June 19, 2018
After their big surge in the month of May (19 wins and 7 losses), it seemed that the Nationals had gotten over their injury problems and difficulties in adjusting to a new manager. But the brutal four-game series in Atlanta from May 31 to June 3, in which the Nats almost got swept by the Braves, was a portent of bad things to come.
Leading the way, in a sense, is Bryce Harper, whose batting average has fallen to an awful .213 -- probably disqualifying him from becoming a starting player in the 2018 All Star Game. (Since the game will be played at Bryce's home field, Nationals Park, it is universally assumed that he will compete in the Home Run Derby.) That is entirely because of the 19 home runs he has hit, leading the National League. This month, however, he has only hit one homer, which is another sign of the deep slump he is in. He may be getting anxious about contract negotiations, and he will probably end up getting far less than the $400 for seven years that some people were suggesting six months ago. Anyway, he'll probably snap out of it before long.
One piece of good news is that Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, and Daniel Murphy have all returned to active duty after spending weeks on the disabled list. Murphy had not played since last year, and Eaton only played a few games at the beginning of the season. All three men have already made solid contributions in the batter's box, but Murphy's knee is still rather delicate, which affects his fielding and baserunning. Ryan Zimmerman may return by the end of this month, but Matt Wieters will take at least several more weeks to heal. In addition, Steven Strasburg strained an oblique muscle on June 8, and his return is not yet certain. Just yesterday we got the news that Matt Adams broke his little finger while trying to bunt, and that will put him out of action for quite a while. He has been the most valuable reserve player for the Nationals this year, filling in for Ryan Zimmerman at first base and for Adam Eaton in left field.
After the trip to Atlanta, the Nats returned home to D.C., shook off those losses and beat the Tampa Bay Rays on both June 5 and 6. In the latter game, they had their first double-digit score in over two weeks, winning 11-2 thanks mainly to hits by Anthony Rendon and Michael A. Taylor. That put them in a tie with Atlanta for first place, which they maintained for the next three days but then started backsliding. The Giants beat them 9-5 on June 8, when Steven Strasburg was injured (see above) and had to come out after two innings, and the bullpen just couldn't rise to the occasion. The next day Gio Gonzalez likewise only lasted three and a third innings, but somehow the Nats managed to win, 7-5. (That day was Bryce Harper's only home run this month.) In the Sunday finale of that series, Max Scherzer was on the mound, which generally is a virtual guarantee of a win, but not that day. He pitched fine, giving up just two runs over seven innings, but the Nats only got three hits and lost, 2-0.
Two days later (June 12), the Nats arrived in the Bronx for a showdown with the Yankees. If the Nats were playing better this year, it might have been considered a World Series preview. Tanner Roark pitched well, giving up three runs over six innings, but the Nats' bats were silent again, and they lost, 3-0. It was the first consecutive shutout losses for the Nationals since April 26-27, 2016. (That was at the hand of the Phillies.) The next day the Nats were behind in the late innings, and things looked bleak, but their rookie phenomenon Juan Soto saved the day by hitting his second home run of the day, and the Nats won, 5-4.
That paved the way for what should have been smooth sailing in a series against the Blue Jays in Toronto. But Gio Gonzalez gave up a three-run homer (and the lead) on June 15, and the Nats lost, 6-5. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, and just like his previous outing, the Nats only managed three hits, and he lost his second game in a row; final score 2-0. Then on Sunday, Tanner Roark had a mediocre outing, lasting only four innings, and the Nats lost, 8-6. Getting swept by a third-place team is not what the Nationals expected!
Yesterday (Monday), the Yankees came to D.C. to finish the game that had started on May 15 but which was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning due to rain, with the score tied, 3-3. Once again that rookie Juan Soto saved the day with a two-run homer, and the Nats held on to win, 5-3. Since the game is officially counted as having taken place on May 15, it created a strange situation in which Soto homered before his major league debut! Then the two teams played the game that had originally been scheduled for May 16, and this time the Yankees won, 4-2. With so many of their starting pitchers ailing, the Nats relied upon Erick Fedde to do the job, and he did OK but not quite well enough. Likewise, tonight the Nats had minor league call-up Jefry Rodriguez pitch, and he struggled to hold the last-place Baltimore Orioles to five runs over five innings. The Nats were behind 5-1 when he left, but the potentially embarrassing defeat was averted when the Nats scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and four more in the seventh inning. Tonight's hero was Trea Turner, who went four for four, including a home run. He and Michael A. Taylor have been hitting better lately, but Trea in particular has been making some bad base-running mistakes.
Since the Philadelphia Phillies lost tonight, the Nats reclaimed sole possession of second place in the NL East. The three and a half game margin between them and the first-place Braves is not too big to overcome, with over half the season left to play, but it is a worrisome sign that the Nats are going to have to fight like the dickens to get the division title that they were all expecting to win.
In the last two years, the Nats started off hot, with a winning percentage over .700 for at least part of April or May. This year, obviously, has been quite different, as the Nats were below .500 for most of April, and then climbing toward the .600 mark by the final week of May. Now they have slipped back below .550 again, with a 7-9 record thus far this month. The comparison with their win-loss record for the same time last year is not encouaging. (This chart is on the Washington Nationals page.) Dare I ask: Were the 2017 Nats as good as it gets?
Congratulations to the Washington Capitals for winning their first-ever Stanley Cup hockey championship! It was one week ago that they brought home the huge silver cup to the streets of D.C. in a tumultuous parade. They beat the (Las) Vegas Golden Knights after losing Game 1 on the road and then winning the next four games in order: Game 2 in (Las) Vegas, Games 3 and 4 in D.C., and Game 5 in (Las) Vegas again. (Why does the team omit "Las" from "Las Vegas"? Will the soon-to-relocate NFL Raiders do likewise?) Alex Ovechkin and other members of the Capitals brought the Stanley Cup to Nationals Park for the June 9 game against the Giants, perhaps providing the decisive psychological edge in that 7-5 victory.
And so, I have created a new page (Other sports use) that lets you compare how various baseball stadiums were reconfigured for soccer (12), hockey (9), basketball (6), and even tennis (Jarry Park only). One thing that distignuishes such stadiums from those also used for football is that the other sports were only played on a few special occasions, or for just a few years. The big exception is RFK Stadium, where soccer was played for 21 years (1997-2017). But that was because the NFL Redskins had already moved out, and the MLB Nationals only played at RFK for three years (2005-2007) while Nationals Park was being planned or under construction.
In the process of creating that new page, I [realized that I] had failed to mention that Citi Field hosted this year's NHL Winter Classic, so I made a hockey version diagram for that stadium. I also made a hockey version diagram for Tropicana Field after realizing that hockey rinks are about twice as long as basketball courts, so the temporary seats would have to be set up much differently for the two sports..
And in the world of basketball, meanwhile, congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, who swept the Cleveland Cavaliers to take their third NBA championship title in the last four years. Would this be a good time to remind everyone how absurd it is to be playing "winter" sports during a summer month? Both the NHL and NBA ought to wrap up their championship series by the end of April, period!