November 5, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox win the 2018 World Series
The final outcome was perhaps no surprise, as the Red Sox were favored to go all the way, but there was plenty of drama along the way to make it the whole spectacle fascinating to watch. After the Red Sox won Game 1 (see Oct. 24 post), the weather in Boston turned nasty on Wednesday afternoon (October 24), but it cleared up just in time for World Series Game 2 that evening. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the Dodgers scored twice in the fourth inning, momentarily rattling the nerves of the Fenway Park faithful. But rookie manager Alex Cora trusted in David Price, who finished that inning and went on to finish two more innings. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, and was replaced by former National Ryan Madson walked in one run and allowed two more to score on a single by J.D. Martinez. That was all the Red Sox would need as they won the game, 4-2. It was the second consecutive time that David Price overcame his past frustrations and rose to the occasion in a postseason game; he got credit for the win.
Even though it wasn't an elimination game per se, Game 3 was essentially a must-win game for the Dodgers, as no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series. (Until 2004, of course, no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series, of course, but then that epic 14th-inning walk-off home run by David Ortiz in ALCS Game 4 turning the momentum in Boston's favor and changed sports history forever.) In the third inning, Joc Pederson hit a home run and the Dodgers held on to a 1-0 lead until the eighth inning. That's when Jackie Bradley Jr. did likewise off Kenley Jansen to tie the game, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Red Sox capitalized on a leadoff walk and then a throwing error by L.A. pitcher Scott Alexander when Eduardo Nuñez hit a squib swinging bunt: the ball sailed past first base, allowing Brock Holt to score from second base. It reminded many of the error by first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and it looked like the Dodgers were doomed. But virtually the same thing happened in the bottom of the 13th, as the Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsley made a throwing error that allowed Max Muncy to score. It was already well after midnight here in the east, and yet the game dragged on for inning after scoreless inning. Nathan Eovaldi, who had been scheduled to start Game 4 for the Red Sox, was doing a fantastic job as a relief pitcher until the bottom of the 18th. That's when Max Muncy, whose career was all but washed up a year earlier, smacked the ball just over the fence in left center field to end the longest game in World Series history. And the crowd (the 40,000 or so who were still remaining, that is) went wild! Final score: Dodgers 3, Red Sox 2. (As Washington Nationals fans know all too well, unti this year the longest game in MLB postseason history had been on October 2014, when they lost NLDS Game 2 to the San Francisco Giants, by a 2-1 score -- also 18 innings.)
I was feeling out of sorts the next day from losing so much sleep that night, but I wouldn't have missed that extra-inning drama for the world. That marathon in Los Angeles took seven hours and 20 minutes, ending at 3:30 AM (EDT), or 12:30 local time.
The first half of Game 4 was a pitchers' duel between Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and Rich Hill (Dodgers), and neither team scored for the first five innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and then scored on a weird play in which the runner was forced out at home but the catcher (Christian Vazquez) threw the ball wide of first base in a vain attempt to get a double play, allowing Justin Turner to score. To make matters worse, the next batter, Yasiel Puig, hit a three-run homer to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. It seemed they were going to capitalize on the previous night's marathon victory, but in the very next inning the Red Sox pulled to within one run when Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo homer to tie the game, and in the ninth inning he hit a two-run double. The Red Sox had a 9-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, but their closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel once again faltered, as the Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez hit a two-run homer to come within three runs. That was the extent of their comeback, however, and the Red Sox won it, 9-6. [Just when you thought the Dodgers were going] to even the series, the Red Sox batters came alive.
Game 5 was indeed an elimination game, and it really felt like it. In the first inning Steve Pearce hit a two-run home run, catching Clayton Kershaw off guard. In the bottom of the first, David Freese hit a solo homer, and Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings to keep the game razor-tight. But Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, and J.D. Martinez did likewise an inning later, and Kershaw exited with four runs charged against him. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo home run to pad the Red Sox lead, yet another four-bagger for this unlikely Boston hero. David Price was masterful once again, going seven full innings on the mound, and the Dodgers failed to score any runs for the rest of the game, and only got three hits all night. It was a melancholy end to the World Series. Red Sox 5, Dodgers 1.
When it was all said and done, the Boston Red Sox emerged victorious from the capricious gauntlet that is postseason baseball -- for the fourth time in the last fifteen years. That puts them ahead of the San Francisco Giants (three World Series championships in this century) and the St. Louis Cardinals (two such championships), leaving no doubt that they deserve hearty congratulations for their consistent excellence and relentless competitive zeal. (I updated the Baseball chronology, annual page with this year's World Series outcome.)
Bryce Harper becomes a free agent
For the first time in his career, Bryce Harper is on his own, with no obligations to the Nationals or any other team. At the beginning of the month, he declared that he was becoming a free agent, and as everyone expected, the Nationals made a "qualifying offer" of a one-year $17.9 million contract, which he of course declined since it is less than he made last season ($21.6 million). (See MLB.) He has ten days to accept or reject the offer, and chances are he will explore the market. The winter meeting of MLB general managers is just four weeks away, and rumors will be swirling around for the entire time, most likely. Harper has dropped hints on social media that he'd like to stay in Washington, and I know the feeling is mutual, but it's an open question how the numbers will match up. I still think there's a better-than-even chance he will end up signing a multi-year contract with the Nationals, but that's just a hunch on my part.
As noted in the story linked above, the Washington Nationals were one of the two teams whose payroll went above the threshhold triggering the Competitive Balance Tax, a.k.a. "luxury tax." Their payroll in 2018 was over $197 million. Guess which was the other such team?
Nats bolster bullpen
On October 10, the Washington Nationals made a trade with the Miami Marlins to get right-handed relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough, in hopes of rebuilding what has been a very shaky bullpen. Barraclough has a 3.21 ERA over four seasons with the Marlins, but this year his ERA was 4.20, with a 1-6 record. As with Howie Kendrick and others, the Nats are taking a calculated risk that Barraclough will return to his previous form.
And, after a few days of rumors, the Nationals just signed relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year contract worth $7 million. [Contract terms include a conditional option for a second year. Rosenthal is 28 but missed all of this year due to Tommy John surgery. In 2014 and 2015 he he served very effectively as a closer for the St. Louis Cardinals (picked as an All-Star in 2015), racking up 93 saves in just those two years.]
Nats keep same coaches
Soon after the Washington Nationals front office made clear that Dave Martinez will return as manager next year, we learned that the entire 2018 coaching staff will be retained as well.
R.I.P. Willie [McCovey]*
Long-time San Francisco Giant first baseman Willie [McCovey]
Stargell* passed away on October 31, at the age of 80. He was Rookie of the Year in 1959, and in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series (in San Francisco), with two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, he smashed a line drive that was caught by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game. He came just that close to becoming the big hero. He went on to hit 521 home runs in his career, which (as with his team mate Willie Mays) is quite an accomplishment given that many of them were in Candlestick Park. As a reflection of the high esteem in which the left-handed slugger was held, the Giants named the water beyond the right field wall at AT&T Park "McCovey Cove." (From the Washington Post.)
* CORRECTION: Obviously, I meant Willie McCovey, not Willie Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger who died April 9, 2001. Serves me right for writing so late into the night. Many thanks to John Geoffrion for the heads-up.
"Chief Wahoo" is retired
In a fitting bow to modern-day sensibilities, the Cleveland Indians announced that the grinning "Chief Wahoo" mascot will no longer appear on any official Indians signs or apparel. I encountered a group of Native Americans protesting when I attended an Indians-Diamondbacks game in the summer of 2014.
Stadium page updates
I updated the Diagram update log (chronological) as well as the Stadium diagrams (descriptive) page, which first "launched" in March 2016.
Mike Zurawski sent me this link to a story about the future home of the Texas Rangers, which will have the same name as their current home: Globe Life Park: nbcdfw.com. Needless to say, that barely scratches the surface of ballpark news (from Mike and from others) that I need to relay...
November 6, 2018 [LINK / comment]
2018 Gold Glove Awards
The World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the National League East champion Atlanta Braves received the most number of Gold Glove Awards this year, with three each. Among the Red Sox, Ian Kinsler (traded by the Angels in mid-season) was chosen for the American League second base position, Jackie Bradley Jr. was chosen for center field, and Mookie Betts was chosen for right field. On the National League side, the Braves' first baseman Freddie Freeman, center fielder Ender Inciarte, and right fielder Nick Markakis (a former Oriole) were chosen.
Just like last year, none of the Nationals won a Gold Glove: they were "shut out" once again. This seems odd, given that the Nationals truly excelled on defense this year, in contrast to their rather mediocre batting. Of all major league teams, the Washington Nationals had the second-lowest number of errors (64) during the 2018 regular season; the Houston Astros led with just 63. Those two teams tied for the MLB lead in fielding percentage (.989), with the Diamondbacks and Rockies close behind.
The only Nationals player chosen as a National League Gold Glove finalist was at the third base position: Anthony Rendon, who had a superb .981 fielding percentage and just 6 errors. Nevertheless, he was merely the runner-up to Nolan Arenado (.967 FPCT, 14 E), of the Colorado Rockies. That seems odd. Even stranger, according to MLB.com, "Of all the Gold Glove Award winners, Arenado is probably the least surprising..." It's the sixth year in a row that Arenado has won the Gold Glove; apparently the voting follows some kind of implicit "incumbency" preference. Or perhaps the number of games counts: Rendon was on the DL for a few weeks, and played 136 games, whereas Arenado played 156. Shortstop Trea Turner played in every one of the Nats' 162 games this year, and right fielder Bryce Harper played in all but three of them. And speaking of giving recognition where it's due, I should have posted this photo a year ago:
Prior to the September 30, 2017 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, General Manager Mike Rizzo (the bald guy) presented Anthony Rendon with the Nationals' 2017 Player of the Year Award.
For the sake of posterity (and memory, perhaps), here is what a Gold Glove Award looks like:
2012 awards to the Nationals: Silver Sluggers to Stephen Strasburg (left) and Ian Desmond (right), Rookie of the Year to Bryce Harper (top), and Gold Glove to Adam LaRoche. Not pictured is the Silver Slugger bat won by Adam LaRoche. (Taken at the "Nats Fest" convention in January 2013, originally posted April 1, 2013.)
In related news, Max Scherzer was named as a finalist for the National League Cy Young Award, which he won the last two years, but is expected to go to Jacob deGrom of the Mets. Also, Juan Soto was named a finalist as NL Rookie of the Year, but the Braves' Ronaldo Acuña is favored to win.
November 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in the latter part of October
Well, we have already finished the first week of November and I haven't even written up my birding experiences during the latter part of the last month. (My last post was on October 25.) So, here is yet another "catch-up" blog post. On October 17 I joined Jo King and several other Augusta Bird Club members on a field trip to McCormick's Mill, on the south edge of Augusta County. It was a wonderful morning, with four warbler species (all in the photographic montage below), plus Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and many others. There were no hawks, however, nor any White-throated Sparrows, which are late this year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Great Blue Heron, and Cape May Warbler. (At McCormick's Farm, October 17)
Late in the afternoon of October 20 at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, I saw what was probably the same Greater Yellowlegs that had been seen earlier, along with several Northern Mockingbirds, a few Killdeers, a couple Field Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, and one of the newly-arrived White-throated Sparrows.
I had to go to Harrisonburg on October 22, and on the way back I stopped at Silver Lake in Dayton, where I had nice, sunlit views of a Mute Swan, an American Coot, and two Ring-necked Ducks. At the Bell's Lane beaver pond, on my way back into Staunton, I saw and photographed what I am almost certain was a Wilson's Snipe, hiding in the grass.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ring-necked Ducks (F), American Coot, Mallard (M), Mute Swan, and Wilson's Snipe. (Silver Lake, October 22, 2018)
On the morning of October 23 I saw what I thought was another Golden-crowned Kinglet out back, and was astonished to realize that it was actually a Blue-headed Vireo! It just barely eluded being "captured" by my camera, unfortunately. On Bell's Lane late that afternoon I saw a Northern Harrier, and perhaps two of them. I couldn't get a good photo from that distance, unfortunately. There were also lots of American Robins (acting very nervously, as they do this time of year), as well as Carolina Chickadees, Killdeers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. The White-breasted Nuthatch was in our neighborhood; you don't see them perched on a wire very often!
On October 29 Penny Warren led another field trip to Bell's Lane; I had missed the previous one, and arrived about a half hour late for this one. It was well-attended, and there were plenty of birds to see along the way. Among the highlights this time were an American Kestrel, two Northern Harriers (adult male and F/J), a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and three Wilson's Snipes in the grass by the beaver pond. Penny and I saw a group of probable White-crowned Sparrows along the road.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier (M), Belted Kingfisher, Wilson's Snipe, Cedar Waxwing, Wood Duck (M), Northern Harrier (F/J), and in right-center, Killdeer. (October 29, 2018)
On October 30, Jacqueline and I took a drive through the countryside, stopping for a few minutes on Bell's Lane (where I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler) and then heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We caught a few glimpses of birds, but it was pretty quiet in spite of the mild weather. The only photograph I got was of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. The other birds in the montage below were around our apartment building.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Downy Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Dove, and Blue Jay. (October 30, 2018)
On October 31 (Halloween!) I saw a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a White-breasted Nuthatch. out back. In the afternoon on Bell's Lane I searched in vain for White-crowned Sparrows, but I did get slightly better views of a Northern Harrier, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Wilson's Snipe. That wrapped up a quite busy month of birding, with several consecutive days at it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Harrier (F/J), Wilson's Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and near center, Killdeer. (October 31, 2018)
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
November 9, 2018 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals in 2018: postmortem
From October 2nd through the 6th, the Washington Post had a series of five articles by Chelsea Janes and Jesse Dougherty seeking to explain what went wrong with the Nationals this year: "Dissecting the Nationals' Lost Season." Part I focused on the most obvious problem: the spate of injuries early in the season. Indeed, the number of days missed by their core players is just staggering: Daniel Murphy (62), Ryan Zimmerman (57), Adam Eaton (52), Matt Wieters (49), and Anthony Rendon (14). In addition, Howie Kendrick and newly acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera suffered season-ending injuries early on, and closer Sean Doolittle missed almost all of July and August.
Part II examined the role of the new manager, Dave Martinez, and his coaches. It was pointed out that the Nationals had a mere 18-24 record in games with a one-run margin, often ascribed to the players' failure to execute in clutch situations, but also resting on how the managers use their reserve players. Martinez acknowledged the need for better communication, the lack of which seems to be the origin of the Nats' midseason bullpen meltdown.
Part III scrutinized General Manager Mike Rizzo, who tacitly admitted he might have done some things differently in retrospect. Blessed with "the fourth-highest payroll in baseball" at the beginning of the season, they ended in fifth place, so to speak: $181 million. Talk about fantasy baseball! Rizzo's confidence in veteran starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark seems to have been misplaced, in retrospect. The timing of the Daniel Murphy and Matt Adam Trades (August 21, after the non-waiver-clearing deadline had passed) was puzzling to many people. It seemed Rizzo had suddenly reversed his firm declaration in late July that he had "faith in this team."
The failure of the Nats' starting pitching rotation was one of the biggest mysteries this year. Part of Tanner Roark's problem may have stemmed from not being used at all in the 2017 postseason, even though he excelled in helping the U.S. team win their first World Baseball Classic. Stephen Strasburg had repeated health troubles, which unfortunately is often the case for him.
Part V summed it up by pinning the blame on the players themselves for not rising to the occasion in critical situations. The team just seems to lack the competitive "edge" of a championship-bound team, and the loss of dynamic individuals such as Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy hurt badly.
Finally, here is a sobering comparison made by Chris Rukan of the Washington Post on October 7: The Nationals are the only MLB team out of 20 altogether to have have had a regular-season winning percentage of at least .562 with at least four division titles over a seven-year period since 1969 (when divisional play began), without even winning a single divisional series. Thirteen of those teams won the World Series at least once, five others won a league pennant, and two others reached the league championship series. But the 2012-2018 Nationals? Nada. Ouch!
Comparative failed years
This year it was becoming clear by the latter part of June that the Nationals were in trouble, and every time they picked themselves up from a slump, they fell down once again. There was a glimmer of hope at the end of July, but a series of heartbreaking losses in mid-August almost sealed their fate. The decision to trade Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams in late August was a sign that Doomsday had come. Technically they were still alive until the very day I finally saw them play this year: September 21. After that, they were eliminated.
In 2015, the Nationals started off cold, then came surging back in late April and May. They were actually in first place from late June until early August, when they started going downhill once again. Repeated flubs and poor performances in late August led many to question Matt Williams's future as a manager with the Nationals, and indeed, his contract was not renewed. But the bad vibes on the team came to a head at the end of September , when Jonathan Papelbon tried to choke Bryce Harper in a dugout argument.
You could blame the Nationals' failure in 2013 on the proverbial Sports Illustrated Curse: a cover with Stephen Strasburg in the spring forecast that the Nats would win the World Series! Instead, they struggled just to stay above .500 for most of the season, and were in the losing column for most of July and early August: "The Washington Nationals' quest for a return trip to the postseason came to a premature and definitive end last night, as the Atlanta Braves beat them for a third consecutive game. With a lead of 15 1/2 games over the Nationals and just seven weeks left in the baseball season, the Braves are virtually assured of winning the NL East title." But then they staged a remarkable comeback, winning 14 of their last 19 games in late August. The last hopes for making it as a wild card team died in late September 22.
For more details on the successive years, see the Washington Nationals page.
NL East Division
|Date of clinching
|Games ahead /
behind at end
"Harper's Bazaar" open for business
I generally try to ignore rumors, but the reported offer by the Washington Nationals to Bryce Harper of $300 million over ten years has been repeated so often that it must be pretty close to the truth. I tend to agree with Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell, who said that both sides made respectable opening moves, and everyone will stand to gain no matter where Harper ends up. His agent Scott Boras is reportedly seeking a $400 million deal, which is pretty crazy when you think about all the risks involved.
Adios, Ray Knight
Long-time MASN commentator Ray Knight will not return to the Nationals next season. He did not appear in any of the broadcasts in late September, prompting speculation about some kind of personal conflict. You could tell as the season drew to a close that he was getting angry about the way the team was being run, so perhaps that is at the root of it. In October 2017, he was arrested for assault-and-battery, suggesting problems with "anger management." Though lacking in eloquence, I always enjoyed his colorful presence and his solid insights on how baseball should be played, during the pre-game and post-game segments on MASN with Johnny Holliday. It will be tough to fill his shoes. He played about a dozen years in the majors, most notably with the New York Mets (including their 1986 World Championship year) and the Cincinnati Reds. See the Washington Post.
Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight doing the Nats Xtra postgame show on September 28, 2014, when Jordan Zimmermann threw the first-ever no-hitter for the Nationals.
RFK Stadium photos
I recently scanned a batch of old photos of RFK Stadium that I took at a Nationals-Mets game on September 30, 2006, including the rather dramatic one below. I posted all of them on that page, along with a number of older photos that are now viewable in large size for the first time. Other photos of lesser signficance are now lumped together under the "legacy" category, and you toggle back and forth between the "jumbo" and "legacy" photos. Almost all of the captions have been deleted, as most of the photos are self-explanatory. You just click and browse at random, with the photo links arranged in chronological order. All this is part of a long-term upgrade of my stadium pages.
RFK Stadium grandstand, September 30, 2006.
November 10, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Rare birds make big appearances!
Two different species of birds that only rarely come to visit the Staunton-Augusta area have done so this month already: three Cattle Egrets and one Rufous Hummingbird. Both are migratory and breed elsewhere, but a few strays occasionally spend time here in the late Autumn, usually before heading south to warmer climates. It was reported on November 1 that two Cattle Egrets had been spotted at a farm on Bell's Lane, but I didn't see them on my visit there on that day. I was luckier the next day, but they were too far away (about 600 yards) and the lighting conditions were poor.
But on Saturday November 3 I did get a slightly better view of them in the sun from a range of about 300 yards. That was after I had already spotted (and photographed) my first Dark-eyed Junco of the season, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- both in our back yard. (I could tell from the mostly-concealed red feathers on top of its head that it was a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.) But that wasn't all! While I was observing the Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, I saw a bird in a tree and from the photos I took, I realized it was a Vesper Sparrow! Penny Warren had seen one in that area a few days earlier, so it may have been the same bird.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cattle Egret. (November 3, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and click on it to see more views of the Cattle Egrets.
The next day, November 4, there were three Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, and the day after that there was just one. Since then, three Cattle Egrets were spotted several miles away in Augusta County, so they seem to have relocated.
On Wednesday, November 7, I joined Jo King and four other bird club members on a field trip to McCormick's Farm. The weather was cool but very pleasant, and we saw various woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, two Gadwalls (plain-looking ducks), a Northern Harrier, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. At the very end of the trip, I spotted a well-camouflaged Brown Creeper on the side of a cedar tree, the first one of the season for all of us, I believe. On my way out, I saw an adult Cooper's Hawk at the top of a dead tree.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F/J), Brown Creeper, Cooper's Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Hairy Woodpecker (M), Gadwall (M), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and near center, Red-bellied Woodpecker. (November 7, 2018)
A few days ago, a bird club member named Bonnie Hughes reported that a Rufous Hummingbird had been visiting the balcony in back of her house, where she keeps a nectar feeder. (We do too, just in case, even though we haven't had any hummingbirds since the last one left on October 3 or so.) So, I drove out to her house near Stuarts Draft this morning, and lo and behold the bird in question showed up within just a few minutes! Luckily, it perched for a few minutes in bright sunlight, and I was able to get a few good photos from about 15 feet away through the slats of a venetian blind covering the back window. In all the photos, there is a solid yellow background, which is the blurred yellow leaves of a tree about 100 feet away in the next yard. I was dumbfounded and delighted to see this amazing specimen so close. In the front yard there were several female Purple Finches at a feeder, the first ones I have seen this season.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the northwestern U.S.A. and Canada, but every year some of them migrate to the eastern states before heading south for the winter. A few of them attempt to stay for the whole winter, but they often die from freezing temperatures. The last time I saw one was west of Harrisonburg
about a dozen [eight*] years ago. I saw a Calliope Hummingbird (another species that breeds in the west and sometimes takes a "detour" during fall migration) west of Lynchburg about ten years ago, in January 2009!
On the way back home, I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw various sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Palm Warbler or two.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Song Sparrow, Rufous Hummingbird (M), White-throated Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Palm Warbler, and Purple Finch (F). (November 10, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Rufous Hummingbird.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
* Corrected after being reminded by Facebook of the actual previous date: November 13, 2010; serendipity! That was my first-ever sighting of a Rufous Hummingbird.
November 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Rookies of the Year: Acuña & Ohtani
Both of this year's Rookies of the Year were what most people expected: Ronaldo Acuña of the Atlanata Braves and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani, the 24-year old "Japanese Babe Ruth" who excels at both pitching and slugging, received 25 of 30 first-place votes on the AL side. (Both other finalists were Yankees: Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.) At the plate, Ohtani batted .285 with 22 home runs, and on the mound he had a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts. Even if he didn't fully live up to the sky-high preseason hype, he proved he is a top-notch player.
On the National League side, Ronaldo Acuña received 27 of 30 first-place votes, with only two going to Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. In third place was Dodgers' pitcher Walker Buehler. Given the fact that most of their statistics were very close to each other, I was surprised that the voting wasn't closer. For much of the summer, I thought that Juan Soto would be a heavy favorite as NL Rookie of the Year, but then I started hearing about Acuña, who was very impressive in many ways. I was disappointed in the voting, but I'm not upset. The numbers below (see MLB.com and/or Washington Post) provide only part of the story.
|| Ronaldo Acuña
|| Juan Soto
Three non-batting factors weighed in Acuña's favor: base-running, defense, and the fact that his team won the division. Acuña began playing in April, a full month before Soto debuted in the majors, yet even so, Soto ended up playing more games (116 to 111).
For his part, Soto tied, came a close second, or set several records for teenage major league players. He beat Mel Ott for the most number of teen walks (since 1900), and tied Bryce Harper for second-most teen home runs (22), behind Tony Conigliaro. (Six years ago, Bryce Harper was named the National League Rookie of the Year.) Even though he didn't win, Soto proved himself extremely valuable to his team. He was extremely poised for such a young player, working long counts and repeatedly getting clutch hits that his faltering team desperatedly needed. Having turned 20 just last month, he has a very promising future ahead of him in Washington, while Bryce Harper is presently an enigma...
NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Juan Soto, warming up in right field before the Mets-Nats game at Nationals Park on September 21. He got one hit in four at-bats that day, advancing a runner who later scored.
November 20, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Yelich & Betts get MVP Awards
Both of the favored candidates did indeed win the Most Valuable Player Awards for 2018: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers was the National League MVP, and Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox was the American League MVP. Both players were key factors in their teams' drives to win the divisional championships, but whereas Betts' team won the World Series, Yelich's team only made it as far as the league championship series. Yelich received 29 of 30 first-place votes cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America; Jacob deGrom (see below) received the other first-place vote. (The other "top" candidates were Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez and the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado.) Meanwhile, Betts received 28 such votes, far outpacing the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and the Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Yelich came very close to winning a Triple Crown this year: he had a batting average of .326, well ahead of the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett (.310), as well as 36 home runs and 110 RBIs. In the home run race, Nolan Arenado led the NL with 38, and in RBIs, Javier Baez led the NL with 111; Arenado had 110, tying Yelich. Yelich, age 26, began his career with the Miami Marlins but was traded to the Brewers last January. He first drew my attention in the ninth inning on September 28, 2014, when he smashed a line drive to the gap in left-center field at Nationals Park, almost ruining Jordan Zimmerman's bid to record the Nationals' first-ever no-hitter. For the record, the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer came in tenth place in NL MVP voting, and Anthony Rendon (batting average of .308, tied for fourth in the NL) came in 11th place.
Christian Yelich, then with the Miami Marlins, facing Tanner Roark in the first inning of the next-to-last game of the 2016 season, on October 1st. He walked, but the next batter grounded into a double play to retire the side. The Nationals won that game, 2-1.
On the American League side, Mookie Betts (like Yelich, age 26) led the major leagues with a batting average of .346 (his team mate J.D. Martinez was the runner-up with .330), as well as 32 home runs (tied for 9th place in the AL), 80 RBIs (tied for 22nd -- not bad for a leadoff hitter), and 30 stolen bases (tied for 5th). The other top AL MVP candidates were the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Have any other MLB players been nicknamed "Mookie"? It's ironic, since it was the Mets' Mookie Wilson who hit the ground ball that Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner muffed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, helping the Mets to win it all the next day. Bett's real first name is Markus, and Mookie Wilson's real first name is William.
Mookie Betts rounds third base after hitting a solo home run off of pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of the March 7, 2017 spring training game in the Ballpark of Palm Beaches, Florida. The Red Sox beat the Nationals that day, 5-3.
Cy Young Awards to deGrom & Snell
As most observers expected, the 2018 National League Cy Young Award went to Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, while Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays won on the American League side. DeGrom received all but one first-place vote (the other going to Max Scherzer), while Snell received 17 such votes, edging the Houston Astros' Justin Verlander, who received 13. It's the second time that a Tampa Bay pitcher has been so honored; David Price won it in 2012. The other top candidate was Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. See MLB.com.
DeGrom's amazing ERA of 1.70 was the sixth-lowest for any MLB starting pitcher since 1969, and Snell's ERA of 1.89 was only the 13th time since 1975 that such a pitcher has recorded an ERA under 2.00. Part of what makes deGrom's accomplishment so great is that he was so consistent: He set a major league record for most number of consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs. In his worst outing, he gave up four runs, and yet he lost nine games thanks to the poor batting of his team mates. But what really stands out is that deGrom only got ten wins, the fewest ever for a Cy Young Award winner. See forbes.com. The runners-up, so to speak, are Felix Hernandez, who went 13-12 the Seattle Mariners in 2010, and Fernando Valenzuela, who went 13-7 for the L.A. Dodgers in 1981.
NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, during the Mets-Nats game at Nationals Park on September 21. He pitched seven innings, allowing only one run and three hits, thus earning his ninth win of the season.
Once again, as with the Rookie of the Year Award, the Washington Nationals' candidate came in a distant second, even though several of the objective measures of performance indicated otherwise. In this case, however, Max Scherzer had won the award for the two previous years, on top of his 2013 AL Cy Young Award, when he was with the Detroit Tigers, so, it's not like he really needed another such trophy. I share his feeling of disappointment, as well as his respect for the winner. DeGrom almost certainly deserved the recognition. That being said, there did seem to be a contrast between the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards as far as how much the team's win-loss record factored into the decision. The Braves' winning season was a credit to Ronald Acuña, but in this case, "winning isn't everything."
|| Jacob deGrom
|| Max Scherzer
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and J.D. Martinez are all former members of the once-fearsome Detroit Tigers, who could not afford to keep all of them -- or indeed, any of them.
Managers of the Year
Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves and Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics won the NL and AL Manager of the Year Awards, respectively. Snitker received 17 first-place votes, while the Milwaukee Brewers' Craig Counsell received 11. The consensus third-place choice was Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies. (He's the guy that the Nationals almost hired to replace Dusty Baker as manager last year.) On the American League side, the A's Bob Melvin received 18 first-place votes, more than the combined total of the Red Sox' Alex Cora and the Rays' Kevin Cash. Both the Brewers and the Athletics staged remarkable late-season surges that caught many people by surprise, presumably reflecting the strong, effective leadership. That did not happen with the Washington Nationals this year.
Suzuki rejoins the Nats
The Washington Nationals signed their former catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year contract, pending a physical exam. He will get $4 million in 2019 and $6 million in 2020. Suzuki, who played with the Nationals for about one year (August 2012 - August 2013) has been a solid player with the Oakland A's, the Minnesota Twins, and (for the past two years) the Atlanta Braves, but he is getting a little old (35), and his performance numbers show it. Washington Post) columnist Thomas Boswell says that Suzuki just might be the "front-line catcher" the Nationals need, but most observers think he's probably just a stop-gap, bolstering a weak spot in the Nats' defense. Neither Spencer Kieboom nor Pedro Severino seem to be top-notch future catchers, so perhaps Suzuki could help mold them into better players or else keep the team steady until the Nats do land a star-caliber catcher. What about Wilson Ramos? He's a free agent who was acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Rays at midseason, and while there are good sentimental reasons to bring him back to D.C., his record of injuries makes him just too risky. As for the Nats' first-string catcher for the past two years, Matt Wieters just did not live up to expectations set by his years in Baltimore, so he was not offered a contract renewal.
Football in baseball stadiums
On Saturday, Notre Dame easily beat Syracuse in the "Shamrock Series" game held in New Yankee Stadium, upholding the tradition of football games being played in the home of the New York Yankees. I watched part of that game on TV, but not until later did I realize that football was also being played in the home of the world champion Boston Red Sox: Harvard beat Yale in Fenway Park! (See a photo gallery at boston.com.) So, I added a brand-new football diagram for Fenway Park (since the gridiron is aligned differently than it was when the Patriots played there in the 1960s) and updated the text on both those pages.
But what about Wrigley Field? The latest renovations there included retractable grandstand seats precisely so as to allow for football games, but negotiations between the Chicago Cubs and the Big Ten last summer did not bear fruit. Maybe next year. Perhaps memories of the awkward football game at Wrigley Field in November 2010 still linger. See Sports Illustrated.
Then there's the converse situation: baseball games played in football stadiums! That's what happened, essentially, in 1982 when the Cracker Jack Old Timers' Game was inaugurated in RFK Stadium. (They held the event for the next three years in Washington, and yet somehow I never managed to attend any of the games even though I lived in the area.) The Senators had left Washington a decade before, and the task of moving the lower deck back into the proper position for baseball was considered just too difficult. There is some good information on the Old Timers' Games in RFK Stadium at the Baseball Hall of Fame, most notably when 75-year old Luke Appling hit a home run to the absurdly short (260-foot) left field. I got some useful (though blurry) images of that game from the Ultimate Baseball Look blog. From them, I realized for the very first time that the diamond was rotated about five degrees counter-clockwise and moved backward and to the right. To minimize damage to the turf, furthermore, they only removed the grass from the areas near the four bases and the pitcher's mound. And so, I just couldn't resist doing a 1982 baseball diagram for RFK Stadium, even though that configuration was rather silly -- much like when the Dodgers used Los Angeles Memorial Stadium as their home. Voilà!
RFK Stadium as it appeared for the Cracker Jack Old Timers' Game in 1982. (Note that the distance markers are mere estimates; details are sketchy.)
November 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Angel Stadium (of Anaheim) update!
At l-o-n-g last, I finished updating the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams, and obviously it was harder than I expected. The main change is that the grandstand is about 15 feet deeper around the entire field than it was in the 2014 version (click on it to compare), which may not seem like much, but makes a huge difference. There was a disrepancy between the middle deck in right field (which used to extend forward from 23 to about 40 rows during the football reconfiguration) and the main grandstand (that part which was originally there in 1966), and the only way to reconcile it was to stretch everything out. Easier said than done...
I made a small discovery along the way that helped to reconcile that discrepancy: the curved walls in front of the grandstand just beyond the foul poles bends inward more sharply than the grandstand itself, making room for two additional rows of seats, and extra leg room to boot. Why did they do it that way? I have no clue.
Among the new details shown in the diagrams are the "ribs" that divide the roof into discrete sections, a feature characteristic of a few other stadius; see April 28, 2016, when I tweaked the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium diagrams. Like the rest of the "modern" class of baseball stadiums, there are no distinct "creases" in the grandstand, since the overall design consists of gradual curves. (In fact, of course, those "curves" consist of short straight lines.) Finally, there are brand-new new lower-deck and middle-deck diagrams, which also show details such as structural support beams. Finally, I discovered from a photo of the construction that in the original (1966-1979) manifestation of Anaheim Stadium, there was a small press box in the very top rows of the upper deck along the third base side. That was obviously intended for football games, so I'll have to do some checking to see what football games were played there before the Rams moved in in 1980.
Built in 1966, Angel Stadium is currently the fourth-oldest MLB stadium, after Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Dodger Stadium. There is occasional talk of replacing it, but I see no reason why it can't be refurbished to suit modern tastes and trends.
A quick glance at the Periodic table of stadiums tells me that there are only eight stadiums left for me to revise. (That doesn't include various non-MLB stadiums that I intend to do eventually.) I was really hoping to finish up by the end of the year, but that may take some doing...
New starter for the Nats?
A column by Chelsea Janes in yesterday's Washington Post raised the question of whether the Nationals might make a big trade in order to acquire a new starting pitcher. Until now, Nats GM Mike Rizzo has only made such a trade twice: Gio Gonzalez (who joined the Nats in 2012) and Doug Fister (2014). Both deals worked out very well, although Fister only had two years with the Nats. With the departure of Gio Gonzalez at the end of August, a vacancy in the rotation opened up. Joe Ross may make the grade (he returned late in the season after recovering from Tommy John surgery), but the younger wanna-be's Erick Fedde and Jefry Rodriguez have yet to prove themselves as worthy of major league status. And so, Mike Rizzo says he will "explore all his options" regarding starting pitchers. Among the free-agent names most often mentioned are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel (Astros), and Nathan Eovaldi (Rays then Red Sox this year).
I refuse to speculate on rumors of trades and free-agent signings -- especially when #34 of the Washington Nationals is at the center of such rumors!!!
Adrian Beltre retires
Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who has played for the Texas Rangers since 2011, announced that he is retiring, after a remarkable 21 years in the majors. With 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, and a .286 batting average in his career, he is a worthy contender for selection to the Hall of Fame.
Roundup of ballpark news
Mike Zurawski keeps sending me news about ballpark changes, etc., in spite of the fact that I have done such a poor job of keeping up with such things. Will I do better from now on? Yes! Will I answer e-mails more promptly? I will try!! So, without further adieu, here is a very quick rundown of ballpark news this fall:
The Oakland Athletics are in the process of adding new table seating areas near the left and right field corners, adjacent to those wide staircases that were originally built for the sake of football fans exiting via the field. "Oak Landing" will be in left field, while the "Hero Deck" will be on the right field side. There will also be luxury seating sections such as the "Coppola Theater Box," the "Lounge Seats" behind the road dugout, and the "Terrace" above the home dugout. They will all include in-game monitors. Each row of the new premium seating will cover the equivalent of two or three rows of the regular sections. See newballpark.org. These upgrades are in part a way to reduce the number of empty seats while generating more revenue from the ones that are occupied. As I noted on October 3, the capacity at Oakland Coliseum jumped sharply this year, to nearly 47,000, after the upper deck was reopened. Of perhaps greater long-term significance, the A's are expected to announce by the end of the year that a new ballpark [will be built] adjacent to Howard Terminal Park in Oakland, with outfield facing the harbor and the giant cranes. Best of all, it will be privately financed. Stay tuned, sports fans!!!
Much like what happened at the Astrodome a half century ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to remove the grass and install artificial turf at Chase Field next year. The main problem is the cost and mechanical wear of having to start up the air conditioning at the park after the roof is open all day to provide sunlight for the grass. See ballparkdigest.com. Oh well. I'm sure it will save energy, so it's hard to fault them for that. I remember from my trip in 2014 thinking how extravagant it was to provide air conditioning in a city where the temperatures regularly reach the triple digits. Stay tuned for quick update to that page...
As had been rumored for many months, the Miami Marlins have moved the absurdly glitzy home run sculpture to the outside of Marlins Park. In its place to the left of center field is a new standing room deck, with ivy beyond the outfield wall. In addition, there will be a new standing-room only social section down the right field line, and the outfield wall will be painted blue, a more "normal" color than the garish neon lime green. See MLB.com and ESPN.com.
The Colorado Rockies have extended their lease on Coors Field through 2047. That means 29 more years on top of the 25 years they have spent there already. Seems like an obvious decision, but at lest the long term of the lease will make all of the interested parties feel more secure about their business dealings. See bizjournals.com.
Likewise, the Houston Astros have extended their lease on Minute Maid Park [by 20 years, through the year 2050; it would have expired after 2030.] See chron.com.
[But wait, there's more! The Seattle Mariners have come to terms on a 25-year extension to their lease on Safeco Field. The Metropolitan King County Council approved a commitment to invest $135 million in stadium improvements, much less than the $180 million that the Mariners sought. See ballparkdigest.com.]
B-dee, b-dee, b-dee, that's all folks!!