Nats get roughed up on the road
Until the middle of last month, it seemed that success was close at hand for the Washington Nationals. If they could just fix their bullpen... After losing the first game of the series (once again) against the San Francisco Giants, they then beat the visitors twice. In the April 17 game, they belted four home runs and had a comfortable 9-2 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the bullpen collapsed right on schedule; they held on to win, 9-6. The Nats then hit the road but lost the first two of three games against the Marlins in Miami. Heading west to Denver, they lost two of three games against the Colorado Rockies, marking the last time they had an even .500 record. Since April 23, when the Nats were only 1 1/2 games out of first place, things have gone from mediocre to just plain awful for the Nationals.
Back in Washington on April 26, the Nats lost two of three games against the San Diego Padres, the latter two being extra-innings affairs. Manager Dave Martinez used closer Sean Doolittle in the 9th inning, even though the game was tied 2-2 and hence not a save situation. In the
20th [OOPS: 10th] inning, the Padres scored six (6) runs, off of Wander Suero and Justin Miller. Arghhh... Howie Kendrick homered in the bottom of the 10th, but it didn't matter as the Nats lost in a most disheartening fashion, 8-3. But thanks mainly to the "youngsters," the Nats bounced back the next night: Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Carter Kieboom (just called up from the minors) all homered, and the score was tied 6-6 after nine innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Matt Adams led off with a towering walk-off homer and thus the Nats avoided being swept at home. Then the St. Louis Cardinals came to town and beat the Nats in three straight games. It wasn't a sweep, however, as it was a four-game series, and sure enough the Nats eked out a 2-1 win on Thursday evening (May 2) to conclude a rather bleak home stand on a positive note.
The next day the Nats headed up to Philadelphia, and once again lost the first game of the series, 4-2. Saturday's game started as a pitchers' duel between Patrick Corbin (Nats) and Jake Arrieta (Phillies), but it turned into a slug-fest in the latter innings. Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, and Victor Robles all homered, taking advantage of the cozy dimentions in Citizens Bank Park. The Nats won that game, 10-8, but then they lost the finale on Sunday, 7-1. The very next day (May 6) the Nats played in Milwaukee, and once again lost the first game of the series, even though Max Scherzer threw ten strikeouts and only gave up one earned run (plus one unearned) over six innings. So much valiant effort going to waste... On the following day, Stephen Strasburg three 11 strikeouts but gave up four runs, which was four more than his own team scored. The bullpen allowed two more runs. In the finale of that series, on Wednesday afternoon, Jeremy Hellickson only lasted four innings and the Nats lost, 7-3. It was the first time this year that the Nats had been swept in a series.
The final leg of the Nats' brutal road trip took them to Los Angeles, and miracle of miracles, they actually won the first game of the series! It was only the second time in 13 series thus far this year that they have done so. Patrick Corbin threw another brilliant game for the Nats, striking out eight batters over seven innings in a 6-0 victory. A three-run homer by Howie Kendrick pretty much sealed the deal in that game. But the next day, the extraordinarily ineffective veteran starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez was relieved during the fifth inning after giving up three runs. Final score: Dodgers 5, Nats 0. On Saturday, the fiercely competitive Max Scherzer went seven full innings while only giving up two runs, but was in line for the loss after being replaced in the lineup in the top of the eighth. That's when the Nats batters woke up all of a sudden. The bases were loaded whn Juan Soto came up to bat, and he worked a long count before finally smacking an RBI single for the Nats first run. Anthony Rendon then came up to bat, and hopes were high for the Nats' #1 slugger, who recently returned from the Injured List. But "Tony Two Bags" is apparently not back to 100% just yet, because he swung at some bad pitches and struck out. That left it all up to newly-acquired Gerardo Parra, and guess what? He launched a homer several rows deep into the Dodger Stadium pavilion in right center field, the first grand slam for the Nats this year! (See the Washington Nationals page.) That gave Max Scherzer the win -- only his second win of the season. In the final game of the four-game series, the Dodgers' Hyan-Jin Ryu outdueled Stephen Strasburg, and actually had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning. Once again, Gerardo Parra was a "hero" of sorts, hitting a double for the Nats' only hit of the game [in the top of the eighth inning]. (The Nationals have never lost in a no-hitter, and the last time that happened in franchise history was in 1999, when the Yankees no-hit the Expos.) [With the tying run at the plate, Dave Martinez made another managerial goof when he let Michael A. Taylor bat rather than put in Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles, or Yan Gomes as a pinch hitter; they all have much higher batting averages. In the bottom of that] inning, Corey Seager put the icing on the cake for the home team, hitting a grand slam against Kyle Barraclough. (He has been one of the Nationals' more dependable relief pitchers this year, so that was a turn for the worse.) Final score: 6-0. [Thus the Nats ended a very rough road trip, winning just three of ten games.]
And so, at the one-quarter mark of the 2019 season, the Washington Nationals are now 16-24, which is 7 1/2 games behind the Phillies. Injuries are partly to blame, of course, but the Nationals did just fine in spite of injuries in years when they ended up winning the division. Something fundamental is really wrong with this team. The Nats payroll is among the highest in the majors right now (fourth, I believe), but they just aren't performing the way they are supposed to. Complaints about the lack of leadership are growing, and I don't see how Dave Martinez can finish this season if things don't get better soon. Why are the team's owners so patient with him? Don't they want to admit they were wrong to hire an untested guy as manager rather than the proven (and more costly) Bud Black? The Nationals have a long road ahead as they try to climb out of fourth place in the NL East, and perhaps somehow make a run for the postseason. There's no reason why a team with so much talent can't do so.
Some early-season surprises
After six full weeks of baseball, there have been a number of early season surprises. Did anyone really expect the Minnesota Twins or Tampa Bay Rays to be leading their respective divisions? Not that I'm aware. The New York Yankees have been plagued by injuries, but nevertheless have climbed to within a half game of the Rays, and they will probably take first place in the days to come. The Seattle Mariners were one of the hottest teams for the first few weeks, but they have seen cooled off as the Houston Astros have resumed their place atop the AL West. The Boston Red Sox recently climbed above .500 for the first time this season -- a rather humbling performance for the 2018 World Series champions.
In the National League, the East Division was a tight, four-way race for most of April, but the Philadelphia Phillies have now built a 3-game lead. Bryce Harper actually got booed by the home fans after striking out a few days ago; he currently is tied for fourth in the majors with 51 strikeouts. He is batting just .229 with 7 home runs. In the Central Division, the Milwaukee Brewers were very strong in April, but have since fallen behind the Chicago Cubs. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs were playing terribly in the early weeks but have bounced back nicely. Out west, the L.A. Dodgers are ahead by four games, as the San Diego Padres, who led the division for much of April, have cooled off considerably. Manny Machado added spark to the lineup, but his actual performance has fallen short of expectation: .252 average and 8 home runs.
"Red Socks" in the White House
Championship sports teams customarily are greeted by the President at the White House, e.g. the Washington Capitals hockey team, but with the Trump administration, such traditions are sometimes dispensed with. Most of the Boston Red Sox recently made the pilgrimmage to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but manager Alex Cora and a several other players boycotted the event. Someone in the White House mistakenly wrote "Red Socks" in an official communique, which kind of makes you wonder... See bostonglobe.com.
Stadium capacity changes, 2019
For the first time in at least a few decades, and perhaps ever, there were (apprently) NO changes at all in the seating capacity of any major league baseball stadium this year. In contrast, last year (see October 3) there were seven cases of capacity changing by at least 1,000. I go by the official attendance figures shown in the box scores as published by the Washington Post, where capacity is shown in parentheses. MLB franchises seem less forthcoming aboutproviding capacity data on the various MLB web pages, compared to years past.
Busch Stadium II update
Since I have been paying greater attention in recent months to the details in the roofs of various stadiums of the "cookie-cutter" era (see April 16, when I updated the Riverfront Stadium diagrams), I made an update to the Busch Stadium II diagrams. Whereas before (2014) I attempted to convey the unique arched-support roofs of that stadium in a rather crude way, the diagrams now render more faithfully the actual appearance. While I was at it, I made a few other corrections and enhancements. The front edge of the upper deck is recessed by a couple feet, while the lateral walkway and entry portals in the rear part of the lower deck have been moved forward several feet, and are thus now (partly) "exposed" in all the diagrams. Those entry portals are much bigger than the were before, and the small sets of stairs from the lateral walkways to the aisles between the sections are now shown for the first time. Finally, the profile has been refined as well.