September 3, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nats are barely clinging to life
The last few days have seen a continuation of the ups and downs that have defined the Washington Nationals' 2013 season, and with time running short, they just can't afford many more downs. Last night in Philadelphia, they lost 3-2 to the Phillies, who scored twice in the eighth inning. The Nats had runners on first and third with one out in the top of the ninth, but Wilson Ramos was called out on strikes, a blatant ripoff. The ball was clearly wide of the plate, and the ump's bad call probably decided the outcome of the game.
The New York Mets played the role of spoiler in the weekend series, and I had the misfortune to see with my own eyes the Nationals' recent hot streak come to a screeching halt. In fact, the Mets came very close to sweeping the Nats (at home!), just like the Braves swept the Nats in Washington on August 5-7. That would have killed their last hopes for October baseball.
But because of a stupendous late rally on Sunday night (broadcast by ESPN), the Nats came back to win the final game of the series, so they still have a flicker of hope for the postseason. As the bottom of the eighth inning began, with the Mets on top 5-3, Scott Hairston and Denard Span each singled. Then Bryce Harper entered the batters box, and everybody started thinking about a mighty blow that would give the Nats the lead. But instead of playing the headline-grabbing hero, Harper did what was best for his team, laying down a sacrifice bunt that advanced the runners to second and third. That showed real class and maturity on Harper's part. Next, Anthony Rendon hit a ground ball that scored a run, at the cost of a second out. Then Ryan Zimmerman came in and hit an infield single that scored the tying run. Perfect! But then it got even better, as Jayson Werth then hit a double to the right-center gap, and Zimmerman made it all the way home, as the Nats took a 6-5 lead. For once, Rafael Soriano closed the game 1-2-3, so the Nats won the game. Whew!
That precious victory came on the heels of a humiliating 11-3 loss on Saturday, during which Dan Haren reverted to his pre-July ways, giving up seven earned runs in less than three innings on the mound. It really wasn't all his fault, as the Mets got lucky with some short "Texas Leaguer" fly balls that dropped just beyond the infielders' grasp.
In the Friday night game, which I saw, the Nationals let another close one slip away. It was a well-matched pitchers' duel between Jordan Zimmermann and Dillon Gee of the Mets. Wilson Ramos hit a solo homer in the third to give the Nats a 1-0 lead, but in the top of the fourth, Ike Davis homered to same general area (left field), and Mets were ahead, 2-1. The Mets scored again in the top of the eighth, as Ryan Zimmerman tried in vain to make a difficult throw to first, allowing Daniel Murphy to score from second. It was a big mistake, and it ended up proving decisive. In the bottom of the inning, with two outs, pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi hit a solo homer to the Nats' bullpen in right field, sparking a rally that fell short when Bryce Harper grounded out to second base for the fourth straight time. Final score: Mets 3, Nats 2.
Note that in the photos below, I took much better closeup shots in the latter innings, after I had given up on the seat in the very farthest section of the mezzanine level, and just wandered around the lower-level concourse. In my original seat, I had good views of the two early home runs, but not much else.
Grand view of Nationals Park from the mezzanine level near the left field pole. Roll your mouse over the image to see a zoom shot through the gap toward the Anacostia part of D.C.
Stepping back into the dugout, Wilson Ramos gets high fives for his fourth-inning home run. All three of the Nationals players on the left -- Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth -- hit home runs the day before.
Jordan Zimmermann maintained his composure and velocity into the late innings, but couldn't get enough run support.
Dillon Gee kept inducing ground balls, holding the Nats to just six hits. He was taken out of the game about a minute after this photo was taken because of ...
... pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi, just before he hit a [solo] home run with two outs in the eighth inning. It sparked a rally that ultimately fizzled.
Sad end to a great month
For the Nationals, August was their best month of the year, winning 16 games and losing 11. [They lost the last two games of the month, unfortunately.] So, I updated the Washington Nationals page, and added a whole new feature: a set of graphs showing the daily winning percentages for each separate year going back to 2005. You can either compare those graphs to the monthly totals in each year, or compare them to each other in a separate section further down that page.
[NOTE: Unfortunately, I forgot to upload the new version of that page until a day later. It's there now, along with all those winning-percentage graphs. Sorry about that.]
"The Beast" in Baltimore
Former Nationals slugging star Michael "The Beast" Morse was traded by the struggling Seattle Mariners to the still-hopeful Baltimore Orioles, after clearing waivers. In the first game he played, on Sunday in New York, he went two for four, helping his new team beat the Yankees, 7-3. Michael may just end up in the postseason again, but not with team he helped get there last year.
September 22, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Miracle month: Nats make their final charge
Just as we die-hard Nats fans had expected, the Washington Nationals have rebounded late in the season, and as their final home stand concludes they are still in the running for a post-season berth. It has been a wonderful spectacle, with multiple games when heroes rose to the occasion. Ryan Zimmerman is setting home run records, while Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos continue to provide great slugging power. But is it too late?
After struggling just to get back above .500 during mid-summer, the Nats are now 83-71, by far the greatest win-loss percentage (.539) they have reached this season. But they are still 4 1/2 games behind the Reds in the wild card race, and they will be eliminated from the NL East Division race if either they lose any game or the Braves win any game. (Atlanta's magic number is 1.) Alas, with only eight games left to play, hopes for October baseball have just about evaporated. But at least they stayed alive until the final week of the season, giving Washington fans a reason to go to the ballpark and cheer their team on. With any luck, I'll be one of the faces in the crowd at Nationals Park this afternoon!
Wouldn't you know it, the Nats are having one of their very best months in team history, and I've been too busy with teaching duties to properly document it on this blog. Much like April 2012. C'est la vie...
Navy Yards massacre
The opening game of the series against the Atlanta Braves last week had to be pushed back a day because of the tragic mass shooting at the nearby Navy Yards. Twelve people were murdered before D.C. police took down the lone gunman. Before the afternoon game on Tuesday, there was a moment of silence in which both teams lined up and bowed their heads as a gesture of respect and sympathy. See MLB.com. I walk by the Navy Yards almost every time I see a game at Nationals Park, so that area is quite familiar to me.
Span's hitting streak
Denard Span came close to matching Ryan Zimmerman's team record hitting streak of 30 games. He ended up with a hitting streak 29 games, his career best, and surpassing the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer for the best in the majors this year. On the next day after he went hitless, Span went 2 or 4. He has had a fantastic second half of the season, and when combined with his superb defensive prowess in center field, he has proven himself to be a valuable and worthy member of the team.
September 30, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Baseball season comes to an end
Even though most of the division races were wrapped up quite a few days ago, the final week of the regular baseball season contained a fair amount of drama. As expected, the St. Louis Cardinals built a slight lead in the NL Central, while the Pirates kept beating the Reds to take the first wild card spot, with home field advantage. The American League was especially tense, as the Cleveland Indians surged into the #1 wild card slot by winning ten consecutive games at the end. In fact, they came within one game of the Detroit Tigers, who barely hung on to win the AL Central. Not many people saw that one coming. Congratulations to Terry Francona's Tribe! It will be the first postseason game in Cleveland since 2007. Tonight at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-2, thereby grabbing the second AL wild card spot. And so, there won't be any October baseball in Texas this year, after three straight playoff seasons.
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington update
Since I expected this might be the final game of the season in Arlington, I decided to update the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington diagram. (Much like two years ago!) As usual, the inclusion of entry portals yielded greater accuracy. The angle and depth of the upper deck grandstand changed slightly, otherwise not much.
Nats almost end with a sweep
As fleeting hopes faded away and as grim reality reared its ugly head last week, the best the Washington Nationals could hope for was to end the 2013 season on a positive note. Getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals during the early part of the week was not a good way to do that. On Tuesday, the Cardinals were one out from getting a no-hitter against the Nationals, but Ryan Zimmerman managed to reach base on a high-hopping infield single in the top of the ninth inning. That prevented what would have been a first for the Nationals.
In their final series in Phoenix, Arizona, the Nats made a much better showing. They won 8-4 on Friday evening, boosted by home runs hit by Jayson Werth (a monster blast that bounced off the front edge of the upper deck in left field) and Wilson Ramos. Stephen Strasburg pitched seven solid innings, and picked up his eighth win of the year. Saturday was a much closer affair. Dan Haren pitched very well in what was probably his last game as a National, giving up just three hits over seven innings. A triple by Denard Span and a home run by Chad Tracy provided the only runs scored in the game. On Sunday afternoon, Tanner Roark pitched another very solid game, and was in line for the win until relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus gave up two runs in the eighth inning. That's how the Diamondbacks won the game, 3-2. It put the damper on what would have been a gratifying way to end manager Davey Johnson's career, but he still ended up with 300 more wins than losses as manager, meeting his personal goal. See MLB.com
Marlins spoil Nats hopes
Two Sundays ago, I was in D.C. to see the Miami Marlins put an end to the Nats' hopes for a postseason berth. It was a nice day, partly sunny and mild temperatures. Thanks to yet another traffic delay (%#&$@!!), this time a Latino parade on Constitution Avenue, we didn't get there until after the pregame ceremony honoring Davey Johnson. The ticket clerk told us that the only seats left were going for $75 -- what a crock! There were easily several hundred empty seats all around the upper deck. So, my wife and I settled for standing-room-only tickets.
It worked out pretty well, because we ordered lunch at the Red Porch restaurant (a first for me), and sat at one of the outside tables. It was a great view, and my hopes that a home run ball would land near us come came true, thanks to Ryan Zimmerman. With the Marlins ahead 3-0 and a runner on first base with two outs in the sixth inning, Z-man lunged low (as he so often does) and made perfect contact with the ball, which came sailing our way. Fans down below us were scrambling to grab that souvenir, and I took a photo the man who got it, along with his son. You can see the photos below, and you can actually see Jacqueline and me in the video clip of Zimmerman's home run. Yes, we were on TV! Hit pause at 8 seconds into the clip, and you see me on the left side wearing a red shirt behind a guy in a white shirt with his hands raised; Jacqueline was wearing white, just to the right (my left). See MLB.com.
Unfortunately, that homer was the only bright spot in the game, and the Nats ended up losing, 4-2. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Zimmerman was called out on strikes, and he argued with the umpire for a few seconds. I was taking a video of that at bat, and freezing the frame when the ball crossed the plate leaves no doubt that it was below his knees. Oh well...
That loss officially eliminated the Nationals from contention in the NL East race (which had not been a realistic possibility since early August), and for all intents and purposes eliminated them from any hope of overtaking the Reds in the wild card race.
The Sunday afternoon game we saw was supposed to be the last home game of the year, but they had to play a makeup game from the night before, when the game was rained out. I cannot understand why it took them until 11:00 to announce that the game was being postponed, making thousands of fans wait in the miserable rain for hour after hour. And they call September "Fan Appreciation Month"? I don't think so. Not many people bothered to use their rain checks in the Sunday evening game, and even though the Nats did win it, 5-4, it was still a rather melancholy way to end the baseball season in Washington.
Bryce Harper, at bat in the second inning. He went 0 for 3 that day. Note the black and yellow shoulder patch honoring those who died in the Navy Yard on September 16.
Center fielder Denard Span, whose 29-game hitting streak had come to an end just three days before.
In the sixth inning, with Denard Span on first, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run to the Red Porch, closing the gap to 3-2. The momentum was shifting in the Nats' favor...
A Nats fan grabs the ball hit by Ryan Zimmerman, less than 20 feet from where we were sitting. Roll your mouse over to see a closeup of the jubilation.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jayson Werth popped out to Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison to end the game, and the season.
No Nats wins for me
For the first time since the Nationals started playing in 2005, they did not win any of the games I saw them play. Is my rotten luck related to the last two digits of this year? (Baseball is full of superstition, of course.) I guess I've been lucky up until now, as they have won at least half of the games in each year, even in those dark years (2008 and 2009) when they were under .400. Here's a summary of all the Nats games I've seen over the years, including two on the road:
NOTE: Underlined numbers indicate that one of those games was on the road.
2013 summary data
The Nats finished the 2013 season with a record of 86-76 (.531), ten games behind the division champion Atlanta Braves and twelve games ahead of the third-place New York Mets. It's the first year the Nats have finished in second place. They were 18-9 in September, their best month by far this year. They were four games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card race; Davey Johnson was absolutely correct when he said the Nats would need to win 90 games to make it to the postseason.
Ryan Zimmerman led the team with 26 home runs this season, one more than last year, and six less than in his best season, 2009. Early in the season there were big doubts about whether he had recovered from shoulder surgery, but he seems to be back to his old self again. Jayson Werth led in both batting average (.318) and RBIs (82). He was likewise shaky physical condition for a while, but came roaring back in the second half of the season.
The same could be said for Wilson Ramos, who batted .272. He finished the year with 667 2/3 innings as catcher, barely surpassing Kurt Suzuki, who had 659 innings in that position. His batting average was .272, compared to .222 for Suzuki. Kurt will get to play at least a few more games in October, now that he is back with the Oakland A's, who won the American League West.
The big question mark, of course, is Bryce Harper. Will he be playing at 100% next year?
As for pitching, Stephen Strasburg led the team in ERA (3.00), while Jordan Zimmermann led in wins (19), and Gio Gonzalez had the most strikeouts (192, one more than Strasburg). It's a sign of a well-balanced pitching rotation.
The Washington Nationals drew just over 2.6 million fans to Nationals Park this year, almost breaking the record they set in their inaugural year at RFK Stadium (2.7 million, in 2005). Those and other fun facts can be found on the newly-updated Washington Nationals page. I still need to add a day-to-day winning percentage chart and a few other details, but it's more or less finished.
September 30, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Fall bird migration reaches the peak
Well, here it is the end of the month, and I really need to document the birding activities for September. Fall migration is hard to predict, but this year there have been lots and lots of warblers. Here are some of the highlights:
On Wednesday, September 4 I stopped at the Rockfish Valley trail on the way home from Sweet Briar College. It was the first time I had entered from the rear (east) side, where there are more moist thickets and bogs that are favorable to warblers. I saw many Indigo Buntings (mostly all brown), Hummingbirds, and a juvenile White-eyed Vireo.
On Saturday morning, September 7, I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We saw some warblers and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the first overlook we stopped at, but after that there weren't as many birds. In the afternoon, most of us spent a while at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, by the Afton Inn.
On Sunday morning, September 8 I went to Bell's Lane and got decent photographs of a male Magnolia Warbler, a Philadelphia Vireo, a Willow Flycatcher, and a female American Redstart.
American Redstart (female), on Bell's Lane Sunday morning, September 8.
On Friday, September 13 I led a field trip to Sweet Briar College, with their biologist Michael Hayslett serving as our guide. He runs the vernal pools conservation program, a very worthwhile outreach effort. It was a beautiful day, and we saw many Killdeers, Bluebirds, and Chipping Sparrows, but only a few warblers. The nature highlight was a Queen Snake, dropped along a low tree branch.
Back on Bell's Lane on September 15, I saw a Lincoln's Sparrow for the first time this year, and also a Double-crested Cormorant. In both cases, I was lucky to get photographs. I went back to the Rockfish Valley trail on September 19, and saw some Hummingbirds, etc.
One of my biggest birding days of the year was September 24, when I walked along the Blackwater nature trail in Lynchburg during the afternoon between classes. I saw several Cape May Warblers, a Tennessee Warbler, a Golden-winged Warbler, and even a Bay-breasted Warbler! (I had glimpsed one on Bell's Lane during the spring migration season.) Also seen: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Scarlet Tanager, a Wood Thrush, Easter Wood Pewees, a Brown Thrasher, a probable Red-shouldered Hawk, several woodpeckers, and the "usual suspects." I got photographs of most of them, to my great delight.
Cape May Warbler (male), in Lynchburg on Tuesday afternoon, September 24.
Finally, Jacqueline and I went hiking in the Shenandoah National Park on Saturday, September 28. It was a chilly, overcast day, and I wasn't expecting many birds. To my surprise, I saw a Magnolia Warbler and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler at Jarman's Gap. Later, we were on a trail toward Turk Mountain and saw an Ovenbird and a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. We struggled to get across the boulders at the top of Turk Mountain, and after a while the effort finally paid off. While we were scanning the valley scenery below us, we started seeing a flurry of activity in the nearby bushes, and soon there were Black-throated Green Warblers all around us. One even landed ten feet away from me, and I managed to get a good photograph of it! There was also a Blackpoll Warbler in that group. Altogether, I saw six warbler species that day, a veritable jackpot!
All six of these warblers were photographed in Shenandoah National Park on Saturday afternoon, September 28, while hiking with Jacqueline. Clockwise from top left: Ovenbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Magnolia Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Black & White Warbler. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Black-throated Green Warbler (male), at the top of Turk Mountain.
As I wrote on Facebook just a while ago, "These warblers are now officially off limits to the general public, as the Shenandoah National Park (and the rest of the NPS) will remain closed until the budget showdown is resolved. Photographed in Shen. Nat. Park on Saturday." In sum, it was quite a good month of birding! There are many other new items on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
New warbler guide
From Penny Warren, I learned about The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, newly published by Princeton University Press. It looks very impressive; for details, see allaboutbirds.org.
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
January 1, 2013 ~ Happy New Year! / State of the diagrams, 2013
January 7, 2013 ~ Br-r-r! Winter field trip to Highland County
January 21, 2013 ~ Continuity: Obama begins his second term
January 28, 2013 ~ NatsFest 2013: NL East champs!
February 13, 2013 ~ But wait, there's more bird photos!
March 16, 2013 ~ Birding field trip in Waynesboro
March 30, 2013 ~ Day trip to "Waltons Mountain"
April 1, 2013 ~ Play ball! The 2013 season begins
May 31, 2013 ~ R.I.P. YuLee Larner (1923-2013)
June 8, 2013 ~ Nats come from behind, and WIN!
June 30, 2013 ~ Expedition to the top of Elliott's Knob
July 18, 2013 ~ A Midsummer's Day Dream *
July 20, 2013 ~ Various random day trips
July 26, 2013 ~
Nightmare on South Capitol Street: Harper, Zimmerman save Nationals from doom
August 24, 2013 ~ Nats keep bouncing back from total disasters
September 3, 2013 ~ Nats are barely clinging to life
September 30, 2013 ~ Baseball season comes to an end
September 30, 2013 ~ Fall bird migration reaches the peak
December 26, 2013 ~ Catching up with baseball
December 26, 2013 ~ 2013: Republicans keep defeating themselves
December 26, 2013 ~ Hawk watch: Up close & personal