June 16, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Nationals struggle to climb out of NL East "cellar"
The Washington Nationals just emerged from two series against the respectively highest-ranked teams in the two leagues -- the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants, and in some respects they performed surprisingly well for a last-place team. But since it's been a while since my last baseball blog post, let's first do a quick rundown of the last month...
On Friday, May 7, the Nationals arrived in New York City to face the Yankees, and thanks to home runs by Josh Bell, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, and Juan Soto, they overcame the hosts, 11-4. It was tied 3-3 until they Nats scored six runs in the eighth inning. It was a great way to rebound after being swept at home by the Braves, but the momentum was ruined by a blown save in Saturday's game. Max Scherzer pitched 7 1/3 solid innings and exited the game with a 2-1 lead. But in the bottom of the ninth, Nats' closer Brad Hand walked the leadoff batter and gave up two singles, thus tying the game. In the tenth inning, the Nats went back ahead, 3-2, but then the Yankees scored twice to win it in walk-off fashion. Final score: 4-3. Why Davey Martinez kept Hand on the mound after having blown the save an inning before is a mystery to me. In the Sunday game, Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game 2-2, but Brad Hand gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Yankees emerged with a series win.
Next came a home series against the Phillies, who won on Tuesday May 11 by a score of 6-2. It was a close game (3-2) until relief pitcher Kyle Finnegan gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in the eighth inning. On Wednesday, Jon Lester was in line for the win after pitching six innings of one-run ball, but Brad Hand blew the save in the ninth inning and then gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth inning. He took the loss in a most unfortunate 5-2 defeat for the Nats. On Thursday the 13th both Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell hit two-run homers in the first inning, and the Nationals hung on to win it, 5-1. Patrick Corbin struck out nine batters over seven full innings on the mound, a big improvement for him.
Then the Nationals flew to Arizona to play the last-place Diamondbacks. The 17-2 victory on Friday May 14 marked their highest score of the season thus far. Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and Andrew Stevenson all homered, and Max Scherzer pitched five innings to get an easy win. But on Saturday Joe Ross had a tough time on the mound, giving up three runs in the first inning, and eight altogether over four innings. The Nats lost that one, 11-4. In Sunday's game, Erick Fedde had a much better outing, with seven innings of shutout pitching. Yadiel Hernandez homered, and Trea Turner went three for four at the plate in the 3-0 victory.
On Monday May 17th the Nationals began a four-game series at Wrigley Field, against the Cubs, who were in the midst of an upsurge after a slow start to the season. Former Cub Jon Lester took the loss for the Nats in the 7-3 game. On Tuesday Patrick Corbin started but got a no-decision after reliever gave up two runs in the sixth inning. The Cubs won that one too, 6-3. Wednesday's game went much better, as Max Scherzer got the win after pitching five innings in a 4-3 victory. Juan Soto's solo homer in the fifth inning proved to be the decisive score of the game. On Thursday the Nats took a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to homers by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, but Joe Ross gave up four runs (two unearned, thanks to errors by Starlin Castro) and was charged with the loss in the 5-2 final score.
The Nationals haven't had much to brag about so far this season, but the three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend was a small step in the right direction. The series opener on Friday was marked by the return of Stephen Strasburg after being on the Injured List for over a month. His last game was April 13, when he was pulled during the fifth inning in an ugly loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. His sore shoulder seems to be healed, as he went five and a third innings without giving up any runs in a 4-2 victory over the O's. Josh Bell got three hits that night, and Kyle Schwarber doubled twice; both those players have been showing signs of improvement after a disappointing first month with the Nationals. On Saturday night, Jon Lester had a rough first inning, as the Orioles scored four runs. But the Nats immediately came back and got three runs of their own. In the fourth inning, tied the game 6-6, and then Ryan Zimmerman came up to bat with two runners on base. Boom! He launched a home run that gave the Nats a 9-6 lead that they would not relinquish. Final score: Nats 12, Orioles 9. On Sunday, Patrick Corbin pitched just well enough, and a Kyle Schwarber home run boosted the home team in a 6-5 win that completed the sweep. Brad Hand gave up a home run in the top of the ninth, another nerve-wracking performance.
I checked my Washington Nationals annual pages and found that only twice in the 16 years that the Nationals and Orioles have played each other (2006-2020) have the Nationals come out ahead in their interleague series: 2007 (4-2) and 2018 (5-1). The Orioles have prevailed in eight of those years, and in five of those years they have split evenly. Including this year, the cumulative total in head-to-head matchups is 35 wins for the Nats and 45 wins for the Orioles.
On Tuesday May 25th, the Nationals welcomed the Cincinnati Reds to town, with a special pre-game ceremony honoring their former closing pitcher Sean Doolittle, who now pitches for the Reds. Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats and once again performed superbly, striking out nine and giving up just two runs (both homers) over seven innings. Unfortunately, his team mates failed to score any runs until the ninth inning, when Josh Bell hit a solo homer to cut the visiting team's lead in half. And that was it. Final score: Red 2, Nats 1. The Wednesday night game was halted in the middle of the fourth inning, and after a three-hour wait, they decided to suspend the game until Thursday afternoon. Very annoying for the fans!!! The Nats eventually won that one, 5-3. Because of the double-header, the originally-scheduled game was cut to seven innings, and the Nats lost it, 3-0.
After the Friday game was rained out, the Nats began a series against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers with another double-header on Saturday. Patrick Corbin gave up all four runs in the afternoon game, while all the Nats could manage was a solo homer by Kyle Schwarber. In the nightcap, Jon Lester pitched solidly for almost six innings, but the bullpen faltered and the Nats lost again, 6-2. On Sunday Max Scherzer took the mound and did his job, striking out ten batters while giving up just two runs over six innings. His team mates failed to score at all, however, and then 3-0 loss sealed a series sweep at the hands of the Brew Crew.
The Nats then flew to Atlanta to play the Braves, losing the series opener 5-3. Joe Ross took the loss once again. The next day (June 1st), however, the Nats ended their losing streak even though Stephen Strasburg had to exit the game in the second inning due to a tight shoulder or back muscle. He may be out for another few weeks, a big blow to the Nats' hopes of a mid-season rebound. But the bullpen rallied and kept the Braves under control while Ryan Zimmerman and Juan Soto led a big offensive campaign in the 11-6 win. The Nationals also won the next day, 5-3, thanks to solid pitching by Jon Lester and homers by Juan Soto and Yan Gomes. But in the series finale, the offense fell flat again, and the Nats lost, 5-1. Patrick Corbin took the loss.
The Nationals flew to Philadelphia on Friday, June 4th, and beat the Phillies 2-1 in a classic pitchers' duel in which Max Scherzer (nine strikeout) came out on top. The Nats lost on both Saturday (5-2 final score, loss charged to Joe Ross) and Sunday (12-6 final score, loss charged to Austin Voth).
After a much-needed day of rest (and airline travel), Nats arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first-place Tampa Bay Rays beat them in the first game, 3-1, but the Nationals bounced back in the second and final game of the series with a much-needed 9-7 extra-inning victory. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, and Juan Soto homered as well, but those heroic feats were almost squandered by the bullpen. The Nats scored twice in the tenth inning, after which Brad Hand blew the save (once again), and in the eleventh inning Starlin Castro doubled in the go-ahead run and later scored himself. Whew!
Back in Washington at long last, Thursday night's game against the Giants was rained out, so the four-game series began on Friday instead. Max Scherzer had to leave the game in the first inning, due to a pulled groin muscle. It was a bad omen, but nevertheless the bullpen pulled together in one of their best performances ever. Sadly, the Nats just couldn't get hits when they needed them, and they lost, 1-0. On Saturday afternoon, Kyle Schwarber homered in the first inning, while Erick Fedde had a great outing, striking out seven batters in five innings. Final score: Nats 2, Giants 0. On Saturday night, a newby by the name of Jefry Rodriguez took the mound for the Nats, and did just fine, pitching four scoreless innings. Neither team scored until the eighth inning, when the Giants got two runs and the Nats came back with one run. Final score: 2-1. On Sunday, Joe Ross finally delivered a top-notch performance, striking out nine batters over eight innings. It was an amazing turnaround compared to his earlier outings this year. Two more home runs by Kyle Schwarber were more than enough to seal the 5-0 victory, as the Nats earned a split with the top National League team. If things had gone just a little bit different, the Nats could have swept all four of those games!
On Monday, the Nats and Pirates were locked in a close game with the score at 2-2 until Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer to take the lead. Yes, he did it again!! Last night, Yan Gomes hit a grand slam in the first inning (the 67th in team history), giving the home team a 5-0 lead, and the Nationals went on to beat the Pirates 8-1. Patrick Corbin had another fine outing, after struggling earlier in the season, and came within two outs of pitching a complete game. The Nats will go for a series sweep later this afternoon, and I'll be there!
Pythagorean winning percentages
An article in the latest edition of the Society of American Baseball Research Journal compared the actual winning percentages to the Pythagorean-predicted winning percentages over the past century-plus. So, I set out to make those computations for the Washington Nationals, extracting the annual run totals for each year since 2005. (I have kept annual spreadsheets with the scores and home attendances for all Nats' games since the very beginning.)
NOTE: This table will be updated at the end of the 2021 season; the preliminary version displayed only included games through June 9, when the actual winning percentage was 43.1% and the Pythagorean-predicted winning percentage was 44.3%.
Two more no-hitters!
The pace at which no-hitters are occurring this year is rather stunning. On May 18, Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers no-hit the Mariners in Seattle, and the very next night, Corey Kluber of the New York Yankees no-hit the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Field. That makes six (6) no-hitters so far this year! None have been registered in June, as far as I know, but the rising trend of no-hitters has gotten widespread attention.
Baseball in Washington
I happened to be in Washington on June 6, when the Nationals were out of town, but I drove past venerable old RFK Stadium on the way downtown, and took a few photos in the mid-afternoon, including this one. Lighting conditions would be better in the morning. RFK Stadium is now essentially vacant, and may be demolished some time in the next year or two. With so many great baseball, football, and soccer games having been played there, it's sad to contemplate RFK Stadium's eventual demise.
RFK Stadium, U.S. Capitol, and Washington Monument, as seen from East Capitol Street on the east of the Anacostia River, June 6, 2021.
May 26, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in April: pretty good, but...
With more time on my hands than I usually have during the spring months, I had high hopes to see some of the less-common migrating warblers, but thus far the results have not been particularly noteworthy. On Easter Day (April 4) I saw my first N. Rough-winged Swallows and a Barn Swallow at pond in front of the Frontier Culture Museum, and later that day saw my first Savannah Sparrow on Bell's Lane. Except when calling attention to special events or noteworthy/unusual sightings, the captions to the following photo montages will suffice to describe the birding highlights of the month.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, E. Towhee, N. Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Montgomery Hall Park & Bell's Lane extended, April 8)
April 10: Cooper's Hawk in the back yard, followed by a visit (my first) to the Broadway water treatment plant to see a distant Eared Grebe (as well as Ruddy Ducks, etc.), and then the JMU Arboretum in Harrisonburg.
April 11: casual walk in Ridgeview Park, Waynesboro with Jacqueline; Palm Warbler (first of season / FOS) and Brown Creeper.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warblers (two), Blue-headed Vireo, Palm Warbler (two views of the same bird), and Brown Creeper. (Ridgeview Park, Waynesboro, April 11)
April 15: Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren. Highlights: FOS Chimney Swift, Osprey, and three Blue-winged Teals (2 M, 1 F).
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Amer. Goldfinch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, and (right center), Blue-winged Teal. (Bell's Lane, April 15)
April 18: At Braley Pond, a Bald Eagle flew right past me and landed in a nearby tree long enough for me to get a decent photo. I also had a nice closeup of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, E. Phoebe, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Braley Pond, April 18)
April 24: Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs Wetlands, with six members; the only trip I led that month. Almost immediately a Yellow-throated Vireo in the treetops made its presence known. Two White-breasted Nuthatches were occupied with a nest hole next to the parking area. Highlights along the boardwalk included an Orchard Oriole (FOS), a female Mallard with ten ducklings, and a Brown Thrasher. Along the upland trail, we saw Louisiana Waterthrushes (FOS), Ovenbirds (FOS), a Worm-eating Warbler (FOS), and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. We heard but did not see Pine Warblers, a Black-throated Green Warbler (FOS), and two Red-breasted Nuthatches. There were also Blue-headed Vireos at a few places, as well as an Eastern Towhee or two. Near the springs toward the end of our walk, most of us (but not me) saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The eBird checklist compiled by Dan Perkuchin included 41 species total at Augusta Springs. (We later learned that Vic Laubach had seen a Kentucky Warbler there earlier in the morning.) On the way back to Staunton, most of us drove to the Swoope area to check out the Bald Eagle nest along North Mountain Road. The mother, father, and two eaglets all seem to be doing just fine. As an added bonus, we spotted one or two Red-headed Woodpeckers in a nearby tree. Those and other birds in Swoope raised our species count to about 46 for the day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bald Eagle, E. Towhee, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. (Augusta Springs and Swoope, April 24)
April 26: return visit to Augusta Springs (with Ann Cline) with nicer weather, but pretty much the same birds. The Worm-eating Warbler below looks like it was hopping along the branch, but was probably about to take off.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Amer. Goldfinch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Brown Thrasher*, and Worm-eating Warbler. (Augusta Springs except *: back yard, April 26)
April 27: Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge Parkway, with my first Black-and-white and Cerulean Warblers of the year, as well as my first American Redstart.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Broad-winged Hawk, and (center) Cerulean Warbler. (Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge Parkway, April 27)
April 29: I organized an informal "expedition" to the "Warbler Road" area east of Buchanan, Virginia, with four other ABC members: Peter Van Acker, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and Linda Corwin. (It wasn't an official "field trip," since it would have been impractical to let any member come along on such a long trip.) We drove in two cars, and it was my first time birding in that renowned "hot spot." Highlights: Cape May Warbler (FOS), Indigo Bunting (FOS), and White-eyed Vireo (FOS) near the James River; Wild Turkey and Orchard Oriole near the village of Solitude; and Northern Parulas (incl. a female with nesting material), Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler along the roads (Rt. 59, 768, and 812) ascending the Blue Ridge.
Soon after reaching the Blue Ridge Parkway we took a lunch break, and then headed north, stopping at several overlooks along the way. After crossing the James River we stopped at the visitor center and then recrossed the river on the pedestrian bridge, and found several more species such as Blue Grosbeak (FOS), Common Yellowthroat (FOS), and Warbling Vireo (FOS). After that we paused briefly at a pond just north of the visitor center and saw some Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. The final stop was at Yankee Horse Ridge historical site, where a railroad used to pass, a few miles south of the road to Raphine. There we saw multiple American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warblers, and my first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cape May Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, and Orchard Oriole. ("Warbler Road" / Blue Ridge Parkway, April 29)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Blue Grosbeak, Wild Turkey, Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Amer. Redstart. ("Warbler Road" / BRP, April 29)
So, even though April ended with a fairly big "bang," bird-wise, overall it fell a bit short of what I had been anticipating. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
May 7, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Nats surge to first place, fall to last
In the evenly-matched National League East Division, only a small margin separates the best teams from the -- ahem -- others. The Washington Nationals swept the Miami Marlins at home last weekend, earning them a share of first place, and after the Mets lost on Monday (when the Nats were resting), they briefly held sole possession of first place. But then the Atlanta Braves came to town, beating the Nationals three times in a row. As a result, the Nats have fallen to fifth place, and the precious momentum they had built in recent weeks ground to a screeching halt.
In last Saturday's game, Patrick Corbin had his best outing of the year, giving up just two runs over seven innings. Yan Gomes homered, and Josh Bell finally broke out of his lengthy slump, batting in four runs. Final score: Nats 7, Marlines 2. On Sunday, Max Scherzer took the mound and soon laid to rest any fears that his previous outing (April 27 vs. the Blue Jays) might portend a trend. He pitched a full nine innings, with nine strikeouts, and did not allow a run until the final frame when Isan Diaz hit a leadoff homer. For the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman provided all of the offensive firepower, with a three-run homer in the third inning. Nats 3, Marlins 1. Sweep!
On Tuesday night, the Braves came to Washington, and the first five innings were a classic pitchers' duel between the Nats' Joe Ross and the Braves Huascar Ynoa. Ronald Acuñ hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, and Ross was relieved an inning later as the Braves got a rally going. But Tanner Rainey completely lost control, as the Braves' pitcher (Ynoa) hit a grand slam to take a 6-0 lead. The Nats scored once in the seventh inning, and that was it. On Wednesday, the Nats' young Erick Fedde gave up home runs in the third and fourth innings, and the Nats' attempts to catch up fell short, as the visitors won again, 5-3. In the Thursday afternoon series finale (broadcast by YouTube), Jon Lester had another decent outing (his second this year), but the Braves got clutch RBIs when they needed it, while the Nats let multiple run-scoring opportunities slip by. It didn't help when, with two outs and two runners on base, the umpire called Victor Robles out on a very low pitch to end the eighth inning. Manager Davey Martinez only objected briefly; he should have really let that umpire (Nick Mahrley) have it. Ryan Zimmerman led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive double to the left field corner, but he (or his pinch runner) never made it past third base as the next three batters were each out. Final score: Braves 3, Nationals 2. Sweep!
Two more no-hitters!!!
In Seattle on Wednesday, Baltimore Orioles' pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter to beat the Mariners 6-0, and it would have been a perfect game if a batter (Sam Haggerty) had not reached first base on a third strike wild pitch in the third inning. Means now has a 4-0 record, with an ERA of 1.37 -- fourth best in the majors!
And in Cleveland earlier this evening, Wade Miley went the full nine innings without allowing a hit as his team (the Cincinnati Reds) beat the Indians, 3-0. Miley is now 4-2 with a 2.00 ERA. It's a very odd trend that so many no-hitters are happening this year, even more than in recent years...
Superdome super-duper update
Prompted by having seen it with my own eyes two months ago, I made some major revisions to the (Mercedes Benz)* Superdome diagrams. While reading up on the history of the architectural marvel, I came across an important figure: the diameter of the dome is 680 feet. I realized that the existing diagram -- which I did in 2013 -- was too big (it indicated a dome diameter of 700 feet), so I set out to do some corrections. Along the way I realized that there were multiple seating configurations for football games in the pre-2011 era when the lower deck was movable. So, there is now a "standard" football diagram as well as a "modified" one, which seems to pertain to Super Bowls or perhaps other special games. There are now separate lower-deck diagrams for football and baseball, highlighting how the lower deck was shifted for the two sports, as well as an "opaque roof" diagram that shows the eight gates (A - H) and the adjacent streets. For a long time I was uncertain about the precise orientation of the football and baseball fields, but by using my Fodor's/USA Today Four Sport Stadium guide, some online sources, and my own photos, I was able to reach the proper deduction. Elementary!?
* The ten-year stadium naming rights contract with Mercedes Benz ends this year, and I am not aware if a renewal is expected. Given that Mercedes Benz has a stadium naming rights contract with another NFL team (the Atlanta Falcons), my guess is that they will let this one slide.
Stadiums in New Orleans
While not of great importance to baseball per se, my interest in the other stadiums was piqued by having visited New Orleans for the first time a few weeks ago. Almost all sports fans are familiar with the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl stadiums (as opposed to the events bearing those names), but I only had a vague idea about the traditional venue of the Sugar Bowl. Tulane Stadium, a massive oval with a small upper deck, hosted the Sugar Bowl from 1935 until 1974, after which the Superdome opened, and it also hosted the Super Bowl in 1970, 1972, and 1975. Tulane Stadium seated over 80,000 fans, which was far more than Tulane University's football team would ever need, so it was obviously expanded specifically for the Sugar Bowl. After the Superdome opened in 1976, it was abandoned and then demolished in 1980. Tulane's football team played in the Superdome from 1976 until Yulman Stadium was built (just north of where Tulane Stadium had previously been) in 1999.
What about baseball? Zephyr Field was built in the western suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, in 1997, and was home of the New Orleans Zephyrs until the team changed its name to the Baby Cakes in 2017. At the same time, the stadium was renamed "Shrine on Airline," its previous nickname. Unfortunately, New Orleans bore the brunt of the big contraction of minor league teams, and the franchise relocated to Wichita after 2019. As a result, that relatively new 10,000-seat stadium now is essentially abandoned.
Previously, New Orleans had a minor league team called the Pelicans from 1901-1959 (AA), and in 1977 (AAA). For whatever reason, baseball just never developed a strong presence in the Big Easy, which suggests that the whole idea of making the Superdome adaptable to baseball use was probably a Big Mistake.
Finally, the Tulane University baseball team has played at Turchin Stadium (subsequently appended with "Greer Field at"), just north of Yulman Stadium, since 1991.
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