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July 4, 2012 [LINK / comment]

2012 All-Star teams are chosen

For the first time, three Washington Nationals players have been chosen to play in the All-Star Game: pitchers Stephen Strasburg (his first such trip) and Gio Gonzalez (his second), and shortstop Ian Desmond, who made the reserve squad in his first trip. It is yet another sign that the Nationals are at long last getting the recognition they are due for being winners. It is especially gratifying for Ian Desmond, who has finally got past the frustration he has suffered in the batter's box over the past couple years. He is now batting .280, with 14 home runs. There is also a good chance that one more National -- Bryce Harper -- will make the cut on the "Final Vote." (Atlanta's Chipper Jones was among the five candidates, but he was chosen as a reserve player after [it became clear that Dodger superstar Matt Kemp, who has been on the DL recently, would not be able to play.])

There were no big surprises on this year's All-Star roster, other than the fact that Josh Hamilton set a new record for number of votes received. He had a phenomenal first two months and then spent a couple weeks on the disabled list in June, during which time the Texas Rangers lost several games. See Instead of simply showing my picks, as in years past, I am presenting the first-string All-Star teams, along with my picks, where they are different.

American League

National League

The first names are the starting players, marked in bold face if they were also my picks. Otherwise, names in parentheses are my picks, marked with asterisks if they made the reserve squads.

Nats All-Stars of the past

The following list is based on my own records, and may not be complete. It is amusing to note that pitchers from the Nationals were credited with wins in the last two All-Star games, in both cases of a rather flukish nature.

That information is shown on the Washington Nationals page, which has been updated to show the team's performance for the first three months of 2012: 44 wins and 32 losses, first place in the National League East.

Nationals unleash slugging might

In the final game of the four-game series in Denver last Thursday, the Nationals gradually came back from a early 7-0 deficit thanks to home runs by Ian Desmond and Michael Morse. In the top of the ninth inning, they tied the game 10-10 when Bryce Harper hit a home run. That set a new record for the Nationals, scoring a double-digit run total in three consecutive games for the first time. A leadoff double by Ian Desmond in the top of the tenth inning was wasted, however, and the Nats still managed to lose, 11-10.

The Nationals ended their long road trip* on a slightly more positive note, beating the Atlanta Braves in two out of three games. Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse continued to improve, after lengthy periods on the disabled list. Morse homered on Friday, helping to edge the Braves 5-4, and Zim homered on Sunday, batting in half of the Nats' runs in their 8-4 win. The downside of that series was on Saturday afternoon, when Stephen Strasburg gave up three runs in the third inning, and was taken out due to heat exhaustion. (The temperature was 104 degrees.) Reliever Chien-Ming Wang couldn't do any better, giving up four more runs over the next two innings, and the Nats lost, 7-5. And so, the Nats extended their lead over the Braves in the NL East, but the Mets have kept pace and now hold second place.

Back in Washington last night, the Nationals mercilessly pummelled the visiting San Francisco Giants, with multiple hits by several players and a home run (#14) by Ian Desmond. For his second start in a row, Jordan Zimmermann got plenty of much-needed run support, and improved his win-loss record to 5-6. The 9-3 victory was all the more impressive because the Giants have been on a hot streak lately, taking the lead in the NL West from the slumping L.A. Dodgers.

USA flagIn today's game, which started at the very early hour of 11:05 AM (Fourth of July!), the Giants jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Fortunately, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson settled down and stayed in the game into the sixth inning, when he gave up a fourth run. He left with his team ahead, 7-4, thanks in part to a go-ahead home run by Jhonatan (!) Solano in the fourth inning, back-to-back home runs by Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse in the fifth inning, and clutch hits by others. Rick Ankiel added two more runs with a homer in the eighth inning, making the final score Nats 9, Giants 4. The team is clearly firing on all cylinders right now.

It's called "Natitude"! smile

* Speaking of "long road trips," I was surprised to learn that the Nationals have played fewer games at home than any other team in the major leagues. Prior to their home stand yesterday, they had played in only 34 home games (of which they won 20) and 43 away games (of which they won 25). The next-lowest home-game total was the Pittsburgh Pirates, with 36 home games. Part of the reason is that two Nats' home games were postponed due to rain (April 22 vs. Miami and June 1 vs. Atlanta). Anyway, it means that the Nationals have a BIG advantage as the second half of the 2012 approaches: [From July 1 through October 3] they play 47 home games and only 38 away games. There's no place like home!

Very bad trade

While browsing through Who's Who in Baseball, I came across this tidbit: the Nats' popular #2 slugger in 2009 and 2010, Josh "The Hammer" Willingham, was traded to the Oakland A's for relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown in December 2010. I'd say the A's came out ahead on that one.

I probably shouldn't pick on "H-Rod" so much. I just realized that he had been on the disabled list since early June, which might explain his awful performances earlier in the season, and just rejoined the active roster. In last night's game, he came in with a four-run lead and two outs in the ninth inning, and struck out Ryan Theriot to end the game. Maybe he can do better if he's not in high-pressure save situations.

Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!

Since our home lost TV and Internet service for nearly three days during the Great Blackout of 2012, I had barely a clue as to what was happening in baseball (or anything else) over the weekend. Trying to find out the scores, I frantically scanned the AM and FM frequencies on an old transistor radio, but some of the local stations were knocked out. Desperate for visual entertainment, I pulled out the family iPad (fully charged, fortunately) and watched the final game of the 1977 World Series, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers. That, of course, is when Reggie Jackson famously hit three home runs, in the 4th, 5th, and 8th innings, the second two of which were on the first pitch. October 18, 1977 -- I remember it well. Reggie's three homers equalled the monumental feat of Babe Ruth in the 1926 and 1928 World Series, and of course, Albert Pujols did so as well in in World Series Game 3 last October.

During that game broadcast, Howard Cosell and the other announcers were discussing the sky-high payroll the Yankees had that year. For your amusement, here are the numbers:

Arizona wins 2012 CWS

Congratulations to the University of Arizona Wildcats, who defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks to win their first 2012 College World Series, at TD Ameritrade Field in Omaha. South Carolina had won the CWS in both of the last two years, but their hopes for a "three-peat" fell flat. See ESPN. In the "Old Dominion," meanwhile, this has been a "rebuilding" year for the University of Virginia Cavaliers, who went to Omaha in both 2009 and 2011.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 04 Jul 2012, 3: 35 PM

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