August 2, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.]
After losing six consecutive games, their longest losing streak this year, the Washington Nationals managed to compose themselves and win the last two games in their weekend series with the New York Mets. On Saturday night Jayson Werth, who has been in a bad slump for most of the season, got things going in the first inning with a three-run homer that ended up being the only run-scoring play of the game. On Sunday, closing pitcher Drew Storen blew a save opportunity, giving up a home run that tied the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning. But in the bottom of the ninth, Rick Ankiel scored the winning run from third base on a high chopper hit by Ian Desmond. Thanks largely to Ankiel's alert base-running, Storen got the "win" that starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann really deserved.
As I noted on Facebook, "It's their first win in a one-run margin game since July 6, which was also the last day they won in two consecutive games. They ended a disappointing month on an upbeat note."
On Monday the Atlanta Braves arrived in town, in the midst of their best season in several years. The Nats couldn't hope for too much, but they got a very pleasant surprise. On Monday, Rick Ankiel hit two (solo) home runs (only his fourth and fifth of the year!), providing the margin of victory in a 5-3 final outcome. And today he hit a grand slam (the 22nd in team history!), along with homers by Ian Desmond and Michael Morse (#18), leading to a triumphant 9-3 thrashing of the Braves. All of the position players got at least one hit, and five of them got two hits. Even Jayson Werth! Of the four grand slams hit by Nationals players this year, this was the first one at home in D.C.
On Wednesday, the Nats will be going for their first series sweep since they beat the Mariners three straight in late June. The starting pitcher will be Chien Ming-wang, who was badly drubbed by the Mets last Friday in his first major league appearance since June 2009. He gave up four runs in the first inning, but settled down and pitched for three more innings before the bullpen took over. He had shoulder surgery last year, and it took many months of hard rehabilitation work before he was ready to take the mound again. He racked up some phenomenal numbers as a pitcher with the Yankees, and it would be great if he could repeat that performance in Washington.
After going 17-10 in June, their best month since 2005, the Nats won only 11 games and lost 15 in July. I suppose it could have been worse.
Given the team's worsening prospects of late,* it was expected that the Nationals would trade some of their better players before the July 31 deadline. Indeed, they did give up two excellent players, but no one truly essential at least. One of the best performing utility players, Jerry Hairston Jr., went to the Milwaukee Brewers, who are slowly building a lead in the National League Central Division. The Brew Crew also acquired Felipe Lopez, who played with the Nats a few years ago. Also, starting pitcher Jason Marquis is going to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jason had a lousy year in 2009 due to a bone chip in his elbow, but he has done very well this year, with a record of 8-5. The Nats have come to depend on reliable pitching this year, and Jason will definitely be missed. The Nationals front office was negotiating with Minnesota over a trade for their closer Drew Storen, but Mike Rizzo implied the Twins were not offering a good enough deal to the Nationals, so they declined. Whew!
Last week the Nats acquired outfielder Jonny Gomes in a trade the Cincinnati Reds. He was having a down year, and some scout evidently thought he had a lot of potential. In his first at-bat as a National, in the final game of the series against the Marlins, he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. Ouch.
As for other big trades in the majors, the Cubs traded their star slugger Derrek Lee to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and within a couple days he hit a home run against his former team. The Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros, who also traded Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves. The Nats were in the market for him as well, apparently. The Colorado Rockies traded pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, who are struggling to keep up with the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Finally, diminuitive shortstop Rafael Furcal was traded by the bottom-dwelling Dodgers to the St. Louis Cardinals. Another team that is performing below expectations this year, the New York Mets, traded slugger Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, who are hoping for another postseason run, or perhaps even another World Series title. The Mets also traded closing pitcher Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Boston Red Sox acquired a few players, but the Yankees were oddly quiet in trading activity this year.
For a complete rundown of all the trades, see MLB.com.
* We'll have to wait for any postseason action until October 2012, when future superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are on the team.
Finally, many thanks to Dr. Thomas Tomsick, author of Strike Three! My Years in the Pen, for renewing his sponsorship of the Cleveland (Municipal) Stadium page. I know these are hard times for most people, and there are many more worthy charities than this, but any amount donated to help support this Web site is most appreciated.