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October 10, 2019 [LINK / comment]

How about Howie?! Nationals come back to win NLDS!

Maybe, just maybe, the Washington Nationals' bad habit of crushing disappointment in the postseason is behind them. And maybe being the underdogs this time worked to their advantage. Whereas they were favored to win in their four preceding appearances in the National League Divisional Series (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017), this time the L.A. Dodgers were the heavy favorites. Just like in the National League Wild Card Game against the Milwaukee Brewers, fate finally smiled on the long-tortured Nats.

The game started off on an ominous note, as Stephen Strasburg gave up a two-run homer to Max Muncy before any outs had been recorded, and in the second inning Enrique Hernandez hit a lead-off homer to take a 3-0 lead. (That sentence is virtually identical to the one I wrote describing the early part of the NL Wild Card Game; only the names have changed.) Just like Max Scherzer, however, Strasburg collected his wits like a pro and hung in there through six total innings without giving up any more runs. Even though the Nats didn't score while he was pitching, he at least kept the game close enough to give the Nats a realistic chance at a comeback. And indeed they did! In the sixth inning, Anthony Rendon hit a leadoff double and then scored when Juan Soto singled. In the seventh inning, Kurt Suzuki was hit in the face by a pitch thrown by Walker Buehler, and had to come out of the game. Two outs later, Trea Turner walked, and Clayton Kershaw came in as a relief pitcher. Adam Eaton struck out. Kershaw remained on the mound in the eighth inning, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back home runs to tie the game 3-3, forcing a stunned Kershaw out of the game. Patrick Corbin, who had a meltdown in NLDS Game 3, redeemed himself by getting four outs as a relief pitcher, and the game went into the tenth inning. That's when the "magic" started. Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly, who had baffled the Nats with a devastating combination of knuckle curve balls and fast balls in the ninth inning, gave up a lead-off walk to Adam Eaton. That was followed by a Anthony Rendon ground-rule double, obliging Kelly to intentially walk Juan Soto. (I tell you, that slugging combination of Rendon and Soto reminds me a lot of Maris and Mantle!) Next up was Howie Kendrick, a former Dodger who had something to prove. A sac fly or a hard ground ball would have been enough to score a run, but it was [not] enough for Howie! He hit a long fly ball that just cleared the center field fence for a grand slam, his second as a National. WOW!!! That gave the Nationals a 7-3 lead, and the 54,000+ fans in Dodger Stadium started streaming out in dejected silence. Sean Doolittle pitched a flawless bottom of the tenth inning, aided by a diving catch of a short fly ball in center field by Michael A. Taylor to end the game. What a fairy-tale happy ending! smile

Howie Kendrick

The hero of the NLDS Howie Kendrick, at Wrigley Field on August 5, 2017.

Cardinals advance to NLCS

What happened in Atlanta yesterday evening was an unimaginable gut blow to Braves' fans, who have endured numerous disappointing losses in the NL Divisional Series over the past two decades. The St. Louis Cardinals scored ten (10) runs in the first inning, setting a postseason MLB record, and the game was essentially over after the first 20 or minutes. Somehow the Braves' pitcher Mike Foltynewicz crumpled, after having performed so well in NLDS Game 2. Final score: 13-1. You never know...

So, the Nationals will head to St. Louis for the first two games of the National League Championship Series on Friday and Saturday. The Cardinals have one of the best organizations in baseball, and they know how to win when it really counts. But if you match up the talent player for player, I think the Nats have an edge. Add to that the sky-high mojo the Nats have built from their amazing regular season comeback, the Wild Card Game comeback, and the NLDS comeback, I'd say the Nats have a big advantage. But I'm not counting on anything, and the series could easily go to six or seven games.

Can Rays upset Astros?

Game 5 of the ALDS will take place in Houston tonight, as the Tampa Bay Rays try for a historic upset against the top-seeded Astros. The winner will then face the Yankees on Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS.

October 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nats, Cards, Rays survive; Yankees oust the Twins

Monday was an unusual situation in that all four playoff games posed the threat of elimination to the home teams. Three of them actually rose to the occasion and survived -- the Nationals, Cardinals, Rays -- while the Minnesota Twins failed.

In Washington, the Nationals had their backs against the wall, after another meltdown by the "relief" pitchers on Sunday night. That game started on a buoyant note, as Juan Soto smacked a two-run homer in the first inning. Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez truly rose to the occasion, throwing four scoreless innings before the Dodgers got on the scoreboard. But for some reason, manager Dave Martinez decided to replace Sanchez with Patrick Corbin in the sixth inning, and all hell soon broke loose. Corbin had two outs with one runner on base, but then seemed to flinch every time he had two strikes on a batter. He was either just missing the strike zone for a walk, or else lobbing an easy pitch which the Dodgers batters eagerly swung at. Before you knew it, the Nats' slim 2-1 lead had turned into a 5-2 deficit, and Corbin's confidence was shattered. So, Dave Martinez brought in the extremely unpredictable Wander Suero from the bullpen, and almost immediately Justin Turner smashed a three-run home run to make it an 8-2 game. It appeared that once again, Nationals Park was the scene of an agonizingly cruel, sudden twist of fate. The Nats' rallied in the bottom of the sixth, but a base-running blunder by Howie Kendrick stopped it at just two runs scored. Hunter Strickland pitched in the top of the ninth inning, and gave up [a home run to Russell Martin, scoring] David Freese. (Old Nats fans like me remember the role Freese played in the ninth-inning horror show in the 2012 NLDS Game 5 against the Cardinals.) Final score: Dodgers 10, Nationals 4.

On that somber note, down two games to one in a five-game series, the Nationals' vaunted starting pitcher Max Scherzer had his postseason MLB career on the line in Game 4 on Monday night. Nats fans soon cringed when he gave up a solo home run to Justin Turner in the first inning, exposing his weak spot for all the world to see. But contrary to my fears, he settled down after than and seven complete innings, giving up just three more hits and no more runs. The Nats tied it in the third inning on a sac fly by Anthony Rendon, and then took the lead in the fifth inning when Rendon hit an RBI single. Three batters later, with two runners on base, Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate and hit one of the biggest home runs of his 14-year career. And the crowd went wild! An inning later, Rendon hit another RBI sac fly, and leading 6-1, the Nats could shake their anxiety and cruise through the late innings. And that's how they evened the series two games apiece.

As Game 5 of the NLDS approaches in Los Angeles this evening, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, the Nats have every reason to feel confident that they have a better-than-even chance to prevail over the Dodgers and make it to the National League Championship Series for the first time. Tune in tomorrow, sports fans!

In my October 3 blog post, I had a montage of faces of some of the Nationals and Indians players who were conspicuous that day. Here are some other Nats players, most of whom did not play that day but were participating in the postgame autographed jersey lottery. Included here are four of the pitchers in the top starting rotation in the major leagues this year, measured by strikeouts at least:

Nationals faces 29 Sep 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Anibal Sanchez, Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Strasburg, Michael A. Taylor, Kurt Suzuki, Max Scherzer, and Asdrubal Cabrera -- wearing a "Baby Shark" headband! (During and after the game against the Cleveland Indians on September 29.)

In Saint Louis, the Braves took Game 3 by a score of 3-1, and were in position to win the series in Game 4, except that they blew a precious opportunity in the late innings. Ronald Acuña hit a leadoff triple, but the next three batters were out, stranding the go-ahead run on third base. Simply inexcusable. In the tenth inning, the Cardinals won the game on a sac fly to left field, and the home town fans exulted at the comeback. Cards 5, Braves 4. In the first inning of the Game 5 in Atlanta tonight, ... Well, let's not go there. What an agonizing disappointment.

In Saint Petersburg (across the Bay from Tampa), the Rays exploded (figuratively speaking), and cruised to a 10-3 win over the seemingly invincible Astros. To the surprise of many, the Rays evened the series with the Astros the next day, winning 4-1. Somehow they got to [Justin] Verlander, who was replaced during the fourth inning, but the Rays held on to their lead until the end. Game 5 will be tomorrow night.

And finally, in Minneapolis (more or less across the Mississippi River from Saint Paul), the Twins tried to bounce back against the New York Yankees, but just couldn't get going. They succumbed to the Yankees in three straight lopsided games.

All the scores are on the Postseason scores page.

October 6, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Both NL Divisional Series were split 1-1 *

The Washington Nationals are right where they want to be, as confident underdogs playing before a friendly home crowd and facing an vaunted opponent that they were able to size up during the regular season. But the way the National League Divisional Series got started, they could have been in a very deep hole right now. In the first inning of Game 1, Patrick Corbin walked four Dodger batters, and was lucky that only one run scored. The Dodgers scored one more in the fifth inning, and an error by first baseman Howie Kendrick was partly responsible for that. To his credit, Corbin only had one earned run over six innings, but he got no run support, while the Nats' bullpen crumpled once again. In the seventh inning, the Dodgers scored two runs on a single by Max Muncy while Fernando Rodney was on the mound, and an inning later they hit two solo home runs off of Hunter Strickland, more or less icing the cake. Final score: L.A. 6, Nationals 0. It was the Nats' first loss after nine consecutive victories, including the Wild Card Game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The next "evening" (the dead of night here in the east), the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, but the Nats managed to get the bases loaded. Howie Kendrick atoned for the errors of the previous night by hitting an RBI single, but then Ryan Zimmerman popped out on the first pitch he saw and Kurt Suzuki struck out to end the inning. In the second inning, Kershaw hit the first batter (Victor Robles) with a pitch, and soon he scored on an RBI single by Adam Eaton. Anthony Rendon batted in Eaton with a double, and all of a sudden the Nats were ahead 3-0. How many people expected that? The Nats' current ace pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, had a superlative outing on the mound, just three days after pitching three innings of relief against the Brewers. He struck out ten batters over six innings, and in fact had a perfect game going into the fifth inning. The Nats' former closing pitcher Sean Doolittle gave up a solo homer, making it a 3-2 game, but then the Nats retook a two-run lead Ryan Zimmerman hit a leadoff double and later scored on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. (The latter's base-running goof cut short what could have been an even bigger rally.) In the bottom of the eighth, fans on both sides gasped when Max Scherzer came out of the bullpen to pitch in relief. I often criticize manager Dave Martinez for his pitching decisions, but this move worked out brilliantly. Scherzer struck out the side, keeping the two-run cushion intact. In the bottom of the ninth, Justin Turner led off with a ground-rule double, but Daniel Hudson struck out the next batter and Cody Bellinger popped out. Curiously, Hudson intentionally walked Max Muncy and unintentionally walked Will Smith to load the bases. Nats fans grimaced in extreme anxiety, but Hudson struck out Corey Seager on a 2-2 count to end the game. Whew!

As Game 3 gets underway with the much-improved veteran Anibal Sanchez pitching for the Nats, there is every reason to expect that the Nationals will end up the winners of this divisional series. Max Scherzer is due to pitch tomorrow night, and if it goes to Game 5 on Wednesday, Stephen Strasburg will be ready to go. Here are some of the key figures from the Dodgers-Nationals game I saw on July 28:

Nationals, Dodgers faces 28 Jul 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brian Dozier, Stephen Strasburg, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Will Smith, Matt Adams, and Gerardo Parra.

In Atlanta, the Cardinals took Game 1 by a score of 7-6, after a strange sequence of events. Last year's NL Rookie of the Year [Ronald Acuña] played as though he were still a rookie, disdaining to run on a long ball that he thought he had homered, and which would have been an easy double. But he [only made it to first and] failed to score that inning, and that one run ended up proving decisive. Much of the blame goes to the Braves' bullpen, which gave up four runs to St. Louis in the top of the ninth. The Braves responded with three runs, but it wasn't quite enough. But in Game 2, their starting pitcher [Mike] Foltynewicz cruised through seven shutout innings, only allowing three hits, and the Braves won it, 3-0, evening the series.

* In St. Louis this evening, the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the Braves pounced with a three-run rally, winning the game to take a 2-1 series lead just as I was finishing this blog post. Atlanta's chances of making it to the NLCS just skyrocketed.

Yanks & Astros lead AL Divisional Series 2-0

The matchups on the American League side seem much more imbalanced. In New York, the Yankees trounced the Minnesota Twins 10-4, mainly by switching pitchers at key moments to thwart Twins' rallies. The Yankees only had one more hit than the Twins (8 vs. 7), but they made much better use of them. In the second game the Yankees scored seven runs in the second inning, thanks in part to a grand slam by Didi Gregorious. After that the outcome wasn't really in doubt; final score 8-2. Pitching, pitching, pitching.

In Houston, the Astros easily defeated the Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 6-2 in Game 1, with Justin Verlander giving up only one hit over seven innings. Game 2 was much closer, as Garrett Cole struck out 15 batters over 7 2/3 inngs. In both games, the Rays' only runs scored came in the late innings. Thus, both the Yankees and Astros now lead the respective AL Divisional Series 2-0.

Just in case the website of MLB, ESPN, and all the major networks are down, you can keep up with the Postseason scores page, which is being updated at least once a day. smile

October 3, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Soto did it! Nationals win miracle wild card comeback

Heretofore, the three deciding/elimination postseason games at Nationals Park (2012, 2016, and 2017) have each been marked by some outrageously improbable, hideous twist of fate that sealed the losing team's doom. (Obviously, the visitors won.) The same thing happened this year's National League wild card game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, but this time the shoe was on the other foot, and fate finally smiled on the long-tortured Nats.

The game started off on an ominous note, as Max Scherzer gave up a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal before any outs had been recorded, and in the second inning Eric Thames hit a lead-off homer to take a 3-0 lead. The Brewers aptly exploited Max's well-known weak spot, his penchant for challenging hitters with hittable fastballs. But he kept his cool after that, and the Nationals hung in there and eventually came back to win the National League wild card game in truly miraculous fashion. Trea Turner hit a two-out solo home run in the third inning, but neither team scored for the next four innings. The Brewers' Brandon Woodruff pitched four innings, while Max Scherzer pitched five innings, followed by Stephen Strasburg in the very first relief appearance in his career. He was nearly flawless for the next three innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Victor Robles struck out and Michael A. Taylor (recently called up from the minors) pinch hit for Strasburg. Knowing Michael's history of striking out on bad pitches, I groaned and dreaded the worst. But he proved me wrong, and drew a full count after which he was (according to the umpire) hit by a pitch and took first base. Replays showed the ball bounced in a way that could only result from contact with the bat, but the reviewers said it was inconclusive, so the Nats caught a break. He might have walked had it been called a foul, but we'll never know. Anyway, Trea Turner then came up and struck out, followed by Ryan Zimmerman coming in to pinch hit for Adam Eaton. Had the Nats lost, it might well have been Ryan's very last at-bat as a National, but something told me he was not going to end his career in vain. Well, he proved me right, getting a single that put Taylor on third base. Then the fearsome Anthony Rendon came up and walked to load the bases. It was clearly not Josh Hader's best day on the mound. (He had 37 saves this year.) The next batter was 20-year old Juan Soto, the youngest cleanup hitter in postseason baseball history, in the most pivotal moment of his two-year MLB career. I had a good feeling. Juan not only has the muscle of a champion slugger, he has the poise and smarts of a veteran, and boy, did he live up to his soaring reputation! He lined a single to the right fielder Trent Grisham, who misplayed the bounce, and before you knew it three runs had scored to give the Nats the lead! Juan Soto tried for third but was caught in a rundown for the final out, but it didn't really matter. Daniel Hudson successfully closed the game in the ninth inning, giving up one hit and a long fly ball to center field that Victor Robles caught for the final out. It was one of the Nats' biggest late-inning comebacks ever, and fans in Nationals Park erupted in a state of euphoria unlike any other game that has been played there.

Accordingly, I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data on that game, etc. I took photos of several "new" Nats whom I had not seen before, such as Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, et al.

Nationals win in a glorious anti-climax

I was at the Nationals' final regular season game of the year, hosting the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon. My old friend Dave Givens and I had good seats in the middle deck about half way toward the left field pole. We got nice "puffy vests" as a giveaway to the first 20,000 (?) fans, but I was frustrated at the meager selection and high price of postseason T-shirts in the Nats Fan Store. Contrary to my low expectations (given that it was a game of no real significance), it turned out to be exciting and jubilant. The weather was almost ideal, and the Nationals were not slacking off at all. Trea Turner led off the bottom of the first with a single, and after two outs, he made it home on an RBI double hit by Juan Soto. The Indians tied it 1-1 on a solo homer by Francisco Lindor in the third inning, but that was their only run scored during the six innings that Joe Ross pitched. He struck out eight batters, and only allowed four hits, in one of his best outings in a long time. In the bottom of the third, Kurt Suzuki hit a two-run homer while I was in the concourse buying pizza and adult beverages, and that was the Nats' only home run that day. In the middle innings, manager Dave Martinez began substituting bench players for the starters, and to my surprise, Michael A. Taylor (replacing Juan Soto) started a rally in the sixth inning with a single. After Matt Adams flew out, Victor Robles walked, Brian Dozier singled, Wilmer Difo singled, and then Gerardo Parra (cue "Baby Shark" theme song) smashed a two-run double to give the Nats a 7-1 lead. In the seventh inning, Aaron Barrett (who had missed three years due to elbow surgery and associated problems) came in as a relief pitcher, and even though he gave up two singles, a walk, and a wild pitch, only one run scored. Erick Fedde pitched the last two innings without allowing a base-runner, while the Nats staged another rally in the eighth inning, capped by an RBI single by Gerardo Parra. Final score: Nats 8, Indians 2. It was a thoroughly enjoyable triumph, as the Nationals closed the 2019 regular season with eight wins in a row!

Nationals Park from 1st base 2nd deck 2019

Top of the third inning at Nationals Park on September 29, with Carlos Santana (not the Latin jazz/rock guitarist) at bat.

Nationals - Indians 29 Sep 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mike Clevinger crouches before pitching, Gerardo Parra hits an RBI single, Juan Soto hits a two-run double, the scoreboard heralds the upcoming wild card game, Brian Dozier hits a single, and Francisco Lindor passes second base after hitting a no-doubt solo home run to the middle deck in right field.

 Nationals - Indians faces 29 Sep 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Juan Soto, Aaron Barrett, Gerardo Parra, Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew Stevenson, Nats' starting pitcher Joe Ross, Francisco Lindor, and Indians' starting pitcher Mike Clevinger.

 Nationals jersey giveaway 29 Sep 2019

Post-game Nationals jersey giveaway (L to R): Sean Doolittle, Austin Voth, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Gerardo Parra, Wander Suero, Erick Fedde (front), Fernando Rodney, Stephen Strasburg, and Victor Robles.

NL Divisional series begin

This evening the National League Divisional Series get underway, as the Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals, followed by the L.A. Dodgers hosting the Washington Nationals. The eastern game was close and low-scoring until the ninth inning, when the visitors all of a sudden scored four runs and the home team responded in the bottom of the ninth with one run too few. (Ouch!) L.A. 7, Atlanta 6. The Postseason scores page has been updated accordingly...

In the game just getting underway on the west coast, Walker Buehler starts for the Dodgers, and Patrick Corbin starts for the Nationals. With the highest win-loss record in the National League (106-56), the Dodgers are clearly favored to at least reach the World Series, if not win it. (They were the National League pennant winners in both 2017 and 2018.) But I saw the Nationals defeat the Dodgers when Buehler started for them on July 28, so there is every reason to hope for the same outcome this time. I say the Nats have an even chance to make it to the NLCS, and maybe even go further... Play ball!!

September 29, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nationals cruise toward October as wild cards

The Washington Nationals were in a bit of a slump for roughly the first half of September, but gradually got [hot] again, clinching an NL wild card berth on Tuesday night.

Nats can't sweep Marlins

After beating the Miami Marlins on Friday September 20, the Nationals had a comfortable 4-0 lead on Saturday night, and once again the bullpen caved in, as the Marlins scored four runs in the eighth inning. It ruined Stephen Strasburg's chance at getting 20 wins for the first time in his career, and the game went into extra innings. That's when the Marlins bullpen caved in, as the Nats scored six runs in the top of the tenth to win it, 10-4. "Over and out!" On Sunday, Austin Voth had a superb outing on the mound, giving up just one run over five innings, but once again the Marlins scored four runs in a latter inning; the seventh, this time. The Nats failed to respond, and that's how their near-sweep of the Marlins ended, with a 5-3 loss.

Nats sweep Phillies: five straight!

Even though the Nationals were ahead in the NL wild card race as the Phillies came to Washington on Monday evening, they had reason to be nervous. The Milwaukee Brewers were closing the gap rapidly, while the Philadelphia Phillies (in fourth place) seemed to relish the role of spoiler. It was a rare five-game series, made necessary by the postponement of a rained out game earlier in the season. The Chicago Cubs were still in contention for the wild card spot, and the Nats needed at least a series win against the Phillies. On Monday, Patrick Corbin had a solid six-inning outing on the mound, while three Nats homered: Adam Eaton, Yan Gomes, and Trea Turner. Final score: Nats 7, Phillies 2. On Tuesday afternoon, Joe Ross was tapped as starting pitcher, and even though he was pulled after just four innings, he lived up to expectations as the Nats won again, 4-1. In the evening, Max Scherzer had a bit of a hard time, but in his typical determined fashion, he stayed in for six full innings even though he gave up four runs. He was rescued from a possible loss by Trea Turner, who hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, and in spite of a late solo home run by Bryce Harper the Nats won again, 6-5. The players gathered on the field after the game to watch the end of the Cubs game on the video scoreboard, and once that was over, the Nationals celebrated clinching a wild card spot. On Wednesday, Anibal Sanchez had one of his best outings of the year, giving up just two runs over seven innings, and thanks to home runs by Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier, the Nats prevailed once again, 5-2. That was four wins in a row, but it wouldn't count as a sweep unless the Nats could win the finale on Thursday. That game was a hell of a showdown, and Stephen Strasbur was ready for it. He struck out ten batters while only allowing one run over six innings, while Michael A. Taylor (a one-time starting player who spent most of this year in the minor leagues) went three for four including a clutch home run. And that's how the Nationals won, 6-3, thereby beating the Phillies in a rare (and perhaps unprecedented for the franchise) five game sweep!

Will Nats sweep Indians?

Finally, the Cleveland Indians arrived in Washington on Friday, hoping to grab one of the two AL wild card spots from the Tampa Bay Rays. (The Oakland A's had already clinched.) In other words, they were motivated! But the Nationals were also motivated, but in this case merely the desire to stay ahead in the wild card race in order to get home field advantage. Austin Voth put in another fine performance as pitcher, and Trea Turner homered once again (his fourth one this week!) to put the Nats on top early. But the biggest contributor to that game came was Gerardo Parra who hit a home run and went three for three, as the Nats cruised to a 8-2 victory. The Indians were thereby eliminated from postseason contention. On Saturday, the Indians seemed listless early on, and the Nats scored nine runs in the second inning, including a grand slam by Gerardo Parra -- he of "Baby Shark" fame.

As an indication of how well they are doing, the Nationals currently enjoy a seven-game winning streak, whereas before this week their longest such streak this year was just five games. Well, better late than never! No other team currently has such a long winning streak, and if the Nats prevail again today, that would certainly make a nice way to end the season.

Nevertheless, having clinched home-field advantage in Tuesday's wild card game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Nationals really won't have much at stake in this afternoon's regular-season finale against the Indians. Max Scherzer had been slated to start today, but instead he will be given the responsibility as starting pitcher on Tuesday. And so today's game will most likely be an uneventful snooze-fest, as various rookies and under-utilized bench players get a chance to prove themselves for the postseason. But one thing is for sure, win or lose: It will be a joyous occasion at the end, as the Nationals will get a huge round of applause for making it to the postseason against all odds. Few people back in mid-May would have expected their fortunes to turn so sharply upward.

On a more somber note, there is a very real possibility that this may be Ryan Zimmerman's final regular season game in major league baseball. It's hard to imagine him signing with any team other than the Nationals. In any event, I will be there!

[UPDATE: Yes, they did! It was a wonderful day at Nationals Park, and the Nationals kept up their momentum through the very end, beating the Indians, 8-2. Details to follow tomorrow...]

Martinez in the hospital

During the first game of the series in St. Louis on September 16, the Nats' beleaguered manager Dave Martinez had to leave in the middle of the game last week because of chest pains, and underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure in a local hospital. He rested a couple days and then returned to duty when the Nats played in Miami, and he seems to have recovered. I join other Nats fans in wishing him all the best.

Postseason scenarios

In preparation for another October full of thrills, chills, and spills, I have updated the Postseason scores page with a projected set of matchups for the wild card games and divisional series games. The only question yet to be decided is whether the Milwaukee Brewers will grab the NL Central title from the Cardinals, who would in that case face the Nationals in the wild card game.

August 31, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Hot August nights (& days): Nats surge ahead

The Washington Nationals began their final series of the month against the visiting Miami Marlins, in the thick of a fierce race for the National League East Division title. Thanks to the wins tonight and last night (see below), their record for the month of August was a phenomenal 19-7, even better than their huge comeback month of June, when they had a record of 18-8. So, let's review the superb month, full of sweeps, near-sweeps, and series that should have been sweeps...

Nationals sweep the Giants

The Nationals began the month out west, dropping two out of three games in Phoenix (see August 5), and then sweeping the Giants in San Francisco. On Monday, August 5, Erick Fedde threw six scoreless innings, and the bullpen did its job, as the Nats won, 4-0. The next day Anibal Sanchez did almost as well, and the Nats won again, 5-3. And on Wednesday Joe Ross came through with six scoreless innings, and the Nats completed the sweep with a 4-1 victory. The deciding blow in that game was a three-run homer in the third inning by Gerardo Parra -- who, in a supreme example of ironic karma, had been released by the Giants in May. That'll teach 'em! smile But the big story of that series (and perhaps of the month as a whole) was the quality of pitching from the lesser-known Nats starters. At a time when Max Scherzer has been ailing, the "rear guard" of the Nats' starting rotation really stepped up to the plate -- or to the pitching rubber, to be more precise.

Nats almost (?) sweep the Mets

Energized by their success in San Francisco, the Nats flew across the continent to New York, where the Mets were ready to pounce. On Friday August 9, Stephen Strasburg took the mound and got through seven innings with a comfortable lead thanks to home runs by Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, and all seemed well. But then the Mets scored four runs in the top of the ninth, and Sean Doolittle not only blew the save opportunity but took the loss in the 7-6 debacle. frown That was a real punch in the gut, but the effect didn't last long. Indeed, Juan Soto hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning the next day. The Mets answered with two solo home runs in the 4th inning, however (one was by ex-Nat Wilson Ramos), and then Juan Soto homered again in the top of the eight to retake the lead. Victory seemed close at hand for the Nats, but then the Mets scored twice in the bottom of that inning and won the game, 4-3. On Sunday once again the resilient Nats bounced right back with a rally (3 runs) in the first inning, and one inning later the Mets duly answered with three runs of their own. The game remained tied until the seventh inning, when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a clutch two-out, two-run double. This time the Nats held on to the lead, and won the game, 7-4. They really should have won the first two games and swept the series, but I suppose they could have just as easily lost that third game as well.

Nationals sweep the Reds

The next day (August 12), Nationals returned home to D.C., where they faced the Cincinnati Reds. Home runs by Matt Adams and Trea Turner (who had 4 RBIs) put the Nats over the top in the 7-6 final score. On Tuesday, Joe Ross only gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings on the mound, while home runs by Juan Soto and Brian Dozier helped the Nats win, 3-1. Then on Wednesday the Nats began a historic offensive surge, scoring ten runs in the fifth inning, with home runs by Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, and Kurt Suzuki. Stephen Strasburg started that rally with a lead-off single, and earned his 15th win of the year. Just to be sure, the Nats added six more runs in the sixth inning, and held on to win, 17-7, thus sweeping the last-place Reds.

Nats almost sweep the Brewers

On Friday August 16th the Milwaukee Brewers came to town, and with Patrick Corbin making a solid, six-inning appearance, the two RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon were all the offense the Nats needed. Final score: 2-1. On Saturday night the Nats were within inches of winning their sixth straight game for the first time this year, when Sean Doolittle had a virtual repeat of the ninth-inning meltdown he had suffered eight days earlier in New York. Once again, he gave up four runs(Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas, and Ryan Braun all homered), but this time the Nats scored in the bottom of the ninth to send it into extra innings. Both teams scored once in the 13th inning, but the two-run shot by Marcus Thames in the 14th inning was too much for the Nationals. They scored one in the bottom of the inning, and had the tying run on third base when the game ended. Final score: 15-14. frown But once again, the Nats rebounded from adversity and erupted with eight (8) home runs on Sunday the 18th, tying a record for the Expos-Nationals franchise. Juan Soto and Brian Dozier homered twice. The Nats were ahead 13-0 after three innings, and ended up winning 16-8. smile (It's games like this one that have many people wondering about the baseballs being "juiced" this year...)

It was obvious that something was wrong with Sean Doolittle, and indeed he went on the Injured List after this series. Much as with Max Scherzer, fatigue from an excessive work load just started to grind him down late in the season.

Nats almost sweep the Pirates

After concluding the 5-1 home stand, the Nats headed northwest to Pittsburgh the very next day. Joe Ross was pitching but had to be replaced in the fourth inning, raising fears about the shaky bullpen. Well, this time they held up just fine, as the Nats belted four more home runs and shut out the Pirates, 13-0. It was their third double-digit score in a row, and added up to 62 runs total over the five preceding games. Would they keep up the momentum the next day? Of course not! Stephen Strasburg exited after seven fine shutout innings, and then the promising-but-inconsistent Wander Suero took the mound. Immediately, things fell apart as he gave up three hits and a walk without even getting one out. Daniel Hudson finished the eighth inning, and the Nats lost, 4-1. On Wednesday the Nats bounced back thanks to some fine pitching by Patrick Corbin (0 runs allowed over 8 innings), and some timely slugging; final score: 11-1. Thursday August 22 marked the much-anticipated return of Max Scherzer from the Injured List after nearly a month, but he showed that he is still not 100% better. He was taken out after just four innings, so he didn't get credit for the 7-1 Nats' win.

Nationals sweep the Cubs

The next day (Friday the 23rd), the Nats flew farther west to Chicago, where they had to play the Cubs in a day game on very little rest. (They checked into their motel at 1:00 AM!) Yet somehow they managed the wherewithal to compete, and in the top of the first inning, Adam Eaton hit a solo homer off the Cubs' pitcher Jon Lester. The Nats kept nibbling away, and Lester had to be replaced in the fifth inning, after which the home team was behind 7-0. In his best outing of the year, Nats starter Anibal Sanchez had a one-hit shutout going into the ninth inning, but he finally ran out of gas and was replaced. Final score: Nats 9, Cubs 3.

On Saturday afternoon, the Nats again scored a run in the first inning, and likewise kept building their lead as the game progressed. Joe Ross struggled to contain the Cubs, but only gave up two runs during his 4 1/3 innings on the mound. The bullpen did its job during the second half of the game, preventing any more Cubs from scoring. Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes each batted in two runs for the Nats, who won that game, 7-2.

In the final game on Sunday, Stephen Strasburg struck out ten batters over six innings, and was in line for the win, BUT... This time the bullpen blowup blame fell upon the shoulders of Fernando Rodney, who gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Kyle Schwarber in the eighth inning. That blew the save and (it appeared) the Nats' chances of sweeping the Cubs, but the relentless visiting team put together a rally in the top of the eleventh inning, and scored the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded wild pitch. An RBI single by Anthony Rendon padded the cushion, and the Nationals did indeed hold on to win the game, 7-5, thereby sweeping the Cubs, who thereby fell into second place behind the Cardinals in the NL Central Division.

Nats and Orioles split two

The Nationals had Monday off, giving them time to relax and revel in their successful (6-1) road trip. That gave them a big advantage in going against their rather luckless regional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles, but somehow they muffed a big chance. In the first inning, Patrick Corbin gave up two hits and two runs, plus hitting a batter, and that accounted for all of the scoring in the entire game. Somehow the Nats only managed to get four hits in the entire game, so they lost, 2-0. On Wednesday Max Scherzer was pitching, and once again he was taken out before he could qualify for the win by pitching five innings. Manager Dave Martinez is being rightly hyper-cautious with the team's superstar pitcher. Fortunately, the offense woke up, led by Kurt Suzuki, who homered and got four RBIs total. Asdrubal Cabrera and Brian Dozier got three hits each, and the bullpen did OK, as the Nats won, 8-4. Thus, the Nats and Orioles split the two-game series.

Nats beat Marlins twice

After another day of rest (on Thursday), the Nats welcomed the Miami Marlins to Our Nation's Capital, hoping for a chance to gain ground in the NL East Division race. Continued hot hitting by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto kept the Nationals ahead for virtually the entire game until the ninth inning, when it almost turned in to another bullpen disaster. Daniel Hudson gave up an infield single to Harold Ramirez and then a go-ahead home run by Starlin Castro. In an instant, the Nats' one-run lead (5-4) turned into a one-run deficit (6-5), and a dispiriting loss loomed large. But those Nats just refused to quit, and Howie Kendrick led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single, followed by a Trea Turner walk. After an out and a passed ball, the Nats had runners on second and third with Anthony Rendon up to the plate. In his usual focused but nonchalant way, Rendon poked a single into left field, easily scoring Kendrick and just barely scoring the speedy Turner. A walk-off celebration ensued, as the nervous fans in Nationals Park went wild.

Tonight's game went much more smoothly, as the Nats once again took an early 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back homers by the "dynamic duo," Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. By amazing coincidence, it was both players' 30th home run! Juan Soto became the seventh player in major league history to hit at least 30 home runs in a season before age 21, and the first since Mike Trout did it in 2012. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg pitched his best game of the year, striking out 14 batters over eight innings, while only allowing two hits. Rendon later hit a second home run, as the Nats won it, 7-0. Believe it or not, Rendon now has the highest batting average in the major leagues (.335), is tied with three other players for the most RBIs (109), and is closing what had been a big gap separating him from the top home run hitters; Mike Trout has 43 and Rendon has 31, ranked 22nd in the majors. So even though a Triple Crown is not very likely, Anthony ought to be given due consideration as a candidate for National League Most Valuable Player.

Since May 23, when they hit "rock bottom," the Nationals have won 57 games while only losing 27; that's a 67.9 percent win-loss record, the highest in the majors. The Atlanta Braves have remained just as hot, however, so the Nats are still 5 1/2 games in back of the NL East Division leaders. The difference from one month ago is that the Philadelphia Phillies have dropped back several games, and are now on the fringes of playoff contention. The Nats have a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL wild card race, and unless the Braves cool off in September, the Nats are most likely to face either the Chicago Cubs or the St. Louis Cardinals in the one-game NL wild card contest.

NOTE: I have updated the Washington Nationals page with win-loss and attendance data for August, as well as entries about memorable games, ninth-inning comebacks and/or blown leads, etc. Note that in the table showing the Nationals' postseason appearances (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017), I have added new columns to accommodate a possible wild card berth this year...

Wrigley Field (L.A.)

Wrigley Field (LA) tweak

In part to commemorate the Nats' first sweep of the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field since their inaugural year (2005, July 1-3), I have revised the diagrams of the other Wrigley Field -- the one that used to be in Los Angeles! Most of the changes are fairly minor, but the positions of the support beams and entry portals have changed significantly. For that reason, when you click on that diagram, it shows you the previous upper-deck version of the diagram (without the roof), rather than the standard version. I have also taken greater care in rendering the hypothetical expanded version of L.A.'s Wrigley Field, and have added a second, less-ambitious expansion based on a scenario in which the Dodgers would have played there for four years while Dodger Stadium was being built, and the expansion Angels team would play there for several additional years, rather than sharing Dodger Stadium. In that case, Angel Stadium would not have been built until the 1970s. Finally, there is a "site today" diagram.

Charlie Manuel is back

Bryce Harper finally broke out of his long slump two weeks ago, hitting a walk-off grand slam that made him a hero in his new home city. What brought about that sudden change in fortune? I'm guessing it was the arrival in Philadelphia earlier that day of former manager Charlie Manuel, who just became the Phillies' new batting coach. Coincidentally, I was in Charlie Manuel's home town of Buena Vista, Virginia earlier this month, and noticed this sign on the west side of town:

Buena Vista Charlie Manuel sign

Sign honoring hometown hero Charlie Manuel, in Buena Vista, Virginia; August 10, 2019.

And speaking of Bryce Harper, he recently took a few days off for paternity leave. Congratulations on becoming a father, Bryce!

Postseason scores, 2019

Major League Baseball championship series, 2019
World Champions: TBA
Wild Card Games / Divisional series
Oct. 1 - 10
League Championship series
Oct. 11 - 20
World Series
Oct. 22 - 30
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NL-C: St. Louis Cardinals (.562) 7 0 1 5 13    
NL-E: Atlanta Braves (.599) 6 3 3 4 1    
    Washington Nationals 2 3  
    St. Louis Cardinals 0 1  
NL-wc: Milwaukee Brewers (.549) 3  
NL-wc: Washington Nationals (.574) 4   0 4 4 6 7
NL-W: Los Angeles Dodgers (.654) 6 2 10 1 3    
AL-C: Minnesota Twins (.623) 4 2 1 X X    
AL-E: New York Yankees (.636) 10 8 5 X X    
    New York Yankees 7 2  
    Houston Astros 0 3  
AL-wc: ^ Oakland Athletics (.599) 1  
AL-wc: ^ Tampa Bay Rays (.593) 5   2 1 10 4 1   Extra-inning game: X
AL-W: Houston Astros (.660) 6 3 3 1 6   Win by visiting team: X

See explanatory notes at bottom.
^ : In the AL wild card game, the visiting Tampa Bay Rays won, so its row position was switched with that of the home team Oakland A's to properly align in the subsequent divisional series.

Explanatory notes

(Regular season winning percentages in parentheses.) Boldfaced scores indicate the winning team. Underlined scores denote extra-inning games. Olive-shaded score boxes denote games won by the VISITING team. Higher-seeded teams (those with the initial home field advantage) are shown on the BOTTOM side in each matchup. However, beginning with 2012, each league has TWO wild card teams, competing in a one-game "play-in," and whichever of those two teams that wins in each league is displayed below (after the outcome is known), so as to properly align with the subsequent divisional series scores. Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2016, the league that won the All Star Game got the initial home field advantage in the World Series; prior to 2003, initial home field advantage in the World Series alternated from year to year. Except for 2002 (the infamous tie), the American League won the All Star Game every year between 1997 and 2009. Beginning in 2017, home field advantage in the World Series goes to the team with the higher regular season winning percentage.

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Baseball books:

See Sources for a brief description of the above books. Also see more specialized books on the Ebbets Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium pages.

Coming Attractions

General diagrams
to be updated:

General diagrams
yet to be created:

City map/diagrams
yet to be created:
"Site today" diagrams
yet to be created:

(Includes major revisions, minor revisions, pages with additional diagrams, and future stadiums that are under construction. This is only a rough guide; the sequence is subject to change.)

Stadium construction

Soon after the 2017 opening of the new home of the Atlanta Braves (SunTrust Park), construction began on the future home of the Texas Rangers, a very brief lapse. The last significant lapse occurred from March 2012 (when Marlins Park was completed), September 2014 (when construction on SunTrust Park began). Before that, there was at least one major league baseball stadium under construction continually from September 1986 until March 2012. Both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays hope to get public funding for a new stadium, but near-term prospects are bleak.

NEW! Stadium construction page, with a chronology of the past 30 years.

Research department: