etc. from August. (Note that there is a link to a preliminary page featuring photos of Nationals players which I have taken over the past several years.) In their 62 home games so far this year, the Nats have drawn 1,794,063 spectators, which works out to 28,937 in attendance per game. That's nearly as much as in the inaugural year in Nationals Park (29,004), and would have been higher if it weren't for the dip in August.
Ian Desmond, warming up before the game in Washington on August 18.
Division races heat up
I can't help but marvel at how little the L.A. Dodgers have accomplished since beefing up their roster with all that high-priced talent. They have only won three of their last ten games, and have fallen 4 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West. What's going on? Bad chemistry in the locker room?
The Baltimore Orioles have been slowly catching up on the Yankees in the American League East, and are now only two games behind. The O's have won seven of their last ten games, while the Yankees have only won three of their last ten.
In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers are likewise pursuing the White Sox, whose lead over their rivals fell to just two games after they lost in a game at Comerica Park tonight.
But the most dramatic action in the Junior Circuit is in the AL West, where the Oakland A's have won seven games in a row, and are now just four games behind the Rangers, who have the best record (78-53) in the American League. The Athletics' push toward the postseason comes as a bit of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't since they have had so much experience over the past decade. Billy Beane's "Moneyball"!
Deal on Chase Field?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have submitted a proposal to transfer ownership of Chase Field from Maricopa County to the city of Phoenix. They hope to gain more control over the stadium and thereby raise their profit margins. Part of the plan is to reduce the number of seats in Chase Field, which is indeed too big for a city the size of Phoenix. (Same goes for the stadiums built about the same time in Atlanta, Seattle, and Arlington, Texas.) The problem is that the public paid for about two-thirds of the $354 million it cost to build the structure, and the taxpayers expect cheap seats. Well, I can't blame them. See azcentral.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.