July 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals bounce back vs. Indians

After another disaster of epic proportions starring Jonathan Papelbon on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals managed to beat the Cleveland Indians, splitting the two-game series. On Tuesday evening, the Nats scored twice in the first inning, but then the Indians came right back and tied it in the bottom of the inning. Gio Gonzalez had a shaky start, but settled down and went six and a third innings giving up just three runs (two earned), his second consecutive quality start. Anthony Rendon put the Nats ahead again with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Wilson Ramos had a solo homer in the sixth inning. Jonathan Papelbon took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, enjoying a 6-4 lead, and promptly gave up a walk and a double to put the Indians within one run. Then came a bunt toward first base, which Ryan Zimmerman grabbed and threw the ball well to the right of Daniel Murphy, who was covering first, and the tying run scored. That was hard to believe.; apparently, Zimmerman is still getting adjusted after coming off the DL. Then came an intentional walk and a freak badly-executed pop bunt that went over the head of Anthony Rendon, who was charging to get the expected ground ball bunt. Bases loaded, with nobody out! Dusty Baker decided Papelbon was done, and put in Oliver Perez, an impossible task. He did get one out, but then came the inevitable RBI single to win the game, 7-6. frown That broke the Indians' three-game losing streak.

So how would the Nats react to a second straight punch in the gut? Very well, actually. Rookie Trea Turner hit a double as leadoff batter in the first inning, but the next three batters failed to advance him any further. In the second inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Turner hit a single that got two runners across the plate. In the sixth inning, Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer to right field, Turner batted in another run with his second double of the evening. On the mound, Stephen Strasburg pitched seven complete innings without giving up a run, and only allowing three hits. He was his usual spectacular self, and got his 14th win of the year, bouncing back from a disappointing loss against the Dodgers the week before. With a four-run lead, Felipe Rivero took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and gave up a walk plus two singles, making it a 4-1 game. Dusty Baker yanked him, and put Blake Treinen in. The game quickly ended on a double play, and Nats fans drew a HUGE collective sigh of relief. Another blown lead would have crippled the team's morale as they head to San Francisco for a four-game series with the Giants.

Bullpen crisis again?

So, the Nationals have a major bullpen issue just as the season enters a critical phase -- eearily reminiscent of one year ago, when they acquired Papelbon. (In retrospect, a huge mistake.) The Nats lost the bidding war with the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, and apparently the Yankees are demanding multiple hot minor league prospects as the price for their other ace relief pitchers, Andrew Miller or Wade Davis. It's a tough predicament for G.M. Mike Rizzo to handle. Meanwhile, two of the Nats' former top relief pitchers aren't doing very well: Tyler Clippard signed as a free agent with Diamondbacks* this year, but his ERA is 4.30, with 2 wins and 3 losses. Drew Storen was just traded to the Mariners soon after being "designated for assignment" by the Blue Jays; see MLB.com. I wish him all the luck in the world; he really needs it.

* The Nats may face him when they play three games in Phoenix next week.

Leadoff batter: Turner!

But at least one major weak spot in the Nats roster seems to have been fixed. In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell wrote that the Nationals should reward Trea Turner for his stellar offensive performance by making him the regular leadoff hitter, in lieu of Ben Revere, who simply has not lived up to expectations. I heartily agree. Turner batted in three of the Nats' four runs yesterday, and his speed and defensive prowess make him a valuable addition to the lineup. Earlier today, the Nationals announced that Turner will be the leadoff batter in tonight's game against the Giants. (I hope I can stay awake!)

Trea Turner

Trea Turner, at shortstop, in his very first major league game last August.

Nationals Park gripe

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Joe Starkey, a Pittsburgh writer and radio host, complained about Nationals Park in very stark terms: "Who's the idiot who built that place?" For one thing, the parking garage in left field bugs him. I readily acknowledge that the home of the Pirates, PNC Park, is one of if not the finest of the "neoclassical" MLB ballparks, so perhaps his standards are unrealistically high. Or else he just likes to whine.

Progressive Field update

Progressive Field

Seeing those games in Cleveland on TV prompted me to make some long-overdue revisions to the Progressive Field (formerly known as Jacobs Field) diagrams, and there is a new variant that shows the major renovations that were done in 2015. As explained on that page, the upper portions of the upper deck in right field were covered with new "party decks," a thinly veiled downsizing so as to eliminate excess capacity and thus generate more ticket revenue. (Just like what was done at Coors Field.) In addition, the second deck in right field was reduced in size, the bullpens were relocated, new table-top seating and drink rail seating replaced traditional seats in several sections, and the pedestrian bridge over the plaza beyond center field was removed. I made a few minor corrections to the diagrams as well, and enhanced the bullpen detail, as usual. The profiles are the same as before.

Whenever a stadium undergoes major renovations such as this, I try to make an appropriate diagram revision within a few weeks of Opening Day. In this case, I'm over a year behind schedule... frown