June 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]
In one of the biggest surprises in collegiate sports this year, the University of Virginia Cavaliers overcame a less-than-expected regular season performance (34-22), somehow scratched their way through the NCAA playoff tournaments as an underdog, and finally claimed the 2015 College World Series trophy. The Cavaliers' comeback after the final series Game 1 loss to Vanderbilt, winning Games 2 and 3, was typical of their postseason play this year. There were many heroes, some of whom you can see in photos below.
Their lackluster regular season record was the result of multiple injuries. Slugging outfielder Joe McCarthy had back surgery before the season began, and his return to the lineup in early June helped their offense, and their team spirit. In a Washington Post article on June 13, catcher Matt Thais was quoted as saying that McCarthy's nickname is "Mojo," and once they got their "Mojo" back, the sky was the limit. Starting pitcher Nathan Kirby missed nine weeks, and took the mound against for the first time in two months, and was pulled early as Virginia lost.
So, who deserves the credit? You could easily point to Pavin Smith, who hit a two-run homer and an RBI single in the decisive 4-2 win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, but it really was a team effort. Nathan Kirby finished the game started by Brandon Waddell in that final CWS game, getting credit for the save, and getting buried in the "dogpile" of jubilant Virginia players. Outfielder Adam Haseley successfully took on pitching responsibilities in the must-win Game 2, an awesome performance. Relief pitcher Josh Sborz won three games in the CWS, pitching 13 shutout innings, and won the CWS Most Outstanding Player Award. And you could talk about the elimination game against Florida, when Kenny Towns hit a walk-off sac fly. He is the only graduating senior on the team, which will feature a very similar lineup next year.
To get to Omaha, the Cavaliers first had to beat USC in the Lake Elsinore regional tournament, and then they swept Maryland (2-0) in the super-regional tournament in Charlottesville on June 5 and 6. Virginia went 10-2 in the three stages of NCAA tournaments, and ended up with an overall record of 44-24, the fewest number of wins by any CWS champion team since the University of Southern California in 1968. The way this year went for the Cavaliers was almost the reverse of last year, when they had an outstanding regular season, entering the College World Series as favorites with the highest winning percentage (.777), and then fell just short in the final game against Vanderbilt. The Cavaliers' overall record in 2014 was 52-17.
On Friday evening, the University of Virginia had a big victory/welcome celebration at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, and I was there! Of course, they played the song by Queen, "We Are the Champions!" University President Teresa Sullivan was there to congratulate the team, along with Athletic Director Craig Littlepage. It was hard to believe: national champions! Read all about that fairy-tale ending in the Washington Post. Post sports writer Isabelle Khurshadyan has been covering Virginia's baseball team this year, doing a very good job.
Unfortunately, I didn't get good photos of some other stars, including Josh Sborz, Adam Haseley, Kevin Doherty, or Connor Jones. But you can see them in this group photo below (click on it to see it full-size), if you squint real hard.
Congratulations to the University of Virginia baseball team! Wa-hoo-wah!!
But wait, there's more! In related news, the University of Virginia won the men's annual Capital One Cup (capitalonecup.com ) in recognition of the best overall athletic achievement by a college team this year. U.Va. also won national championships this past year in men's tennis and soccer, and the men's basketball team finished with a top-10 ranking. (They had a great regular season, but exited early in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.) Virginia had 149 points, ahead of second-place Oregon with 121. See the (Charlottesville) dailyprogress.com.
I realized that I had to make some significant corrections to the TD Ameritrade Park diagram on the day after I originally posted it. Just for good measure, I added another photo to that page, showing the grandstand and part of the outfield, viewed from the right field gate. Finally, I included on that page two panoramic photos of Rosenblatt Stadium, where the College World Series used to be held. If ever I do a diagram of that one, I'll move those photos to its own page.
Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals followed up their sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates by sweeping the Atlanta Braves, thus extending their winning streak to six games. On Wednesday, Jordan Zimmermann had his best outing of the year, going eight innings without allowing a run. But unfortunately, his team mates let him down, scoring only one run in regulation, while Drew Storen blew the save in the top of the ninth. He gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases with nobody out, after which Kelly Johnson hit a sac fly to center field. Storen was lucky that Span threw out Joey Terdoslavich at second to get the double play, or else the Braves might have scored a second (go-ahead) run. So, the game went into extras and reached the 11th inning, when Bryce Harper doubled with one out, followed by two walks to load the bases, and it was all up to Ian Desmond. Overcoming all the negative vibes plaguing him this year, he connected for a long fly ball that was more than sufficient to get the winning run across home plate. The Nats won, 2-1! Ian was due for a walk-off celebration like that, and it's too bad it had to come at Jordan Zimmermann's expense.
Then on Thursday, Doug Fister took the mound and put in another superb performance, shutting out the Braves for seven innings before the bullpen took over. This time they got the job done, but that was partly because of the lack of any pressure: The Nationals scored six times while Fister was in the lineup, and once more in the eighth inning. Final score: Nats 7, Braves 0. Another sweep!
On Friday, the Nationals traveled to The City of Brotherly Love, where Max Scherzer continued his recent total dominance on the mound. In fact, he was perfect for the first five innings. Then he gave up a double to Freddy Galvis in the sixth inning, an RBI double to Domonic Brown in the seventh, and a solo home run to Ben Revere in the eighth. He was clearly getting tired, and manager Matt Williams really should have let him rest after the seventh inning. In the ninth, closer Drew Storen took over pitching duties and got the save. Nats 5, Phillies 2. Aside from the bloop single by Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee on June 14 (which ruined Scherzer's bid for a perfect game), it was the first time over a span of 23 1/3 innings that Scherzer had given up a hit. See the Washington Post.
That game also put an end to the amazing 48-inning scoreless streak chalked up by the Nationals' starting pitchers, the second longest such streak ever accomplished in baseball. It all began with Joe Ross on June 19, followed by (in order) Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Scherzer again. Seven superb starts, all but one of which (Strasburg) lasted for at least seven innings. That is the kind of championship-caliber pitching rotation Nats fans have been expecting this year. Let's hope they can keep it up.
It was raining in Philadelphia (and most of the mid-Atlantic) on Saturday, but the Phillies decided to start the game anyway. Gio Gonzalez pitched two innings, but the game was then halted because it was just too muddy. Matt Williams was rightly angered that one of his pitchers had to waste a start, complaining that the game shouldn't have been played at all. Instead they played Sunday afternoon, as the first game of a double-header, but Gio couldn't pitch two days in a row, so Stephen Strasburg started. He had his second consecutive quality start, going seven innings in a 3-2 win by the Nationals. His performances since returning from the disabled list are very encouraging. Reserve player Dan Uggla led Nats' (rather modest) offense, going 3 for 4 at the plate.
But in the second game on Sunday, Tanner Roark had his worst outing of the year, giving up eight earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings. The Nats tried to come back with home runs by Ian Desmond and Jose Lobaton, but it wasn't enough. Phillies 8, Nats 5. And that's how the Nationals' winning streak came to an end, at eight games.
Tonight the Nats open a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta. They are currently 42-34, enjoying first place in the standings, with a 2 1/2-game lead over the New York Mets.
Once again, Ryan Zimmerman was put on the 15-day disabled list, as his chronic plantar fasciitis (see webMD.com) was hobbling him too much. And the often-fragile Anthony Rendon is likewise out again, with a strained left quadricep. Hopefully, they'll both be back in the lineup in the next few days. In their places, Matt den Dekker and Emmanuel Burriss have been called up from the minors. But as for Jayson Werth, who is taking time off the let his fractured left wrist heal, it will probably be Augusta before he returns. With all three of those players on the field, the Nats would be very hard to beat...
Today's Washington Post noted that the Nationals' recent success have been due in great measure to the solid performances by their backup players. Second-string outfielders Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson have been filling in for Zimmerman at first base, and Robinson was the cleanup batter in the second game on Sunday. Moore has improved greatly, batting .320 over the last ten games. Matt den Dekker hasn't had much success as a pinch-hitter this year, but in his very first game in the Nationals' starting lineup (Friday), he hit a home run. Michael Taylor has also had some clutch hits recently, and remains a big part of the Nationals future outfield plans. That may raise questions about Denard Span, who is having another great year, both on offense and defense, deserving of consideration for the All-Star Game. I hope the Nationals front office signs him to another contract.
I have updated the Comerica Park diagrams, and made the usual touchups to the rest of that page. (The previous update of those diagrams was on October 30, 2012.) The grandstand is slightly bigger all around (just a few feet), but it's more like ten feet bigger around the scoreboard and other parts near the left field corner. There are also more details shown, such as the "creases" in the grandstand, the bullpen mounds and plates, and the steps (darker shaded) along the sides of the entry portals in the upper deck. With any luck, I'll pay a second visit to Comerica Park next month -- and maybe a few other ballparks in the northern regions!
As far as updating diagrams on stadiums currently in use, I believe that leaves just Minute Maid Park, Rogers Centre, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field. I should finish those in the next week or two, and then tackle the rest of them later this summer and fall. Yes, I know you've heard that one before, but I've finally got the time and energy to "git 'r done!"