September 24, 2018
It was in both cases a forgone conclusion, but the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox both clinched their respective division titles over the weekend, enjoying large leads over the second place teams with one week of play left to go. The Red Sox have become a virtual dynasty over the past 15 years, winning three World Series and five divisional titles (including the three most recent), whereas the Braves have only won a single divisional title (2013) since 2005, the final year of their prolonged "dynasty." It occurs to me that a Braves vs. Red Sox World Series matchup would be interesting from a historical standpoint, since both franchises originated in Boston. Whereas the Red Sox have had the same home stadium for over a century (106 years), the Braves have moved into new stadiums five (5) times since Fenway Park was built: in 1915, 1953, 1966, 1997, and 2016!
But the Washington Nationals were eliminated from the divisional race on Friday night, and from the astronomically-improbable wild card race the next night. That somber milestone was a long time coming. It so happens that I was there on Friday night as the Nationals played the Mets for the second game of a four-game series, the one and only Nationals game I saw in person this year. Even though the end result was rather disappointing, there were a few exciting moments. It was the first time I had seen the Nats' red-hot Rookie of the Year contender, Juan Soto, and the first time I had seen their closing pitcher, "Doctor" Sean Doolittle. (Since the Nationals were behind in the ninth inning, however, he did not pitch.)
One of the most exciting moments came two hours before the game, when I went to the "Top of the Yard" bar situated on the roof of the Hampton Inn, across the street to the northeast from the Nationals Park parking garage. The skies were overcast, detracting from the visibility, but I was still happy to get a "birds-eye" look. As you can see in this photo, the perch is at least 10-20 feet higher than the roof of Nationals Park, so you can see the Potomac River, National Airport, and even the city of Alexandria, Virginia.
In that Friday game, my old friend Dave Givens and I were fortunate, in an ironic sense, to see the leading candidate for the 2018 National League Cy Young Award, Jacob deGrom. Over and over, he kept shutting down potential Nats rallies, and went seven innings while only giving up one earned run. Joe Ross was pitching for the Nationals, in his second start after returning from surgery more than a year ago. The game didn't start well, as Amed Rosario swung at the very first pitch and hit a double. He soon scored and the Mets came close to adding on more runs. The Nats evened the score in the bottom of the second inning on a walk, a hard-hit single to right field by Juan Soto, and then a sac fly to deep center field hit by Ryan Zimmerman. (From where I was sitting under the scoreboard in right center field, I couldn't see where the ball came down.) But in the third inning it all went bad for Ross, who gave up three doubles (including a second one to the Mets' catcher Devon Mescoraco), and the Mets scored three runs. Todd Frazier was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, on a great throw by left fielder Juan Soto. Not much happened for the next five innings, just a lot of groundouts and a few strikeouts. In the bottom of the fifth, Spencer Kieboom singled and I was shocked when manager Dave Martinez let Joe Ross bat rather than put in a pinch hitter. Ross was called out on strikes. The Nats staged s small rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Trea Turner hit a leadoff double and then scored on a single by Anthony Rendon. But then Juan Soto struck out and Ryan Zimmerman flew out to the right field corner, and the Mets held on to win, 4-2.
I took a lot of photos of players, some of which will be posted soon; I'll post some new stadium photos on the Nationals Park page soon.
On Saturday afternoon, Austin Voth was called to start in place of Tanner Roark, who is on paternity leave. Voth had one previous major league start, on July 14 (also against the Mets), and he gave up seven runs without even finishing the fifth inning. Prospects did not bode well for the Nats, but somehow they sprang into action. As if by miracle, Voth went five full innings only giving up a single hit, and that one didn't even reach the outfield grass! More amazingly, the four Nats relievers didn't allow any hits! Trea Turner hit a two-run homer in the third inning, and after a long count in the sixth inning, Matt Wieters hit a three-run homer to make it a 5-0 game. Bryce Harper later batted in his 98th run on a double, and the Nats won, 6-0.
On Sunday it rained or drizzled the whole game, and the quality of play matched the bleak weather. The Nats took a 3-1 lead in the third inning, after a home run by Victor Robles (the second of his career), an RBI double by Bryce Harper, and a bases-loaded walk by Spencer Kieboom. But starting pitcher Eric Fedde had no better luck than in his previous outing, and was replaced in the fourth inning after loading the bases. Wander Suero gave up a triple hit by Michael Conforto, and the Mets were on top, 5-3. Suero gave up two more runs in the fifth inning, and once again I was surprised that Dave Martinez didn't take him out sooner. In the eighth inning, Victor Robles hit a two-run triple and then scored after Trea Turner hit a double. With nobody out, the Nats were in excellent position to tie the game or retake the lead, but it didn't happen. Final score: Mets 8, Nats 6.
And thus the Nationals finished the season series versus the Mets with an 8-11 record, which is not very impressive. The Nats were 9-11 versus the Braves this year, and 11-8 with the Phillies. Tonight they began their final home series of the year by defeating the Miami Marlins, with whom they now have a 11-6 record this year. (I'll discuss that game later on, but for now suffice it to say that for the first time since June 20, the Nationals have surged into second place! Whoopee.) On Thursday they travel west for the final three games of the year in Denver (against a highly motivated Rockies team, scrambling for a postseason berth), and that's it.
* Evidently I failed to call attention to the fact that the Cleveland Indians clinched the AL Central Division title over a week ago. After beating the Boston Red Sox in extra innings last night (averting being swept at home), they now have a 15 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins.
No doubt, Washington Nationals fans have been spoiled by the success of the past several years, coming to expect division titles almost as an entitlement. In 2013, the Nats were eliminated on September 24, with four games left to play in the season, and in 2015, they were eliminated on September 26, with eight games left to play in the season. (Coincidentally, I had seen games in Nationals Park three days before and one day before those respective elimination dates.) Anyway, this got me to do a year-by-year compilation of the late-season performances of the Nationals, including their good years and their bad years. I'll post that table in the next few days...
Several miles to the east on Sunday, the the Washington Redskins hosted the Green Bay Packers in what seemed like a mismatch. I overheard somebody at the Nats game on Friday night say the Redskins would win because they always do the opposite of what you expect -- and he was right! They beat the Packers easily, 31-17.
That game came on the heels of a flat performance by the Redskins in their home opener against the Colts at FedEx Field one week before, and two weeks after a surprisingly lopsided season-opening win in Phoenix against the Cardinals. Perhaps it was fitting that in their home opener they drew only 57,013 fans -- the smallest crowd since their stadium opened (as "Jack Kent Cooke Stadium") in 1997. The rains associated with Hurricane Florence probably depressed numbers by a few thousand. But even yesterday's game, attendance was only 59,837 -- far below the stadium's capacity.
But that raises the mysterious question of how many seats are there in FedEx Field??? I guarantee, you won't get accurate numbers by checking Wikipedia (which says 82,000) or the Redskins' official releases. At least three times since 2011 they have either demolished large portions of the upper deck or have covered up empty seating sections with various signs and canvasses. With that in mind, I thought I should lay down estimates of the seating capacity numbers of FedEx Field. My previous blog posts about the capacity of FedEx Field include December 7, 2011, July 17, 2012, July 18, 2015, and September 10, 2017. After reviewing those blog posts, and the sources listed below, I believe there are about 75,000 seats at FedEx Field. The following table shows my estimates for each year in which major changes took place:
SOURCES: Washington Post April 2, 2012, June 1, 2015, and September 16, 2018. Note, however, that the most recent article is not consistent with the earlier ones.
For many months I have been searching for photos I knew I had taken of various stadiums in the 1990s and early 2000s, and recently I finally found where they had been stashed away: Eureka! Stay tuned for some nice views of Tiger Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Turner Field, and others...