July 22, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals conclude three-city road trip
The Washington Nationals entered the All-Star break with lots of momentum from their six-week hot streak (May 24 - July 7), but their subsequent road trip through Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Atlanta fell a bit short of expectations. The good news is that they went 5-4, but the bad news is that they failed to take advantage of the opportunity to gain ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
No sweep in Philadelphia
Things got off to an excellent start as the Nats shut out Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday, July 12. Stephen Strasburg had to work around a few minor jams, but kept his cool and completed six innings unscathed. Victor Robles and Adam Eaton got clutch hits for the Nats, while the relief pitchers did their job in the 4-0 victory. On Saturday, Patrick Corbin gave up three runs to the Phillies over six innings, and the Nats were behind going into the ninth inning. That's when the awesome youngster Juan Soto knocked a two-run homer to give his team the lead and the win: 4-3. That ensured that the Nats would remain ahead of the third-place Phillies no matter the outcome of the Sunday game. Anibal Sanchez matched the performance of Corbin the day before (six innings pitched, three earned runs), and once again the Nats were behind in the latter innings. A pinch hit RBI by Howie Kendrick and another RBI single by Trea Turner in the seventh inning tied the game, 3-3. But in the bottom of the ninth, Matt Grace lobbed an easy pitch to Maikel Franco, who hit a solo walk-off home run to end the game. Thus, the Nats blew a perfect opportunity to sweep the Phillies.
Bad bullpens in Baltimore
After that brief "hiccup," the Nationals had every reason to expect to win both games against their regional interleague rivals in Baltimore. The Orioles had just lost three of four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, barely clinging to a .300 winning percentage. Rookie Austin Voth started as pitcher for the Nats (in place of the ailing Max Scherzer), and he did surprisingly well: only one run given up over six innings. Home runs by Matt Adams and Juan Soto put the Nats on top, and rallies in each of the latter four innings ensured an easy Washington victory, 8-1. But the next night, the tables were turned as the Nats bullpen wasted a fine outing by starting pitcher Erick Fedde (six innings, one earned run). In the seventh inning, the Orioles scored three runs off Wander Suero, who later explained that he was mentally distracted by some kind of family or domestic problem. Too bad he didn't tell the manager. Javier Guerra and Matt Grace allowed five more Baltimore runs to score in the eighth inning, as the Orioles got their revenge by the lopsided score of 9-2.
Showdown in Atlanta
With the sour taste of a loss in their mouths, the Nationals had to catch a late flight to Atlanta for a pivotal four-game series against the Braves. Once again, Stephen Strasburg rose to the occasion on Thursday night (July 18) with a spectacular performance on the mound and in the batter's box. He led off the third inning with a single, sparking an eight-run rally that was capped when he hit a three-run home run that sailed over the bullpen in left field. Strasburg thus became only the fifth MLB pitcher in the last 50 years to get two hits in the same inning, with one of them being a homer. Believe it or not!!! Final score: Nats 13, Braves 4. The next evening Patrick Corbin only made it through five innings, and would have been tagged with a loss were it not for some incredible heroics in the ninth inning. With two outs and facing a two-run deficit, Ryan Zimmerman hit a single and Victor Robles hit a bomb home run that tied the game, 3-3. Dance party in the Nats dugout! But manager Dave Martinez faced a bullpen dilemma in the bottom of the ninth inning: put closing pitcher Sean Doolittle on the mound in hopes of getting to the tenth inning a taking the lead, or have Fernando Rodney pitch for a second inning. (He's 42 and hadn't pitched two full innings for several years.) Obviously, he wasn't up to that challenge as he quickly loaded the bases and gave up an RBI single to end the game, 4-3 in the Braves' favor. Disheartening as that was, it didn't affect the way the Nats played on Saturday. Anibal Sanchez went toe-to-toe against the young phenom pitcher Mike Soroka, and came out ahead. Matt Adams homered, and Adam Eaton went three for five as the Nats won it, 5-3. That was only Soroka's second loss of the whole year; he's 10-2. On Sunday the Nats were in a predicament because Max Scherzer was still not available to pitch, and for some reason Martinez went with Joe Ross, who was called up from the minors. Ross has pitched with the Nationals for years, but has never quite gotten settled as a starting pitcher. Things looked bleak when he gave up two runs in the first inning, but then he composed himself and didn't give up any more runs until the sixth inning, when he was replaced. All in all, not bad. But the Nats' bats fell silent again, while the team's shaky bullpen gave up more runs in the late innings. A pinch hit RBI single by Gerardo Parra in the eighth inning was the only score by the Nationals. Final score: 7-1. Thus, the two rivals split the series two games apiece, and the Braves retained a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East.
Back in Washington to begin a home stand, the Nationals prepared to welcome the Colorado Rockies to town tonight. The game was postponed because of forecast rain, even though there was no actual precipitation for at least an hour after the scheduled start time. That seems like another bad weather-related judgment call by the Nationals front office.
American League wins All Star Game
The American League team won the All Star Game at Cleveland's Progressive Field on Tuesday, July 9. It was the seventh year in a row that the AL prevailed in the Midsummer Classic. Most of the game was fairly subdued, with just one home run per team: Charlie Blackmon (COL) in the sixth inning and Joey Gallo (TEX) in the seventh inning. Final score: AL 4, NL 3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) took the loss as Michael Brantley (HOU) hit an RBI double in the second inning, and the AL remained ahead for the whole game. No Nationals players appeared on the roster this year: Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon both needed to let their sore bodies heal.
Attendance was a modest 36,747, probably the lowest of any All Star Game in many years. Seating capacity at Progressive Field dropped from 42,487 to 36,856 in 2015, as most of the upper-deck seats above right field and around the corner were replaced by a bunch of party decks. Beginning with 1988, the win-loss record in the Midsummer Classic is 27-6-1 in favor of the "Junior Circuit." I updated the Baseball chronology (annual) page accordingly.
Progressive Field thus became the first MLB stadium built since 1990 to have hosted the All Star Game more than once. When the ASG was held there in 1997, it was called "Jacobs Field." Four such stadiums have not yet hosted any All Star Games: Tropicana Field (1990), Citizens Bank Park (2004), Yankee Stadium II (2009), and SunTrust Park (2017). Tropicana Field is frankly not an attractive enough venue to merit All Star consideration. Philadelphia had hosted the All Star Game in 1996 (in Veterans Stadium), relatively recently, while Bronx, New York had hosted the All Star Game in 2008 (in the original Yankee Stadium). Atlanta will presumably get an All Star game in brand-new SunTrust Park before long.
Home Run Derby 2019
For obvious reasons, I wasn't paying as much attention to the Home Run Derby as I did last year, when Our Nation's Capital was briefly delirious with joy over the triumph of a (then-) hometown hero. Ironically, Bryce Harper (who is now with the Philadelphia Phillies) was absent from the annual spectacle this year. (Rather embarassingly, Progressive Field was adorned with big banners showing (among others) Harper, who was widely expected to be an All Star before the 2019 season got underway.) Triple Crown candidate Christian Yelich chose not to compete and was replaced by Matt Chapman (OAK). Rookie phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR) prevailed over Joc Pederson (LAD) in a tense and memorable "swing-off" tie-breaker in the second round. He then went up against Pete Alonso (NYM) in the final round, falling just short, 23-22. Congratulations, Pete Alonso!
I must admit, I didn't even know who Pete Alonso was, even though the Nats have played against the Mets several times this year. This points out one of the main benefits yielded by the All Star Game (and the Home Run Derby): it give top performers, especially young ones, visibility on the national stage. Alonso, I have discovered, is right behind NL-leading Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the home run department, with 33. Not bad for a 21-year old rookie!
More stadium locations
I added map/diagrams for four more cities on the Stadium locations page: Phoenix, Denver, St. Petersburg, and Baltimore. I put extra effort into rendering the Denver Broncos' stadium, but I make no special claim to accuracy for football stadiums. I also added the locations of three additional football stadiums and two basketball arenas on the Atlanta map/diagram. I think it's more important to depict the location of stadiums that are near downtown and/or near other stadiums than it is to do so for stadiums in the far-out suburbs. Eventually I may reconsider how I handle far-apart stadiums in other cities such as Chicago and Miami. In any event, that completes the western U.S.A. and leaves only three cities in the east left to do: Montreal, Toronto, and New York -- with separate ones for Queens and Brooklyn.