July 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]
The Washington Nationals came very close to sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend, with two straight lopsided victories and a marathon 18-inning game that ended up going the other way. Max Scherzer pitched well, giving up only one run over seven innings, but the Nats failed to score at all, leaving him in line for a possible loss. But then with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats' new superstar Daniel Murphy pulled off a feat that defied belief, smashing a home run into the middle deck above the right field bullpen. Yes, he did it!!! It was the kind of storybook narrative that makes you expect destiny to be on your side, but in spite of a superb performance by the bullpen, somehow the Nats just couldn't follow through with an extra-inning win. In the top of the 18th inning, Starling Marte hit a solo homer way up into left field seats, and the Pirates won it, 2-1.
That game bore a haunting similarity to NLDS Game 2 on October 4, 2014, which the Giants won by the same score in the same number of innings. The difference was that in that other game, it was the Giants who tied the game 1-1 in the ninth inning. (That was when then-manager Matt Williams pulled Jordan Zimmermann, who was just one out from winning the game.)
In the first two games of that series, the Nats combined superb pitching with clutch hitting, and the outcome was never really in doubt. On Friday, Stephen Strasburg went eight full innings, getting his 13th win of the season; Nats 5, Pirates 1. The last time a National League pitcher had a 13-0 record was 1912 (Rube Marquard of the New York Giants); see masnsports.com. That's pretty damn impressive! On Saturday, Tanner Roark did even better, pitching into the ninth inning without giving up a run. But he was replaced after giving up a walk and a single, and there went his chance at a first complete-game shutout. Anthony Rendon homered, but the biggest offensive display in that game was by Steven Drew, who hit three doubles. Final score: 6-0.
So the upshot of that series is that the top three pitchers in the Nationals' starting rotation kept up the astounding pattern of many innings with few runs allowed, as I discussed recently. If only it weren't for the mental and physical frailties of the other two starters...
In the first of three games against the Dodgers last night, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez took the mound and was immediately subjected to a baptism by fire as the very first batter (Yasmani Grandal -- Who? Oh yeah) hit a home run. Then came a single and a double, putting two runners in scoring position. Then Lopez got two quick outs, almost escaping peril, but Joc Pederson hit a two-run single. That put the Nats in an early hole from which they would not recover. Lopez was just called up from the minors to replace Joe Ross, who is still healing on the DL. (Lucas Giolito had been filling in for Ross, but he was sent back down to the minors after a rough outing against the Mets on July 7.) Lopez managed to strike out nine batters during the four and two-thirds innings he pitched, at least showing some future promise. You have to give him credit for keeping his cool, but I really take issue with the decision to have him start. About the only bright spots for the Nationals were a solo home run by Jose Lobaton in the fifth inning and a two-run triple by Trea Turner in the eighth inning; he then scored on a double by Daniel Murphy. Final score: L.A. 8, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.
The Nats had a day off on Monday, which was good because their bullpen was worn out from the marathon on Sunday. But meanwhile, both their division rivals won their games, and so the Nats' lead in the NL East has fallen from seven games (as of Saturday night) to just 4.5 games over the Marlins and 5.5 games over the Mets.
Whew! I recently got started on some minor "repair" work on the Metrodome diagrams, concentrating on the precise position and orientation of the entry portals in the upper deck, but by the time I was finished there were some rather big changes. (Have you heard that one before? Yes.) I made some significant "discoveries" along the way: First, the upper deck actually hung over right field by a couple feet, slightly more in the corner. [I always wondered whether there might have been some overhang there, and then I came across some excellent panoramic photos at cookandsonbats.com, erasing any doubt. The "foul pole" on that side (actually a strip of yelllow fabric, like in Rogers Centre) angled slightly inward.] In that respect, the Metrodome was the opposite of old Comiskey Park, where the foul poles angled slightly outward. In order to illustrate the overhang more clearly, I created a lower-deck diagram for the first time, but it lacks detail. Also, in two of the diagram variants both the top- and bottom-level outlines are shown.
Second, the upper deck is slightly bigger than in the previous rendition (Dec. 17, 2012); it had 31 rows, almost as many as in the lower deck (35 rows). But because the upper-deck overhang is greater than I had thought (about four rows), the net effect of these two changes is that the overall stadium "footprint" is slightly smaller than before. Note that the support columns in the upper deck are easier to see than before, when they were just tiny dots.
Third, my previous diagram indicated a backstop distance of 63 feet, where it should have been 60 feet, so I corrected that. As a result, foul territory decreased slightly, from 34,300 to 33,900 square feet, while fair territory stayed the same, at 107,500 square feet. The new diagrams show that the grandstand quickly transitions from a gradual curve to a sharp bend behind home plate and in the left field corner. (This applies to all four corners in the football diagram variant.) Note that in the "combined" diagram variant, the two extra rows of seats installed between the dugouts in the early 2000s are shown; the foul territory measurement does not pertain to that configuration.