August 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals bounce back in Atlanta
After the brutal setback in the Mile High City (see below), the Nationals had to catch a flight to Atlanta and play on Thursday without a day of rest. (Who made that schedule?) Once again, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez pitched like a true champion, getting his second career win as the Nats prevailed easily, 8-2. It was actually close for most of the game, 3-2 until the eighth inning, when the Braves bullpen melted down, giving up runs in every conceivable way. The Braves actually outhit the Nats in that game, the opposite of what happened in Denver the day before. Jayson Werth got two hits, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base safely to 46, tying the franchise record set by Rusty Staub. That was a huge accomplishment for which Werth should be proud; see MLB.com.
Last night (Friday), the Nats took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Matt Kemp (recently acquired in a trade with San Diego) dropped a long fly ball to the left field corner, and both base runners scored. Tanner Roark had another solid outing, giving up 3 runs in 7 innings, but then the bullpen buckled, and the Nats were lucky to escape with a 7-6 win. (Deja vu; see below.)* The Braves scored 3 runs in the eighth inning in part due to uncharacteristically sloppy errors by shortstop Danny Espinosa and third baseman Anthony Rendon. The two heros of the game were Ben Revere, who robbed Freddy Freeman of a home run with a spectacular leaping catch in the middle innings, and Clint Robinson, who hit a clutch RBI single with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. That run decided the game. On a melancholy note, Jayson Werth failed to reach base for the first time in 46 games.
So, the Nationals are now 9.5 games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East, a lead almost as big as that of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central (12 games). The NL West has become a virtual tie between the L.A. Dodgers and S.F. Giants over the last few days, as has the AL East, where Toronto Blue Jays have taken a half-game lead over the Boston Red Sox; the Baltimore Orioles are close behind. The Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians continue to hold wide leads in the AL West and AL Central, respectively.
Nats endure Rocky Mountain low
As MASN's F.P. Santangelo wisely said a few days ago, it's not the team's cumulative win-loss record that defines how good they are, but rather their record for the last few weeks. It happens that the Colorado Rockies are one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break, and they showed it during the three-game series in Denver against the Nationals. On Monday, August 15, Max Scherzer had another off day, and left the mound after just four innings. But home runs by Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos proved to be the deciding factor in the Nats' 5-4 victory.
The start of the Tuesday game was delayed by two hours because of rain, which was unusual, because central Colorado has been very dry this summer. The resurgent Anthony Rendon went 3 for 4, but his team mates didn't do as well at the plate. Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez lasted only three innings, but it was the Nats' bullpen that let the team down, as the Rockies ended up winning, 6-2.
On Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg had the very worst outing of his entire career, giving up seven runs in the first inning, and two more in the second, which he didn't even finish. To their credit, the Nationals fought back bravely against all odds, but the Rockies scored three runs off Oliver Perez in the fifth inning, which ended up deciding the outcome. The Nats scored runs in seven of the nine innings, which might be some kind of team record, but no more than two in any one inning. Final score: Rockies 12, Nationals 10. Amazingly, the Nats got more hits (13) than the Rockies did (11).
I hate to say it, but Oliver Perez is not getting the job done as a relief pitcher.
Nationals outslug Braves in D.C.
In the final three games of their home stand in D.C., the Nationals put together some fine, consistent hitting, sparked by Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy. But in the opening game of the series, Friday, August 12, Stephen Strasburg once again showed he couldn't take the intense heat and humidity of a day game in Washington. You'd think someone who grew up so close to Mexico (San Diego) would be used to it, but the air is drier out west. Strasburg gave up 6 runs over 5 1/3 innings, and the Nats lost, 8-5.
The next day, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez was under heavy pressure to make up for that lapse, and he delivered like a true champion. *He gave up only one run in 7 innings, but then the bullpen buckled, and the Nats were lucky to escape with a 7-6 win. In the Sunday finale, the outcome was never in doubt, as Tanner Roark pitched seven strong innings, and the Nats won, 9-1.
Nats release Papelbon
I was surprised that Jonathan Papelbon (a.k.a. the "D.C. Strangler") managed to play a constructive role in the Nationals' bullpen for as long as he did this year. Forgive and forget, I suppose. But as the summer wore on, his effectiveness steadily declined, with so many blown saves that confidence in the bullpen as a whole was on the verge of collapse. After Mike Rizzo made the deal to acquire Mark Melancon in late July, there was no role left for Papelbon to play, and last week he requested and was granted an unconditional release by the team. In his place, Reynaldo Lopez was called up from the minors. (MLB.com) Where might he end up: with the Boston Red Sox again? Many things are possible.
Injury sidelines Stanton
The Miami Marlins' star slugger Giancarlo Stanton suffered a serious injury to his groin while sliding into second base last week. As a result, he will be out for at least a few weeks, possibly for the rest of the season. That means that Ichiro Suzuki will get lots more playing time in right field. There were rumors that the Marlins might acquire the services of recently retired Alex Rodriguez as an emergency replacement, but nothing came of it. See MLB.com. It probably takes some of the pressure off the Washington Nationals, but it will also take away the thrill of watching a possible future Hall of Famer for thousands of fans in Miami and elsewhere. I hope he gets well soon.
Rams return to L.A.
Football season is just a few weeks away, and they have already begun broadcasting preseason games on TV, which I think is stupid. The Los Angeles Rams played their first game at L.A. Memorial Coliseum since returning to Los Angeles, and Mike Zurawski sent me a batch of links regarding the upgrading of that venerable old facility. (The Rams pulled off a crowd-pleasing come-from-behind win over the Cowboys, for whatever that's worth.) A total of 89,140 were in attendance, setting an NFL preseason record. (See NFL.com.) The Rams constructed 20 temporary luxury boxes blocking the peristyle arches, the architectural feature that best defines the Coliseum. I think that was a dumb move. An image from those new luxury seating areas can be seen on the ABC TV affiliate in L.A. You can also see a huge gallery of photos from the game at dailynews.com.
So, I got to work revising the diagrams, and of course it has taken longer than expected. Stay tuned!