September 11, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Insane rain delays help Nats win

As Hurricane Florence approaches, the ground along the eastern seaboard is already soaked from the on-and-off rainfall over the past week, and from the wet summer before that. The Nationals welcomed the Chicago to Our Nation's Capital last Thursday, for what was supposed to be a four-game series. The Cubs won 6-4 in ten innings, taking the lead on an RBI single by pinch hitter David Bote, the same guy who hit a walk-off grand slam against the Nats as a pinch hitter last month. That brought the Nats down to 69-72, three games below .500. On Friday the rains came, and for some reason they started the game in a drizzle in spite of a bleak forecast. The game was called after two innings, nullifying everything that had happened, and so they played a traditional (non-split) double-header on Saturday.

The afternoon game's start was delayed by over two hours due to rain, and Max Scherzer pitched a soggy complete game in the 10-3 victory, with two of those runs coming in the ninth inning. The Nats only had six hits, but took full advantage of the nine walks given up by the Cubs. In the nightcap, Nats' rookie starting pitcher Jefry Rodriguez was doing pretty well until the fifth inning, when virtual rookie catcher Victor Caratini hit a grand slam. It was yet another unexpected punch in the gut, but the Nats gradually came back thanks to a homer by Anthony Rendon, and a double and a triple by rookie Adrian Sanchez. Bryce Harper hit a clutch two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, which put the Nats on top, 6-5. But then came another rain delay in the eighth inning, and frankly I got tired of waiting and fell asleep around midnight. The next morning I woke up to learn that play resumed after an hour and a half, and that the Nats held on to win, 6-5. Whew! But seriously, why play baseball after 1:00 in the morning? Why not just suspend play until the next day??

Well, maybe that wouldn't have worked either. It rained all Sunday afternoon, and around 4:00 they finally announced that the game would be postponed until this Thursday, when the Cubs and the Nats both had off days. Unfortunately, that's about when the hurricane might start having effects on weather in the mid-Atlantic states, so who knows? It has all been very surreal.

The Nats were supposed to begin a three-game series in Philadelphia yesterday, but the infield at Citizens Bank Park was a huge mud pit because they didn't want to keep the tarp on the field for too long. Stupid! So instead, they played another traditional double-header today, in which rookie catcher Spencer Kieboom had his first career home run to give the Nats the lead in the fifth inning. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each had an RBI single, and the Nats vaunted closing pitcher Sean Doolittle (who was recently reactivated after nearly two months on the DL) struggled in the ninth inning but finished the game successfully. Nats 3, Phillies 1. In the nightcap, Juan Soto hit an RBI double in the first inning and his 17th home run of the year three innings later. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark did OK until the fifth inning, when he just seemed to fall apart. The Phillies got hit after hit off him, and all of a sudden they were ahead, 5-3. In the eighth inning, aging veteran Jose Bautista homered, his first HR since being acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Mets two weeks ago. (That was the first batter faced by rookie pitcher Kyle McGowin; in each of his two MLB outings he has given up a home run.) So, the Nats were behind 6-3 going into the ninth inning, and it didn't look too good. But the Phillies' relief pitcher Seranthony (!?) Dominguez gave up three walks and two hits, and the Nats had the game tied 6-6 with the bases loaded. Bryce Harper had a chance to give the Nats the lead, but he swung at a couple bad pitches to end the inning. In the top of the tenth inning, the amazing Juan Soto hit another home run (#18), getting his fourth RBI of the day, and aging veteran pitcher Greg Holland came in to save the game in the bottom of the inning. Nats 7, Phillies 6. Both of those were very satisfying wins, even though they don't mean much as far as the divisional race. The Nats can pull within a half game of the second-place Phillies in tomorrow's game. They've been stuck in third place since June 22.

Century race: Baltimore "beats" Boston

The big question in baseball last week was whether the Orioles or the Red Sox would reach the triple-digit level in the win-loss records this year, and thanks to a rare pair of losses by the team from Boston, that ironic "honor" went to Baltimore, which lost its 100th game of the year on Friday, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays, 14-2. After getting swept by the Rays in St. Petersburg over the weekend, the Orioles lost again tonight, this time to the Oakland A's. So with a record of 41-103 (.285), they need to win at least eight of their last 18 games to reach the .300 mark. The Red Sox won their 99th game of the year tonight (vs. only 46 losses, for a .683 percentage), welcoming the Blue Jays to Boston, and have clinched at least a wild card spot with 17 games left to play in the regular season. The Yankees (90-55, .621) are nine games back, and the Red Sox' magic number is likewise nine. Not much drama in the AL East.

How about those Athletics?

On the west coast, meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics (88-57, .607) have surged into contention for the postseason, coming to within three games of the world champion Houston Astros (91-54, .628). (It's worth noting that none of the the National League teams have win-loss records over .600; the Cubs come closest, with .583 at present.) The Athletics' offensive leader is Khris Davis, who has 41 homers and 109 RBIs but only has a .250 batting average. The A's rank third in the majors in home runs, with 199 total. (The Yankees lead in homers and the Dodgers are in second.) Otherwise, neither the batting statistics nor pitching statistics are especially noteworthy for the A's, so it must be an extraordinarily efficient use of their resources to win games by a close margin.