September 3, 2012
The four-game series weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals was another big test for the Nationals, and they passed with flying colors. After the lopsided victories of Thursday and Friday, the Cardinals regrouped and put heavy pressure on the Nats, and came close to earning a series split. On Saturday (broadcast by FOX Sports), the Nats scored four runs in the first inning, apparently headed for another blowout. But their pitcher Jordan Zimmermann just fell apart for some reason (heat and humidity?), and gave up a total of eight runs before he was pulled in the fourth inning. It was his worst outing ever, but the Nats bounced back and retook the lead (9-8) with a three-run rally in the sixth inning. The Nats' bullpen let them down, however, as Sean Burnett gave up the tying run and Drew Storen gave up the go-ahead run in the ninth inning. None of the Nationals batters reached base in the last three innings. Final score: Cards 10, Nats 9.
Sunday's game was less fraught with perilous lead-changes, but was just as tense. Kurt Suzuki homered and later batted in another run for the Nats, while Stephen Strasburg struck out nine Cardinals batters over six innings. But Sean Burnett gave up a two-run homer, thus depriving Strasburg of what would have been his 16th win of the year. Fortunately, clutch RBIs by Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in the inning put the Nats back on top, with an insurance run that proved decisive when the Cardinals scored one run in the top of the ninth. Final score: Nats 4, Cards 3.
And so, the Nationals earned a 3-1 series win against a very capable opposing team; indeed, the Cardinals are the reigning world champions, Pujols or not. The run totals for the series? Nats scored 31, and the Cards just 14.
This afternoon, the visiting Chicago Cubs played a good, close game against the Nationals but came up just short. Ross Detwiler outdueled Jeff [Samardzija], backed up by Adam LaRoche, who homered in the second inning. Ryan Zimmerman doubled in the [eighth] inning, driving in Bryce Harper from first base, [a key insurance run]. The Nats' closing pitcher Tyler Clippard gave up a run in the ninth inning, but still managed to get his 30th save of the year. Final score: Nats 2, Cubs 1.
As a result, the Washington Nationals have won their 82nd game of the year, officially clinching their first winning season since relocating from Montreal in 2005. It's a nice landmark to recognize, but the team is obviously focused on much bigger and better things...
After Sunday's game, it was announced that Stephen Strasburg would only get two more starts this year, with the expected final game on September 12 in Citi Field. See MLB.com. I don't have strong opinions on this, but I'm aware that many people are either in strong agreement or disagreement with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo. I definitely don't want to risk Strasburg becoming one of those flash-in-the-pan pitching superstars like Fernando Valenzuela or Mark Prior. [Two or three great years, and then they're pretty much washed up.] In any case, I think it's clear the team has enough depth to do just fine without [Strasburg], and in fact, the Nats' former ace John Lannan has just been called back up to the majors, and will be filling Strasburg's spot in the rotation. Welcome back, John!
In Atlanta last night, the Phillies had a 7-1 lead over the Braves, but slowly frittered away their edge. With two outs and two men on base with a score of 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth, legendary slugger Chipper Jones stepped up to the plate. Before you knew it, he crushed a ball into the right field seats, turning a certain defeat into a most improbable 8-7 victory. And the crowd went wild! So the Braves kept pace with the Nationals last night, and also today, after they easily beat the Rockies, 6-1. The gap between first and second place in the NL East remains 6 1/2 games.
In New York, the Baltimore Orioles took two of three games from the Yankees over the weekend, and after the O's beat the Jays and the Rays beat the Yanks today, the Bronx Bombers' lead in the AL East has shrunk to only one game. Yikes.
In Detroit, Justin Verlander pitched a great game, leading the Tigers to a third consecutive win over the White Sox. That sweep put them tied with Chicago for the AL Central lead, but they fell a game behind today.
[And how 'about those amazing Oakland A's??? Prior to tonight's game, they had won nine in a row, closing to within three games of the AL Western Division-leading Texas Rangers. They got beat by the L.A. Angels, who are not out of the picture either.]
Speaking of pennant races, I have filled in the current division leaders and wild card teams in the Postseason scores, 2012 table that appears at the bottom of the Baseball archives page, and will appear at the bottom of the Baseball blog page at the end of this month -- or perhaps sooner. I will also be adding the Nationals' current magic number at the top of each baseball blog post this month.
In observance of this unusually lengthy (and dramatic!) 11-game home stand for the Nationals, I made several minor changes to the Nationals Park diagrams, mostly involving the position of the "Red Porch" and "Red Loft" areas beyond left-center field. Note the Letter "T" which denotes seating sections that feature tables for eating. I plan to do likewise for other stadiums with table-seats (or table-stools) in the future. I also reduced the slope (in the diagram profile) of the portion of the upper deck that wraps around the right field corner. After the game on August 18, I inspected the top row over there and determined that it is only about eight feet higher than the upper concourse in the main part of the grandstand. Also, I added the handicapped-accessible "balcony" that occupies the first three rows of seats in most of the right field upper deck.