Nationals struggle to rebound from roster crisis
The Washington Nationals managed to triumph over adversity on their belated Opening Day, nearly two weeks ago, briefly raising hopes that they would pull together and put themselves on a winning trajectory. Max Scherzer gave up four solo home runs, two of them to the Braves' young slugger Ronald Acuña, but struck out nine batters and left the game after six innings with the score tied. It was 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth when the Nats' young slugger Juan Soto hit an RBI single, his first career walk-off hit. What a huge relief that was!
After that storybook finish, however, the Nationals fall flat, losing five consecutive games. The Nationals and Braves played a double-header the next day, and in the first game the artificial seven-inning limit prevented the Nats from making a late comeback, as they lost 7-6. In the second game, Stephen Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings, but then the reliever Tanner Rainey gave up a two-run homer to rotund pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, formerly of the Giants and Red Sox. That was the only run-scoring play of the game. Narrow margins!
Then the Nats hit the road, and [in Dodger Stadium] on Friday, April 9 Joe Ross excelled as starting pitcher, going five scoreless innings. In the sixth inning Justin Turner hit a solo homer, which was the only run-scoring play of the game. Deja vu! On Saturday, Patrick Corbin's first outing of the year was disappointing: six earned runs over four and a third innings. The Nats lost that one 9-5 in spite of getting 15 hits. Sunday was a classic matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, and thanks to some guy named Zach McKinstry (who got all the RBIs), the Dodgers won it, 3-0. In all three games of that series in which they were swept, the Nats out-hit the home team.
Next came a visit to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and badly-needed reinforcements arrived just in time: Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, and Josh Harrison were all released from covid-19 quarantine, making a big impact. The Nats won 5-2 on Monday April 12, thanks to a home run by Andrew Stevenson and three hits by Juan Soto. On Tuesday Stephen Strasburg gave up eight runs (one unearned) and had to be taken out during the fifth inning. He was seen rubbing his shoulder in the dugout afterwards, and later expressed displeasure that a TV camera was pointed at him. Relief pitcher Luis Avilan did no better, however, and the Cardinals ended up with a lopsided 14-3 victory. But on Wednesday Joe Ross had another fine outing, and the Nats won the game 6-0, taking their first series of the season.
The Nationals flew back to Washington for a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks the very next day, and once again Patrick Corbin badly underperformed. In fact, he only lasted two innings, giving up ten runs (one unearned). The Nats' batters erased the early 3-0 deficit and took the lead in the bottom of the first inning, but that advantage was quickly squandered. It was obvious that Corbin had lost all control when he hit a batter with a pitch with the bases loaded, but as is often the case, Nats' manager Davey Martinez was reluctant to take him out. Result: he gave up a grand slam to the next batter, Andrew Young. Final score: D-backs 11, Nationals 6. Corbin later seemed unable to explain what had gone wrong on the mound, not a good sign. Friday night was Max Scherzer's third start of the year, and he showed big improvement: ten strikeouts over seven innings, passing the immortal Cy Young in lifetime strikeouts. But neither team could score a run until the bottom of the ninth, when Kyle Schwarber crushed a ball that landed on the concourse behind the second-deck seats in right field. It was estimated to have gone 463 feet, but from what I can tell, the horizontal distance was only 400 or so. Maybe 440 feet? Anyway, it was the Nats' first walk-off home run of the year. Welcome to Washington, Kyle Schwarber! The Nats also won on Saturday (6-2) thanks to home runs by Yan Gomes and Ryan Zimmerman, and solid pitching by Erick Fedde. But on Sunday came the bad news that Stephen Strasburg was going on the Injured List after an MRI revealed inflammation in his (right) pitching shoulder. So, the burden of starting pitcher fell upon Paulo Espino, a little-known veteran from Panama. He rose to the occasion, giving up just two runs over four-plus innings, but the bullpen gave up runs in the last three innings, and the D-backs won the finale, 5-2. The Nationals only runs came on solo home runs by Trea Turner; the other bats fell silent for some reason.
Tonight's game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals turned into a complete debacle, as Joe Ross somehow lost his command, or his composure, or both. He gave up ten runs over four-plus innings, and the visitors took the series opener, 12-5. Paul DeJong's grand slam in the fifth inning pretty much sealed the deal. Ross had previously shared honors for the lowest ERA in the majors (0.00), but that number suddenly jumped to 5.87.
Two actual no-hitters in one week!
On Friday, April 9, Padres' pitcher Joe Musgrove threw nine hitless innings against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, becoming the very first Padres pitcher ever to achieve a no-hitter. He got nine strikeouts in the 3-0 victory. It was an especially sweet moment, since he grew up in the [San Diego] suburb of El Cajon and rooted for the Padres as a youth.
And on Wednesday night, April 14, White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon had a perfect game [against the Cleveland Indians] going into the top of the ninth inning, whereupon he hit the batter [in the foot], Roberto Perez. At least he salvaged the no-hitter. It was a little bit like June 20, 2015 when Jose Tabata of the Pittsburgh Pirates blatantly put his elbow in front of the ball with two outs in the top of the ninth, ruining Max Scherzer's bid for a perfect game. (Do I carry grudges? Yes, sometimes. )
In my April 3 blog post, I noted that there had been two "Almost two no-hitters" during the first couple days of the 2021 season. If these trends continue, Major League Baseball may decide to go ahead with the proposal to move the pitching rubber back by a foot or so. I would prefer that they don't do so; can't they just lower the mound like they did in the late 1960s?
Blue Jays go south again
Canada has been experiencing an upsurge in coronavirus cases, and restrictions on international travel raise the possibility that the Toronto Blue Jays may not play any games in their home at the Rogers Centre until mid-summer or even later. Because this situation was not anticipated, they have been forced to play their "home" games at TD Park in Dunedin, Florida, [their spring training facility] located north of St. Petersburg. (Its capacity is 8,500.) So just like last year (see July 24), they Blue Jays must "migrate" south, but much farther this time. Their "home away from home" last year, Sahlen Field, is being prepared for an extended stay by the Blue Jays, including moving the bullpens to beyond the outfield fence, and adding various amenities for the fans and players. So, I will have to do another version of that diagram and (at some point) do a new diagram for TD Park, as well as update the Anomalous stadiums page.