Rob Manfred to replace Bud Selig
Rob Manfred was elected last week as a replacement for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, beating the main rival, Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. A three-quarters majority was needed for election. Manfred is currently chief operating officer for Major League Baseball, where he has worked since 1998. Before that, he was an attorney in Washington, D.C. (Did he yearn for baseball back then?) See www.washingtonpost.com. Manfred's selection is widely seen as an endorsement of Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner. Several years ago, I would have scoffed at that suggestion, but I'll have to give Selig credit for taking a firm stand on the steroid issue, and for making innovations aimed at expanding baseball's fan base.
This happens as MLB is embroiled in yet another legal battle involving the baseball franchises in Baltimore and Washington. More on that soon...
Royals lead the AL Central!
The Kansas City Royals are overcoming skeptics, determined to prove that they deserve to lead the American League Central Division. Ever since climbing a half game ahead of the Detroit Tigers last week, they have managed to stay ahead. They now enjoy a two-game margin, with a record of 69-55. I'll bet the Tigers are really regretting that trade with Washington for Doug Fister...
Oh, oh: Sports Illustrated just put the Royals on the cover of the Midwest edition of SI. I hope the jinx effect doesn't happen.
Nationals' win streak up to seven!
Somehow or other, the Washington Nationals keep finding ways to win games, even after horrible miscues make defeat seem almost inevitable. Last night, fresh off of two series sweeps (see below), they welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks to town, and for a while the Nats' bats were cold. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Wilson Ramos fired up the crowd with a line drive home run that just cleared the center field fence, taking a 2-1 lead. But then Jordan Zimmermann uncharacteristically walked another batter and gave up a home run to Didi Gregorious, so the D-backs were ahead once again, 3-2. But wait! The Nats came right back with two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, taking a 4-3 lead. The back-and-forth carnival continued in the ninth inning when David Peralta hit a solo homer off of closing pitcher Tyler Clippard, who was replacing Rafael Soriano. Oops! That's a shame for Clip, who has been a reliable part of the Nats' bullpen for years. So the game went into extra innings. Craig Stammen took the mound in the 11th inning, and before you knew it the bases were loaded with nobody out. Most pitchers in that situation would wilt under the pressure, but Stammen buckled down, got his sinker ball where he wanted it, and escaped the inning with two strikeouts and a ground ball out. Whew!!! In the bottom of the 11th, the D-backs got two quick outs, and then Adam LaRoche hit a massive walk-off home run of the edge of the middle deck! Game over, Nats win, 5-4! THREE WALK-OFF WINS IN THREE DAYS!!! Surprisingly, that was the first walk-off homer in LaRoche's career. It came just eleven days after Bryce Harper did likewise. For more juicy details and video clips, see www.masnsports.com.
Man, am I beat! This race for the postseason is going to take a lot out of me, I'm afraid. The Washington Nationals page has been duly updated, adding LaRoche to the list of walk-off home runs. Last night's game makes the fifth consecutive extra-inning win for the Nationals, another clear sign of improvement. Overall this year they are 7-8 in that department.
The Nationals now have a seven-game winning streak, their longest so far this year. So, even though the Braves are doing much better [than before], they are still six full games behind the Nats. As long as they stay healthy, it's hard to see what could stop the Nationals' momentum. It's beginning to look a lot like 2012 all over again! Much depends on Jayson Werth healing his shoulder and Ryan Zimmerman healing his strained hamstring. Also, there is a looming question of who will be the Nats' regular closing pitcher as this season nears a climax. Manager Matt Williams expressed confidence in Rafael Soriano, which is what he's supposed to do, but the current situation can't continue like this for much longer.
Nats sweep the Mets
After coming up short in Atlanta (August 8-10), where the Braves finally ended their awful slump and began surging back, the Nationals were eager to finish their road trip on a positive note. The first game against the Mets in Citi Field was a near-blowout (7-1), as the Nats' batters finally woke up, with four (4) home runs. Most impressive was Michael Taylor, just called up from the minor leagues, hitting a single and then a home run in his very first big league game! It just doesn't get any better than that for a rookie. Taylor has struggled at the plate since then, but has played fine defense in right field, replacing the ailing Jayson Werth.
Then on Wednesday, August 13, Asdrubal Cabrera hit his first home run as a National, [helping defeat] the home team, 3-2. Closing pitcher Rafael Soriano got the save, but gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, barely avoiding an ugly blown save and/or loss.
On Thursday the Nats completed the series sweep with a 4-1 win, thanks to solid pitching by Stephen Strasburg (often shaky on the road) and home runs by Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper.
Nats sweep the Pirates
With a 4-2 road trip under their belts, the Nationals returned to Washington on Friday full of confidence, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the very first inning, the Nats scored three runs. Nats pitcher Tanner Roark started off with his usual solid command, but was relieved during the sixth inning, when the Pirates scored three runs to make it a 5-3 game. It stayed that way until the top of the ninth, when Rafael Soriano gave up a run on three hits, once again nearly blowing a save opportunity.
On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez struggled on the mound, giving up three runs to the Pirates in the third inning. The score was 3-0 until the eighth inning, when the Nats staged a sudden three-run rally, capped by an Adam LaRoche home run. In the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper walked, got to second base on a wild pitch, and then scored on a walk-off ground-rule double by Wilson Ramos. And the crowd went wild!
The game on Sunday was an amazing marathon featuring defensive blunders by both sides. The Nats came back and had a 4-2 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon Rafael Soriano not only blew another save opportunity, but left his team a run behind after Gregory Polanco knocked in two runs with a double to right-center field. ARGH-H-H-H! Fortunately, Jayson Werth (who missed several days with a sore shoulder) came in as a pinch-hitter and reached base on a leadoff walk, and then scored on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. Anthony Rendon then nearly ended the game with a ball hit to the left field gap, by center fielder Starling Marte somehow caught it, sending the game into extra innings. In the eleventh inning, Jayson Werth hit a double that almost cleared the left field fence, advanced to third base on a hard ground ball hit by Denard Span, and finally scored the winning run on a fly ball to left field hit by pinch hitter Scott Hairston. Nats 6, Pirates 5: two walk-off wins in a row, and a second consecutive series sweep!
Chase Field update
Since the Arizona Diamondbacks are visiting Our Nation's Capital this week, I thought it would be appropriate to finish the revisions to my diagrams for their ballpark (Chase Field) based on my recent visit to Phoenix, on June 25. Once again, my first-hand observations paid off handsomely. For one thing, just like with Globe Life Park, I badly underestimated the amount of first-deck overhang: It's about 30%, rather than 10% as I previously indicated. The upper-deck overhang (about 75%) is inherently difficult to assess in stadiums with retractable roofs. For the time being, I'm going to estimate how much of the upper deck is covered when the roof is open, indicating that modified estimation technique with parentheses on the Stadium statistics page (newly updated). The position of the entry portals in the upper deck has been corrected, a few minor details in the center field wall and the fence in the right field corner have been refined, and the grandstand profile has been altered significantly.
Chase Field is much more attractive than I expected, and the outside view is especially impressive. Here is one of the ten (10) new photos I added to that page:
One final note: Having spent nearly a week in 100-plus-degree temperatures out there in late June, I fully understand the need for an air-conditioned baseball stadium in Phoenix!
Native American protests
On my way into Chase Field, I passed by a group of Native Americans who were protesting against the Cleveland Indians' grinning mascot. The Indians have been minimizing their use of that rather tacky and archaic logo for the past couple years, replacing it with a bland red letter "C," which is rather hard to distinguish from the logo of the other team in Ohio -- Cincinnati Reds. I hope they settle on a new team logo before too long...
The protests were a reflection of the state's ethnic composition: 4.0% of Arizona's 2010 Census population was American Indian, the seventh-highest concentration in the United States. As noted on the Chase Field, one of the Diamondbacks' main sponsors is Gila River Gaming Enterprises, which runs the casinos on the Gila River Indian Reservation. See www.gilariver.org.
Meanwhile in Washington, the Redskins are under continual pressure to change their team's name. More on that controversy when the football season gets underway...