Nationals lead in home runs (!?)
Believe it, or not!!! Even though their road trip to the southwest last week ended up in frustration, going 3-4 when they really should have won five of those games, the Washington Nationals at least drew attention in the home run department. During the seven days of August 2-8, they hit a total of 15 home runs, more than any other team in the major leagues. (The Toronto Blue Jays were second, with 14.) Neither Chase Field nor Dodger Stadium are known as being friendly to sluggers, making the feat by the Nationals even more noteworthy. Adam Dunn hit five of those four-baggers, including two each on Wednesday and Friday, raising his season total to 30, second only to Toronto's Jose Bautista, who has 34. Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman hit four homers, including two on Thursday. The Nats had a total of four homers that day, but they were all solo shots, and the team lost to the Diamondbacks, 8-4. For the year as a whole, the Nats have hit 105 home runs, tied with the Florida Marlins for the 14th rank in the major leagues. The Blue Jays totally dominate in homers, with 175. The Nationals' overall batting average is .256, rather mediocre, but not much different from either the Padres or the Braves, both of whom are currently in first place! This year, pitching is what counts.
Monday, August 2, was a day to remember, as Pudge Rodriguez hit his 300th career home run as a catcher, becoming only the fifth player in major league history to do so. The others were Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra -- pretty good company, I'd say! Another fine outing by Livan Hernandez got the series in Arizona off to a good start. (See Washington Post.) It was only Pudge's second home run of the year. Even though his batting average has fallen from the upper .300s to the mid-.200s since the early part of the year, he feels like he can play at least two or three more years in the majors. It would be great if he could stay in Washington to close out his superb career.
So why aren't the Nats winning more often? Too few reliable pitchers, too many men left on base, and too many errors. The team ERA is 4.07, tied at #17 in the majors with the Blue Jays, who are in fourth place in the AL East. In strikeouts, they rank #26, with 699. Without Stephen Strasburg's 75 K's, they would be in last place in that category. Pretty awful. The Nationals have committed 89 errors this year, more than any other team in the majors. Shortstop Ian Desmond leads the team with 26 errors, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman comes in second, with 11. Next on that list is second baseman Adam Kennedy, who in Los Angeles on Saturday night got confused and threw a ball to first base, not realizing that Adam Dunn wasn't there. Mike Morse had just caught what would have been a grand slam over the fence in right-center field, a spectacular play, but Dunn was near the pitcher's mound, in position to cut off a throw to home plate. Kennedy's error allowed a second Dodger run to score, tying the game, which went into extra innings, and the Nats eventually lost, 3-2.
Speaking of Mike Morse, he accounted for two of the Nationals' 15 home runs during that amazing week. He is currently batting .316, and has eight home runs in only 116 at-bats this year -- a 7.0% rate, nearly as high as Dunn's 7.5% rate. Not only that, Morse has committed ZERO errors this year! With such an impressive performance record, he is well positioned to become a regular outfielder next year, along with Josh Willingham and (probably) Roger Bernadina. Josh has been in a slump lately, stuck at 15 home runs, but he should have no trouble reaching the 20 mark in the remaining seven weeks of the season, and maybe even the 25 mark.
The Nationals are in desperate need of good pitching, as Sunday's ill-fated return of Jason Marquis to the rotation demonstrated so plainly. He gave up four runs in the first inning, during which he bobbled what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt. Jordan Zimmermann may yet return to the rotation this year, but hopes that Chien-ming Wang will make an appearance are fading fast. The phenomenal rookie Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to pitch tonight against the Florida Marlins, after resting a sore shoulder for the past two weeks.
U.S. Cellular Field update
My recent visit to the home of the Chicago White Sox made me realize that the U.S. Cellular Field diagrams were in need of some minor corrections and additional detail. Done! Most notably, the ramps and "appendage" structures around the periphery of the stadium are now included. As usual, it took longer than expected to get it all done just right. I slightly changed my "suggested alternative," with a small barrier in front of the right field and left field seating sections to prevent fan interference, and an expanded middle deck, taking the place of one of those awful luxury suite levels. In addition, I have added three new exterior photos to the U.S. Cellular Field page, including a panoramic view, and have enhanced three of the older photos as well. In looking closely at the photos I took, it appears that the playing field is less than ten feet below the level of the surface outside the stadium. In contrast, nearly all baseball stadiums built over the past two decades were excavated at least 20 feet deep, so that fans don't have to walk uphill to reach the main concourse at the rear of the lower deck.