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July 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Red-hot Nationals surge into third second place

In the three weeks since my last baseball blog post (June 10), the Washington Nationals have continued to recover from the dreadful first two months of the 2019 season. For all but a few days until the middle of June, they were stuck in fourth place, but they had already begun a long, arduous climb from the lower tier on May 24. In fact, they have the best win-loss record in the major leagues (26-10) since that date. The higher the temperature climbs, the hotter they are playing! There are still signs of persistent problems with the bullpen and hitting, but the worst seems to be behind them, and they now claim one of the two wild card spots. That was almost unthinkable one month ago.

Nats split with Chi-sox

In Chicago on June 10-11, the Nationals split two games with the host White Sox. Anibal Sanchez had another fine outing in the first game, while Trea Turner came a single short of hitting for the cycle as the Nats won easily, 12-1. But everything fell apart the next day as Patrick Corbin gave up seven runs in five-plus innings, including a grand slam in the first inning. White Sox 7, Nats 5.

Nats split with D-backs

On June 13, the Nationals returned to D.C. and began an 11-game home stand against the Arizona Diamondbacks on a sour note, losing 5-0. Erick Fedde took the loss, but the Nats only managed three hits, two of which were by Trea Turner. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, and put in yet another amazing performance, with ten strikeouts over seven innings. Nats 7, D-backs 3. On Saturday the 15th Stephen Strasburg was ineffective on the mound, giving up six runs in five innings even after Juan Soto and Matt Adams had homered in the first inning for the Nats. They lost that one, 10-3. But in the final game on Sunday, Anibal Sanchez rose to the occasion again, while the Nats' bats went wild. Matt Adams smacked two home runs, including a grand slam, for a total of 7 RBIs. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon also homered, and the Nats won easily, 15-5, thus splitting the four-game series.

Nats sweep Phillies

Then the Philadelphia Phillies came to town, but so did bad weather: rain, rain, rain. Two games had to be postponed, one of them until September 24, and the other became part of a double-header on June 19. In the afternoon game, Patrick Corbin sailed through seven innings, while Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra homered in the eighth inning to put the icing on the cake. Nats 6, Phillies 2. In the night game, Max Scherzer pitched seven scoreless innings, while Brian Dozier and Victor Robles provided all the runs the Nats would need, as they won 2-0, thereby overtaking the Mets and claiming third place in the NL East! In the finale on Thursday, Erick Fedde was replaced as pitcher in the fourth inning, but the bullpen managed to hold together and the Nats won, 7-4. Suzuki, Rendon, and Robles all homered in that game, which brought the Nats' record up to 36-38.

Nats fall short vs. Braves

The division-leading Atlanta Braves arrived in Our Nation's Capital for a pivotal showdown on Friday, June 21, and Stephen Strasburg held them to three runs over six innings. Yan Gomes, the nominal first-string catcher this year, hit a home run and the Nats held on to win, 4-3. Wander Suero even got the save! That gave the Nationals their first five-game winning streak of the season, and they rode that momentum into the Saturday game. Matt Adams homered again, and the Nats were ahead 8-4 after five innings. It was at that point that one of the most disheartening sequences of events of the entire year transpired. The struggling relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the top of the seventh inning, and once again was about as wild as you can imagine. He walked the first two batters, and for some reason, manager Dave Martinez decided to give him one more chance. Not a smart move at all! Rosenthal walked the bases loaded without getting an out, and was then replaced. Tanner Rainey walked in a run and then gave up a bases-clearing double hit by Freddie Freeman, and the game was tied. The Nats retook the lead (9-8) in the bottom of the inning, but then the Braves scored four more runs, all charged to former starting pitcher Joe Ross. The Braves scored once more in the ninth inning, for a total of nine (9) runs given up by the Nats' horrendous bullpen in the final three innings. Braves 13, Nats 9. frown In the rubber game on Sunday, Austin Voth put in an admirable performance as a spot starter for the Nats, giving up just two runs over seven innings. The game went into extra innings tied 2-2, but Tanner Rainey couldn't quite get the third out in the top of the tenth, when a two-run homer by Johan Camargo put the Braves back ahead. The Nats rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but could only manage one run, thereby losing the game, 4-3, and the series. It was the only series the Nationals have lost since May 23.

The very next day, the Nationals unconditionally released Trevor Rosenthal, in effect "eating" his salary of $7 million, pending other teams' reactions. A few days later the Detroit Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract, and he will pitch for their AAA farm club -- the Toledo Mud Hens! Maybe Rosenthal will somehow regain control of his pitching as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and resume his major league career, but for now it looks like an awful tragedy for the former St. Louis Cardinal star.

Nats sweep Marlins (I)

After a day of rest, the Nats flew south to Miami on June 25. Max Scherzer had another great outing against the Marlins, striking out ten batters over eight innings. What's more, he got two hits and scored two runs! Trea Turner homered, and the Nats won, 6-1. On Wednesday, Patrick Corbin gave up just one run over seven innings, but they bullpen gave up four more, and the Nats won, 7-5. On Thursday, Stephen Strasburg got the win even though he gave up four runs over seven innings. Four Nats home runs proved to be the deciding factor in the 8-5 victory by the visiting team. In none of those games did attendance at Marlins Park reach 8,000 fans, an absolutely dreadful testament to the woebegone state of that franchise and its feeble fan base. Something needs to change down there fast.

Nats edge the Tigers

The Nationals then boarded a plane bound for Detroit, where the Tigers were waiting to pounce. Last Friday (June 28), Anibal Sanchez did it again on the mound, giving up one run over six innings, while Juan Soto homered and Howie Kendrick went two for four. Nats 3, Tigers 1. On Saturday Austin Voth couldn't make it through the fifth inning, but the Nats managed to stay ahead 5-3 until the seventh inning. That's when Tanner Rainey gave up three runs without getting an out, and after tacking on another run an inning later, the Tigers won, 7-5. In the rubber game on Sunday (June 30), former Tiger Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats, and of course he delivered another "gem." He struck out a season-high 14 batters over eight innings, and didn't allow a run to score until the seventh inning. A solo home run by Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning put the Nats back on top 2-1, and Sean Doolittle got the save.

Nats sweep Marlins (II)

After another day of rest back home in Washington, the Nationals welcomed the Miami Marlins to town for a rematch on the second of July. The first three Marlins batters all hit singles, scoring a run, but Patrick Corbin composed himself after that. After a couple innings the game was delayed for over an hour by rain, but Corbin return to continue pitching -- somewhat of a surprise in that situation. He pitched a full seven innings without allowing any more runs to score, but Wander Suero gave up a run in the top of the eighth, and it was tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and a 3-2 count, Trea Turner doubled into the right-center gap, and Yan Gomes reached home all the way from first base for the winning run. Turner had already hit two walk-off homers this year, and he's starting to fill the "Mr. Walkoff" role that Ryan Zimmerman has had ever since 2006.

Speaking of Zimmerman, he recently returned to the active roster after missing nearly two months with plantar fascitis. He is making solid contact and has had several hits, so hopefully he will return to his former status as star slugger as the season moves forward.

Last night (Wednesday) Stephen Strasburg matched the performance of Max Scherzer, getting 14 strikeouts over seven and a third innings. In fact, the fourth inning qualified as "immaculate," as Strasburg threw exactly nine pitches, all of them strikes, to get the three outs. That's a very rare feat. A two-run homer by Brian Dozier in the sixth inning was all the Nationals needed, but Matt Adams tacked on another run with a solo shot in the eighth. Sean Doolittle got the save, but it was rough going as he gave up three hits and one hit batter, but only one Marlin scored. He exulted in relief after striking out Yadiel Rivera to end the game: Nats 3, Marlins 1.

Today's game started early (11:00 AM) so as to make way for all the other 4th of July festivities later on in Washington. Anibal Sanchez pitched yet another fine game, giving up just two runs (one earned) over six innings. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon homered, and Gerardo Parra hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Nats a 5-2 lead. Nobody scored after that. Since Sean Doolittle was exhausted from the night before, the Nats' new relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (age 42) came in to do the job as closing pitcher. He did just fine, celebrating with his signature "arrow-toward-the-sky" gesture after getting the last out. It was indeed a happy July 4 in Washington, D.C.! smile

Speaking of which, the Nationals' cumulative record in 4th of July games is now 9-5. The Red Sox spoiled last year's 4th of July festivities in Washington, beating the Nats 3-0. (Starting pitcher Erick Fedde only lasted one inning!) In 2017, the Nats beat the Mets 11-4, thanks in large part to ex-Met Daniel Murphy. In 2016, I presented a table summarizing all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005.

Since the Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies this evening, the Nationals have now pulled a half game ahead of the Phillies in the National League East Division race, but they remain six games behind the Braves. The rest of the season is going to be very interesting, in the NL East as well as the NL Central, where all five teams are potential contenders.

The Nationals' first half 2019

I recently updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of the year, including head-to-head matchups and various records of note. At the end of June (two days after the exact midpoint in terms of number of games), the Nats' record was 42-41, and now it's up to 45-41 (0.523). It's certainly below pre-season expectations, but they are headed in the right direction, unlike this time last year.

R.I.P. Tyler Skaggs

A sudden tragedy struck the Los Angeles Angels on Monday afternoon when their starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in a hotel room in Southlake, Texas. No foul play is suspected. The game scheduled for that evening was postponed to allow his team mates time to cope with their grief. See MLB.com. It happens that Nationals' pitcher Patrick Corbin was a good friend of Skaggs, as they were both drafted by the Angels in 2009 and came up together from the minors. Corbin was emotionally distraught when he pitched on Tuesday night.

Baseball in London!?

The much-heralded first-ever Major League Baseball game played in England turned out to be something of a joke. Both teams scored six runs in the first inning, and both teams scored six runs in later innings as well. The Yankees ended up beating the Red Sox by the absurd score of 17-13: thirty runs total??!! Well, that's not cricket! For all the details, see MLB.com. Attendance was 59,659, with a capacity of 66,000 seats. The Yankees also won the next day, 12-8, thanks to a nine-run seventh inning; very strange. The way London Stadium was reconfigured for baseball took me by surprise, as I had assumed that the diamond would be laid out with center field being oriented along the the long axis of the oval. That would follow the logic of Memorial Stadium (Baltimore) and Cleveland Stadium. But instead, for some inscrutable reason, they put the diamond such that center field was only 385 from home plate, with the foul poles being 330 feet away. Even with large seating sections being moved in to fill the void on the right and left sides of the field, there was still a huge amount of foul territory. Several folks have asked me about doing a London Stadium diagram, and indeed that is on my "Coming Attractions" to-do list. Stay tuned!

New (?) page: Stadium locations

As a way to provide a clearer idea of where various stadiums are (or were) located, I have recently been adding some new thumbnail map/diagrams, including Chicago (see below), Cleveland, Kansas City, as well as Milwaukee. I also greatly enhanced ones I had previously done for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc. back in January. I even added the locations of certain turn-of-the-20th-Century stadiums such as West Side Grounds, where the Cubs resided before Wrigley Field. Finally, I decided that I needed to rename what had been called the "Stadium proximity" page. It is now called "Stadium locations," since it encompasses not just stadiums that happened to be situated next to their predecessors, but all MLB stadiums. For the time being, however, there are no thumbnail map/diagrams for some cities. I have finished with cities in the central portion of the country, and have done a few eastern cities but so far only Seattle in the west.

Chicago stadiums

Abstracted map of the "Windy City" of Chicago, showing where several stadiums are (or once were) located.

NOTE: One detail shown on the Arlington map/diagram is that the future home of the Texas Rangers will be called "Globe Life Field," rather than "Globe Life Park" (the same name as their current stadium) as I had thought. I have been doing very preliminary work on a diagram for it based on photos at MLB.com, as well as the aerial photo taken by Clifford "Bucky" Nance. (See March 20, 2019.)

All Star selections, etc.

I need to get caught up commenting on the selections for this year's All Star Game, which will be held in Progressive Field. Plus there are some other news tidbits that I have neglected...


July 8, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nationals almost sweep the Royals

The good vibes from the triumphant Fourth of July game in Washington carried over into the following series, as the Kansas City Royals came to town on Friday. Trea Turner hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, followed by a single, a walk, and a double, but no more runs scored because Anthony Rendon grounded into a double play after Adam Eaton's single. Young Austin Voth was pitching again, and once again he lasted exactly 4 1/3 innings before he was replaced. Ryan Zimmerman hit three (3) doubles, the second of which (in the seventh inning) was his 1000th career run batted in. The third double came in the bottom of the ninth inning, bringing the Nats to within one run of the Royals (4-3). He then scored on a Brian Dozier single, and with nobody out, it looked like the Nationals were almost guaranteed a walkoff victory. But they choked and the game went into extra innings. They had another prime opportunity to win it in the tenth, but the rally fell flat. In the tenth inning, recently acquired relief pitcher Jonny Venters took the mound, and he loaded the bases with nobody out. Before you knew it, the Royals were ahead 7-4, and that was the final score. Major bummer.

On Saturday afternoon, Max Scherzer was pitching, and once again he threw every ounce of energy he had into that game. He went seven full innings and got 11 strikeouts, raising his season total to 181. (That's 11 more than Garrett Cole of the Astros, and 43 more than the next-highest National League pitcher(s); Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom of the Mets.) [He even hit a single and stole second base!] Kurt Suzuki homered, and Juan Soto got two RBIs as the Nats prevailed, 6-0.

On Sunday, Patrick Corbin exactly matched what Max Scherzer had just done: 11 strikeouts over seven innings with no runs allowed. Unfortunately, the bullpen let him down, so he didn't get credit for the win. After Fernando Rodney gave up two hits in the top of the eighth inning, Sean Doolittle came in to replace him, and immediately gave up a double that tied the game, 2-2. It was another gut-wrenching choke, but all ended well as the Nats staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth. Clutch RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick (pinch hitting) made all the difference as the Nats won the rubber game, 5-2.

That win preserved the Nats' hold on second place and the first of the two wild card slots, keeping them within six games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. If only they hadn't choked at the end in the Friday game, they would have swept the Royals after having just swept the Marlins. In any case, it provided very positive vibes for the team as they entered the All-Star break with far higher hopes than they had a month ago.

All Star 2019 selections

The rosters for the 2019 All Star Game are pretty much set, but some players asked to be excused and will not appear. The Nationals' third baseman Anthony Rendon was selected after the voting phase of the selection process ended, but he is feeling banged up and says he needs time off. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer has a sore back and likewise will prioritize his own health, which is obviously a good thing. (He also is tending to a baby daughter who was born last week!) Anyway, not many of my All Star picks this year actually made it. The only two National Leaguers I correctly picked are Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, who are -- coincidentally -- rivals in the NL Most Valuable Player race this year. Incredibly, either one of them could conceivably win the Triple Crown! I admit, Nolan Arenado is stiff competition at third base, but I think Juan Soto was more deserving than Ronald Acuña as an outfielder; the latter hits a lot of home runs, but Soto is better overall. On the American League side, I correctly picked five of eight position players plus the designated hitter.

2019 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
Position National League American League
My pick Actual My pick Actual
C Wilson Ramos
(NYM)
Wilson Contreras
(CHC)
Gary Sanchez
(NYY)
Gary Sanchez
(NYY)
1B Josh Bell
(PIT)
Freddie Freeman
(ATL)
Carlos Santana
(CLE)
Carlos Santana
(CLE)
2B Mike Moustakas
(MIL)
Ketel Marte
(ARI)
Brandon Lowe
(TB)
D.J. LeMahieu
(NYY)
3B Anthony Rendon
(WSH)
Nolan Arenado
(COL)
Alex Bregman
(HOU)
Alex Bregman
(HOU)
SS Trea Turner
(WSH)
Javier Baez
(CHC)
Xander Bogaerts
(BOS)
Jorge Polanco
(MIN)
OF Christian Yelich
(MIL)
Christian Yelich
(MIL)
George Springer
(HOU)
George Springer
(HOU)
OF Cody Bellinger
(LAD)
Cody Bellinger
(LAD)
Trey Mancini
(BAL)
Michael Brantley
(HOU)
OF Juan Soto
(WSH)
Ronald Acuña
(ATL)
Mike Trout
(LAA)
Mike Trout
(LAA)
DH -- Josh Bell
(MIL)
J.D. Martinez
(BOS)
J.D. Martinez
(BOS)
P -- Hyun-Hin Ryu
(LAD)
-- Justin Verlander
(HOU)

SOURCE: MLB.com

"Trop" capacity drops

I recently noticed that the seating capacity of Tropicana Field is now being reported in the Washington Post as 25,025, compared to 42,735 before, a drop of 17,710. The change was made some time in June, according to my clippings of box scores. So, contrary to what I wrote on May 12, there was in fact a change in capacity at an MLB stadium this year. I'll update that page shortly. The big drop reflects the closure of the upper deck, and indeed is fitting inasmuch as the team rarely draws more than 10,000 fans to a game. (The same thing goes for the other Florida team, the Miami Marlins.) How long can this go on?

More stadium locations

I updated the "new" (?) Stadium locations page with map/diagrams for four more cities: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Some of them include locations for football stadiums and/or basketball/hockey arenas. I may eventually do a separate such diagram for Anaheim. That takes care of all of California, and leaves only Phoenix and Denver among cities in the west.

Angel Amezquita made some helpful suggestions about that page, and I will try to get to those in the near future.


July 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Busy, busy, busy: Birding in June

Apparently I was so busy birding in June that I didn't have time to blog about it! That was at least true for the first three weeks, as long as pleasant weather continued. Since then I've been getting caught up on other things. On the very first day of the month, I joined 30 or so other members of the Augusta Bird Club for our annual picnic brunch, held for the second year in a row at the Humpback Rocks picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Crista Cabe and I led separate bird walks along nearby wooded trails, but we didn't see as many birds as we had hoped. At one point there was an Ovenbird with agitated behavior, usually a sign that it is guarding a nest nearby. We looked briefly, but didn't find any. Later we had a nice view of a Black-and-white Warbler, but it was hard to get a good photo of the little speedster. The real highlight, however, came on the way home when I stopped at an "overlook" (where the trees have grown so tall that the view is gone), and got some pretty good photos of a Cerulean Warbler.

Montage 01 Jun 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cerulean Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Scarlet Tanager (M), American Redstart (adult male), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), Black-and-white Warbler (M), and American Redstart (female); near the Humpback Rocks picnic area and along the Blue Ridge Parkway on June 1.

Hearthstone Lake II & III

In preparation for a field trip (see below), I made a preliminary "scouting" visit to the north side of Hearthstone Lake on June 4, following up on my initial visit to the south side on May 18. (See May 31.) I took special care to map the limits of the block as accurately as possible. Most of the highlights were to be expected: Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (close!), Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, and Red-eyed Vireos. On the way back I stopped at nearby Hone Quarry, which was mistake because the road was so full of potholes (presumably due to the floods of last year) that I was afraid my car would get damaged. I saw an American Redstart for the first time that day, but otherwise the effort getting there did not pay off.

(On June 6 I went for a short walk around Betsy Bell Hill, and saw an Eastern Towhee, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Wood Thrush, but my photos weren't particularly good.)

As part of the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA-2) survey, on Saturday, June 8 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area for the first time. The weather forecast was bleak, however, and only three other members showed up: Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Roz Holt. It was overcast but at least it didn't rain until almost the end of our trip. Our first major stop was at the intersection of Tillman Road and Sand Spring Mountain Trail, at the northern edge of the Reddish Knob SE block. (For VABBA, the entire state of Virginia is divided into rectangular "blocks," some of which are designated as "priority blocks.") A bit south of there we saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched at the top of the very same bare tree branch it had been four days earlier. We also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (again), but didn't see it this time. The biggest surprise of the day was hearing and eventually seeing a Red-breasted Nuthatch. With poor lighting conditions, however, the photos were rather mediocre. We also saw a Pine Warbler that was carrying food (an indicator of probable breeding), and we heard others later on. At the nearby Narrowback trail head, we saw an Acadian Flycatcher. We heard several of them at various points further along Tillman Road, where we made two or three brief intermediate stops, and likewise there were Ovenbirds at multiple locations. One of the Hooded Warblers we saw was carrying food, and we also had brief views of Scarlet Tanagers (probable mated pair) and a Black-and-white Warbler. Other birds that we heard only included Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos (fewer than expected), Blue-headed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Wood Thrushes.

At our terminal stopping point near the Hearthstone Lake dam construction site (road closed!), we saw two Bald Eagles, one an apparent mature adult and the other either a second- or third-year bird. I listened for the American Woodcocks which I had seen near there on May 18, to no avail. On our way out of the area, we paused to take a look at an Eastern Phoebe at a stream crossing, and noticed three Cedar Waxwings bathing. We ended our visit to the Hearthstone Lake area with 26 species total. Many thanks to Dan Perkuchin for keeping close track of our observations.

Afterwards we drove up to Reddish Knob, only about seven miles to the west-northwest as the crow flies, but more like 15 miles along the roads, as the human drives. Approaching the mountain crest we saw a Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a Common Yellowthroat at close range. To my great annoyance, my camera battery ran out, and I missed some great photo ops. Near the summit, we finally heard a Black-throated Green Warbler and saw some Dark-eyed Juncos. At the summit, we saw an Chestnut-sided Warbler and I managed to take a couple photos with limited battery power. At the ridgecrest crossroads on the way back down we saw an American Redstart (oddly absent from the Hearthstone Lake area), but we didn't get any of the hoped-for Black-throated Blue Warblers or Red Crossbills.

One final oddity to cap off a very successful outing was a flock of 20 or so mostly white doves in a grassy field along Rt. 257 on the way back to Briery Branch. Released from a wedding, perhaps?

Montage 08 Jun 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting (M), Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler (M), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Cedar Waxwings, Acadian Flycatcher, and (in center) Eastern Phoebe and Pine Warbler (M); June 8, 2019.

Ramsey's Draft & Shen. Mtn.

On June 12 Ann Cline and I went hiking at two separate but nearby locations on the western edge of Augusta County. We are both trying to get better photos of various uncommon (and elusive) neotropical migrants, especially warblers, and accomplishing that task requires more patience and determination than most non-photographers have. The first Road Hollow Trail, going about 3/4 mile up from Ramsey's Draft. We saw a nice mix of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers, and got some good photos. At the kiosk in the picnic area, we saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes and a nest. Nearby was a Brown-headed Cowbird, a species that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. Next we drove up to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain, spotted a couple Cedar Waxwings, and then hiked about a mile and a half south, to the. (I had led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to that location on May 24 last year.) Once again, we saw a nice variety of birds along the way. The weather was just perfect. Near the intersection with the Georgia Camp trail (where we turned back), we had some good looks at a Hooded Warbler and took some photos. On the way back I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco singing from a dead tree snag; they are very common in Virginia in the colder months, but we never hear them sing. They are only found at high elevations in Virginia during the summer. We met an interesting outdoorsman on the way back, and then saw a curious thing: a pair of Black-capped Chickadees clearing out wood chips from a broken tree trunk for a nest site, almost like what a woodpecker would do! While driving back on Route 250, we to stop and hike for a while on the Georgia Camp trail, which I had only visited once before. Not many birds were present, but toward the end we heard and then got a look at a Blackburnian Warbler: one of our main target birds!

Montage 12 Jun 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Dark-eyed Junco, Scarlet Tanager, Hooded Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (F), and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler; at Ramsey's Draft and Shenandoah Mtn on June 12.

Highland County

On June 15 Ann Cline and I went on sort of "makeup" field trip to Highland County, trying to recruit other folks who weren't able to be at the "official" field trip there led by Allen Larner on June 2. As it turned out, nobody else could make it that day either. We first stopped at John and Nancy Spahr's house in the village of New Hampden, getting tips on where to see various birds. At Lisa Hamilton's new house nearby we saw a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Phoebe gathering material to make a nest. Driving north along Wimer Mountain Road, we saw the expected Eastern Meadowlarks and a Bobolink. At the home of the late Margaret O'Bryan, we saw House Wrens, an Eastern Towhee, an Indigo Bunting, an American Kestrel, and at least two Chestnut-sided Warblers. After a while we finally heard and then briefly saw our main target bird: the Golden-winged Warbler! In fact, there were two of them briefly scuffling, and while Ann managed to get some decent photos of one of them, I never did. That was a disappointment, but at least I got some good looks at that striking bird. Next we headed west and saw even more Red-headed Woodpeckers, one of which was perched very nearby on a fence post! We had nice views of Cedar Waxwings, American Redstart, In the rhododendron forest along the stream, we saw another target bird: Canada Warbler. We saw three altogether, but couldn't get any good photos due to their speed and stealth. Finally, we drove farther west and saw a family of Dark-eyed Juncos as we approached the West Virginia state line. We stopped briefly at a brushy area where Mourning Warblers used to frequent, but struck out with that target species. We did at least hear a Veery while we were there. It was getting late (almost 2:30), so we then headed straight home.

Montage 15 Jun 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, American REdstart, Cedar Waxwing, and in center, Eastern Phoebe; all in Highland County on June 15.

Hearthstone Lake IV & V

Two days later, on June 17, I made a fourth trip to the Hearthstone Lake area, but only the second trip to the south side. My objective was to explore some of the trails that lead away from Tillman Road. I walked for about a half mile (one way) along a gravel road which eventually becomes Buck Mountain Trail, and saw a Pine Warbler, a Hooded Warbler, and a male Indigo Bunting that responded to the recorded songs I played on my iPhone with a wing-flapping mating ritual. That was surprising! I looked and listened for American Woodcocks once again, but not succeed. Next I hiked for about 3/4 mile (one way) along the Grooms Ridge Trail. I saw the usual Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, but not much else. Near the trail head I had a great view of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Returning south, I stopped at the Wild Oak trail head, and saw an Eastern Phoebe and a nest at a sign kiosk -- just like at Ramsey's Draft! On the way back I stopped in the village of Stokesville, mainly to take pictures of the old bridge there, but in so doing I came across a Red-eyed Vireo and got some excellent sunlit photos of it.

On Sunday, June 23rd, I led another Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, and Roz Holt. Unlike our previous field trip on June 8, this time we hiked along four separate side trails -- from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile (one way) in and back each time, for a total of about 3 miles, plus another mile or so walking along Tillman Road. I was pleased to learn that those side trails were surprisingly well-maintained, and offered a nice variety of habitats, from shaded streams to semi-open meadows. The weather was almost perfect, and the scenery was beautiful.

Early on, we were excited to find a bulky nest inside a steel tube at a trail gate, but it turned out to be that of a relatively common Carolina Wren. No doubt the biggest thrill of the day was seeing (and photographing) a Blackburnian Warbler in the tree tops. It briefly skirmished with a presumed rival (or prospective mate?), behavior suggestive of breeding. At a stream crossing we saw an Eastern Phoebe at the same place as last time. Dan Perkuchin peeked under the culvert and found a nest there, just as expected, with at least two babies. Other signs of breeding included a pair of Indigo Buntings (male and female), and two pairs (male and female) of Scarlet Tanagers, the latter pair with two fledglings. Just like before, there were numerous Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, and several Acadian Flycatchers, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos at various locations. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched in the very same dead tree snag as it had been on the two previous visits! We also had a brief view of a Red-shouldered Hawk at the dam. Among the big "misses" that we had seen in that area previously but not this time were American Woodcocks, Bald Eagles, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

I owe thanks once again to Dan Perkuchin for compiling the eBird report, and to all three for helping out with the VABBA-2 project. I will try to arrange one or two more field trips to the Hearthstone Lake area in the near future.

Montage 23 Jun 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: [Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting (F), Acadian Flycatcher, Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager (F), Scarlet Tanager (M), and (center) Blackburnian Warbler;] north of Hearthstone Lake on June 23.

[Many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.]


July 22, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nationals conclude three-city road trip

The Washington Nationals entered the All-Star break with lots of momentum from their six-week hot streak (May 24 - July 7), but their subsequent road trip through Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Atlanta fell a bit short of expectations. The good news is that they went 5-4, but the bad news is that they failed to take advantage of the opportunity to gain ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

No sweep in Philadelphia

Things got off to an excellent start as the Nats shut out Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday, July 12. Stephen Strasburg had to work around a few minor jams, but kept his cool and completed six innings unscathed. Victor Robles and Adam Eaton got clutch hits for the Nats, while the relief pitchers did their job in the 4-0 victory. On Saturday, Patrick Corbin gave up three runs to the Phillies over six innings, and the Nats were behind going into the ninth inning. That's when the awesome youngster Juan Soto knocked a two-run homer to give his team the lead and the win: 4-3. That ensured that the Nats would remain ahead of the third-place Phillies no matter the outcome of the Sunday game. Anibal Sanchez matched the performance of Corbin the day before (six innings pitched, three earned runs), and once again the Nats were behind in the latter innings. A pinch hit RBI by Howie Kendrick and another RBI single by Trea Turner in the seventh inning tied the game, 3-3. But in the bottom of the ninth, Matt Grace lobbed an easy pitch to Maikel Franco, who hit a solo walk-off home run to end the game. Thus, the Nats blew a perfect opportunity to sweep the Phillies. frown

Bad bullpens in Baltimore

After that brief "hiccup," the Nationals had every reason to expect to win both games against their regional interleague rivals in Baltimore. The Orioles had just lost three of four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, barely clinging to a .300 winning percentage. Rookie Austin Voth started as pitcher for the Nats (in place of the ailing Max Scherzer), and he did surprisingly well: only one run given up over six innings. Home runs by Matt Adams and Juan Soto put the Nats on top, and rallies in each of the latter four innings ensured an easy Washington victory, 8-1. But the next night, the tables were turned as the Nats bullpen wasted a fine outing by starting pitcher Erick Fedde (six innings, one earned run). In the seventh inning, the Orioles scored three runs off Wander Suero, who later explained that he was mentally distracted by some kind of family or domestic problem. Too bad he didn't tell the manager. Javier Guerra and Matt Grace allowed five more Baltimore runs to score in the eighth inning, as the Orioles got their revenge by the lopsided score of 9-2.

Showdown in Atlanta

With the sour taste of a loss in their mouths, the Nationals had to catch a late flight to Atlanta for a pivotal four-game series against the Braves. Once again, Stephen Strasburg rose to the occasion on Thursday night (July 18) with a spectacular performance on the mound and in the batter's box. He led off the third inning with a single, sparking an eight-run rally that was capped when he hit a three-run home run that sailed over the bullpen in left field. Strasburg thus became only the fifth MLB pitcher in the last 50 years to get two hits in the same inning, with one of them being a homer. Believe it or not!!! Final score: Nats 13, Braves 4. The next evening Patrick Corbin only made it through five innings, and would have been tagged with a loss were it not for some incredible heroics in the ninth inning. With two outs and facing a two-run deficit, Ryan Zimmerman hit a single and Victor Robles hit a bomb home run that tied the game, 3-3. Dance party in the Nats dugout! But manager Dave Martinez faced a bullpen dilemma in the bottom of the ninth inning: put closing pitcher Sean Doolittle on the mound in hopes of getting to the tenth inning a taking the lead, or have Fernando Rodney pitch for a second inning. (He's 42 and hadn't pitched two full innings for several years.) Obviously, he wasn't up to that challenge as he quickly loaded the bases and gave up an RBI single to end the game, 4-3 in the Braves' favor. Disheartening as that was, it didn't affect the way the Nats played on Saturday. Anibal Sanchez went toe-to-toe against the young phenom pitcher Mike Soroka, and came out ahead. Matt Adams homered, and Adam Eaton went three for five as the Nats won it, 5-3. That was only Soroka's second loss of the whole year; he's 10-2. On Sunday the Nats were in a predicament because Max Scherzer was still not available to pitch, and for some reason Martinez went with Joe Ross, who was called up from the minors. Ross has pitched with the Nationals for years, but has never quite gotten settled as a starting pitcher. Things looked bleak when he gave up two runs in the first inning, but then he composed himself and didn't give up any more runs until the sixth inning, when he was replaced. All in all, not bad. But the Nats' bats fell silent again, while the team's shaky bullpen gave up more runs in the late innings. A pinch hit RBI single by Gerardo Parra in the eighth inning was the only score by the Nationals. Final score: 7-1. Thus, the two rivals split the series two games apiece, and the Braves retained a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East.

Back in Washington to begin a home stand, the Nationals prepared to welcome the Colorado Rockies to town tonight. The game was postponed because of forecast rain, even though there was no actual precipitation for at least an hour after the scheduled start time. That seems like another bad weather-related judgment call by the Nationals front office.

American League wins All Star Game

The American League team won the All Star Game at Cleveland's Progressive Field on Tuesday, July 9. It was the seventh year in a row that the AL prevailed in the Midsummer Classic. Most of the game was fairly subdued, with just one home run per team: Charlie Blackmon (COL) in the sixth inning and Joey Gallo (TEX) in the seventh inning. Final score: AL 4, NL 3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) took the loss as Michael Brantley (HOU) hit an RBI double in the second inning, and the AL remained ahead for the whole game. No Nationals players appeared on the roster this year: Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon both needed to let their sore bodies heal.

Attendance was a modest 36,747, probably the lowest of any All Star Game in many years. Seating capacity at Progressive Field dropped from 42,487 to 36,856 in 2015, as most of the upper-deck seats above right field and around the corner were replaced by a bunch of party decks. Beginning with 1988, the win-loss record in the Midsummer Classic is 27-6-1 in favor of the "Junior Circuit." I updated the Baseball chronology (annual) page accordingly.

Progressive Field thus became the first MLB stadium built since 1990 to have hosted the All Star Game more than once. When the ASG was held there in 1997, it was called "Jacobs Field." Four such stadiums have not yet hosted any All Star Games: Tropicana Field (1990), Citizens Bank Park (2004), Yankee Stadium II (2009), and SunTrust Park (2017). Tropicana Field is frankly not an attractive enough venue to merit All Star consideration. Philadelphia had hosted the All Star Game in 1996 (in Veterans Stadium), relatively recently, while Bronx, New York had hosted the All Star Game in 2008 (in the original Yankee Stadium). Atlanta will presumably get an All Star game in brand-new SunTrust Park before long.

Home Run Derby 2019

For obvious reasons, I wasn't paying as much attention to the Home Run Derby as I did last year, when Our Nation's Capital was briefly delirious with joy over the triumph of a (then-) hometown hero. Ironically, Bryce Harper (who is now with the Philadelphia Phillies) was absent from the annual spectacle this year. (Rather embarassingly, Progressive Field was adorned with big banners showing (among others) Harper, who was widely expected to be an All Star before the 2019 season got underway.) Triple Crown candidate Christian Yelich chose not to compete and was replaced by Matt Chapman (OAK). Rookie phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR) prevailed over Joc Pederson (LAD) in a tense and memorable "swing-off" tie-breaker in the second round. He then went up against Pete Alonso (NYM) in the final round, falling just short, 23-22. Congratulations, Pete Alonso!

I must admit, I didn't even know who Pete Alonso was, even though the Nats have played against the Mets several times this year. This points out one of the main benefits yielded by the All Star Game (and the Home Run Derby): it give top performers, especially young ones, visibility on the national stage. Alonso, I have discovered, is right behind NL-leading Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the home run department, with 33. Not bad for a 21-year old rookie!

More stadium locations

I added map/diagrams for four more cities on the Stadium locations page: Phoenix, Denver, St. Petersburg, and Baltimore. I put extra effort into rendering the Denver Broncos' stadium, but I make no special claim to accuracy for football stadiums. I also added the locations of three additional football stadiums and two basketball arenas on the Atlanta map/diagram. I think it's more important to depict the location of stadiums that are near downtown and/or near other stadiums than it is to do so for stadiums in the far-out suburbs. Eventually I may reconsider how I handle far-apart stadiums in other cities such as Chicago and Miami. In any event, that completes the western U.S.A. and leaves only three cities in the east left to do: Montreal, Toronto, and New York -- with separate ones for Queens and Brooklyn.


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