May Day! Nats pull out of nosedive
After a perfectly horrible latter part of April, during which they had a 6-12 record, the Washington Nationals got back on track in early May. Winning the final two games of the four-game road series in Atlanta (May 1-2) was a huge lift, and they did the same thing in their three-game series Pittsburgh. Back home in D.C., they beat the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers twice in a two-game mini-series, and raised their winning streak to five when the Chicago Cubs came to town. That put them only one game below the division-leading Braves, who have had a pretty lousy month thus far.
But in the final two games of their series hosting the Cubs, the Nats just plain choked. The key turning point in the Saturday (May 11) game was when Ryan Zimmerman made a throwing error on what should have been an easy third out, but instead set the stage for a four-run rally by the Cubs. Stephen Strasburg had been in complete control of that game, but came unglued and never regained his composure. Final score: Cubs 8, Nats 2. In the rubber game on Sunday, the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and really should have scored one or two more runs. It seemed like enough, however, as Gio Gonzalez had a perfect first five innings and left the game after seven without giving up a run. Unfortunately, the Nats' bullpen let the team down. Drew Storen allowed three hits in the eighth inning, as the Cubs tied the game 1-1, and Rafael Soriano allowed two hits in the ninth inning, as the Cubs took the lead 2-1, thus winning the series by the same margin. In the post-game analysis on MASN-TV, Ray Knight was about as mad as I have ever seen him. Letting what should have been easy opportunities to win slip through their fingers was simply inexcusable. That's not how teams who reach the postseason play.
On a brighter note, the Nationals set a team record for attendance at their 16 home games in April: 509,276, an average of 31,830 per game. Their previous high mark for April was in 2005, when 371,408 attended, or 30,951 per game. See the Washington Nationals page.
Harper crashes into fence
It was a scary moment on Monday night when the hard-charging Bryce Harper was chasing a long fly ball and ran full speed into the fence covering the scoreboard in right-center field at Dodger Stadium. It evoked memories of what happened to Curt Flood back in the 1960s, very strange because Harper didn't even slow down once he reached the warning track. He cut his chin but did not suffer any broken bones or a dreaded concussion. Harper says he's going to play that hard every day, no matter what, to help his team win games. Clearly, he takes "Natitude" very seriously! See Washington Post and masnsports.com.
The Nationals beat the Dodgers in that game, 6-2, as Jordan Zimmermann earned his seventh victory of the season -- the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach that mark. He has been one of the bright spots for the Nats this year, and unlike last year, he usually gets good run support. On Tuesday night, Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot streak at the plate since returning from the disabled list, going 3 for 4. The rest of his team could hardly hit at all, however, and a fine outing by starting pitcher Dan Haren was wasted. Final score: Dodgers 2, Nats 0. In tonight's rubber game, which just ended, Ross Detwiler gave up a run in each of the first two innings, and left after the third inning, with some kind of ailment. The relief pitchers held the line after that, and in the eighth inning, the Nats had a golden opportunity to catch up or take the lead, with runners on first and third, and nobody out. But then Adam LaRoche flied out to short left field, Ian Desmond struck out, and Kurt Suzuki (usually a clutch hitter) flied out. In the bottom of the eighth inning, relief pitcher Drew Storen let the bases get loaded with one out, and was lucky that the Dodgers only scored one run. In the top of the ninth, Danny Espinosa (who has been struggling lately) hit a timely single, but the next three batters (including the wounded Bryce Harper in his first pinch-hit at-bat this year) grounded out to end the game. Final score: Dodgers 3, Nats 1.
But at least the Braves lost again tonight, so the Nationals (21-19) are still just one game out of first place. The NL East is looking rather mediocre all of a sudden.
[The Nats' recent slump can be chalked up in part to missing players: Jayson Werth is out (15-day DL) with a pulled hamstring that seems to have been aggravated somehow by a stomach virus. Weird. Minor leaguer Eury Perez was called up to replace him. Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman have also taken rest days after getting banged up. Unfortunately, the Nationals' bench players aren't batting nearly as well as they were a year ago, when their lineup was severely depleted. Second-stringers such as Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy, and Steve Lombardozzi got clutch hits that kept the Nats in first place through May, but that's not happening this year.]
Arlington Stadium update
Yesterday I updated the Arlington Stadium diagrams, with entry portals displayed and a few other enhancements to detail and accuracy. That page now include a hypothetical version diagram, in which there would have been a roofed upper deck extending for two-thirds of a circle around the foul poles. That page explains, "A matchbook with the 1968 schedule for the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs shows an artist's conception of the 'The Ultimate Turnpike Stadium,' from which the above hypothetical diagram is derived." It's a real shame that was never done, forcing the Texas Rangers to cope with a minor-league stadium for over two decades.
Eventually I'll have to do a page devoted solely to stadium expansions or modifications that were never built.
My apologies for not doing any blog or diagram updates for the past month, but teaching duties can get overwhelming this time of year.