July 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]
In the three weeks since my last baseball blog post (June 10), the Washington Nationals have continued to recover from the dreadful first two months of the 2019 season. For all but a few days until the middle of June, they were stuck in fourth place, but they had already begun a long, arduous climb from the lower tier on May 24. In fact, they have the best win-loss record in the major leagues (26-10) since that date. The higher the temperature climbs, the hotter they are playing! There are still signs of persistent problems with the bullpen and hitting, but the worst seems to be behind them, and they now claim one of the two wild card spots. That was almost unthinkable one month ago.
In Chicago on June 10-11, the Nationals split two games with the host White Sox. Anibal Sanchez had another fine outing in the first game, while Trea Turner came a single short of hitting for the cycle as the Nats won easily, 12-1. But everything fell apart the next day as Patrick Corbin gave up seven runs in five-plus innings, including a grand slam in the first inning. White Sox 7, Nats 5.
On June 13, the Nationals returned to D.C. and began an 11-game home stand against the Arizona Diamondbacks on a sour note, losing 5-0. Erick Fedde took the loss, but the Nats only managed three hits, two of which were by Trea Turner. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, and put in yet another amazing performance, with ten strikeouts over seven innings. Nats 7, D-backs 3. On Saturday the 15th Stephen Strasburg was ineffective on the mound, giving up six runs in five innings even after Juan Soto and Matt Adams had homered in the first inning for the Nats. They lost that one, 10-3. But in the final game on Sunday, Anibal Sanchez rose to the occasion again, while the Nats' bats went wild. Matt Adams smacked two home runs, including a grand slam, for a total of 7 RBIs. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon also homered, and the Nats won easily, 15-5, thus splitting the four-game series.
Then the Philadelphia Phillies came to town, but so did bad weather: rain, rain, rain. Two games had to be postponed, one of them until September 24, and the other became part of a double-header on June 19. In the afternoon game, Patrick Corbin sailed through seven innings, while Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra homered in the eighth inning to put the icing on the cake. Nats 6, Phillies 2. In the night game, Max Scherzer pitched seven scoreless innings, while Brian Dozier and Victor Robles provided all the runs the Nats would need, as they won 2-0, thereby overtaking the Mets and claiming third place in the NL East! In the finale on Thursday, Erick Fedde was replaced as pitcher in the fourth inning, but the bullpen managed to hold together and the Nats won, 7-4. Suzuki, Rendon, and Robles all homered in that game, which brought the Nats' record up to 36-38.
The division-leading Atlanta Braves arrived in Our Nation's Capital for a pivotal showdown on Friday, June 21, and Stephen Strasburg held them to three runs over six innings. Yan Gomes, the nominal first-string catcher this year, hit a home run and the Nats held on to win, 4-3. Wander Suero even got the save! That gave the Nationals their first five-game winning streak of the season, and they rode that momentum into the Saturday game. Matt Adams homered again, and the Nats were ahead 8-4 after five innings. It was at that point that one of the most disheartening sequences of events of the entire year transpired. The struggling relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the top of the seventh inning, and once again was about as wild as you can imagine. He walked the first two batters, and for some reason, manager Dave Martinez decided to give him one more chance. Not a smart move at all! Rosenthal walked the bases loaded without getting an out, and was then replaced. Tanner Rainey walked in a run and then gave up a bases-clearing double hit by Freddie Freeman, and the game was tied. The Nats retook the lead (9-8) in the bottom of the inning, but then the Braves scored four more runs, all charged to former starting pitcher Joe Ross. The Braves scored once more in the ninth inning, for a total of nine (9) runs given up by the Nats' horrendous bullpen in the final three innings. Braves 13, Nats 9. In the rubber game on Sunday, Austin Voth put in an admirable performance as a spot starter for the Nats, giving up just two runs over seven innings. The game went into extra innings tied 2-2, but Tanner Rainey couldn't quite get the third out in the top of the tenth, when a two-run homer by Johan Camargo put the Braves back ahead. The Nats rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but could only manage one run, thereby losing the game, 4-3, and the series. It was the only series the Nationals have lost since May 23.
The very next day, the Nationals unconditionally released Trevor Rosenthal, in effect "eating" his salary of $7 million, pending other teams' reactions. A few days later the Detroit Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract, and he will pitch for their AAA farm club -- the Toledo Mud Hens! Maybe Rosenthal will somehow regain control of his pitching as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and resume his major league career, but for now it looks like an awful tragedy for the former St. Louis Cardinal star.
After a day of rest, the Nats flew south to Miami on June 25. Max Scherzer had another great outing against the Marlins, striking out ten batters over eight innings. What's more, he got two hits and scored two runs! Trea Turner homered, and the Nats won, 6-1. On Wednesday, Patrick Corbin gave up just one run over seven innings, but they bullpen gave up four more, and the Nats won, 7-5. On Thursday, Stephen Strasburg got the win even though he gave up four runs over seven innings. Four Nats home runs proved to be the deciding factor in the 8-5 victory by the visiting team. In none of those games did attendance at Marlins Park reach 8,000 fans, an absolutely dreadful testament to the woebegone state of that franchise and its feeble fan base. Something needs to change down there fast.
The Nationals then boarded a plane bound for Detroit, where the Tigers were waiting to pounce. Last Friday (June 28), Anibal Sanchez did it again on the mound, giving up one run over six innings, while Juan Soto homered and Howie Kendrick went two for four. Nats 3, Tigers 1. On Saturday Austin Voth couldn't make it through the fifth inning, but the Nats managed to stay ahead 5-3 until the seventh inning. That's when Tanner Rainey gave up three runs without getting an out, and after tacking on another run an inning later, the Tigers won, 7-5. In the rubber game on Sunday (June 30), former Tiger Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats, and of course he delivered another "gem." He struck out a season-high 14 batters over eight innings, and didn't allow a run to score until the seventh inning. A solo home run by Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning put the Nats back on top 2-1, and Sean Doolittle got the save.
After another day of rest back home in Washington, the Nationals welcomed the Miami Marlins to town for a rematch on the second of July. The first three Marlins batters all hit singles, scoring a run, but Patrick Corbin composed himself after that. After a couple innings the game was delayed for over an hour by rain, but Corbin return to continue pitching -- somewhat of a surprise in that situation. He pitched a full seven innings without allowing any more runs to score, but Wander Suero gave up a run in the top of the eighth, and it was tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and a 3-2 count, Trea Turner doubled into the right-center gap, and Yan Gomes reached home all the way from first base for the winning run. Turner had already hit two walk-off homers this year, and he's starting to fill the "Mr. Walkoff" role that Ryan Zimmerman has had ever since 2006.
Speaking of Zimmerman, he recently returned to the active roster after missing nearly two months with plantar fascitis. He is making solid contact and has had several hits, so hopefully he will return to his former status as star slugger as the season moves forward.
Last night (Wednesday) Stephen Strasburg matched the performance of Max Scherzer, getting 14 strikeouts over seven and a third innings. In fact, the fourth inning qualified as "immaculate," as Strasburg threw exactly nine pitches, all of them strikes, to get the three outs. That's a very rare feat. A two-run homer by Brian Dozier in the sixth inning was all the Nationals needed, but Matt Adams tacked on another run with a solo shot in the eighth. Sean Doolittle got the save, but it was rough going as he gave up three hits and one hit batter, but only one Marlin scored. He exulted in relief after striking out Yadiel Rivera to end the game: Nats 3, Marlins 1.
Today's game started early (11:00 AM) so as to make way for all the other 4th of July festivities later on in Washington. Anibal Sanchez pitched yet another fine game, giving up just two runs (one earned) over six innings. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon homered, and Gerardo Parra hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Nats a 5-2 lead. Nobody scored after that. Since Sean Doolittle was exhausted from the night before, the Nats' new relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (age 42) came in to do the job as closing pitcher. He did just fine, celebrating with his signature "arrow-toward-the-sky" gesture after getting the last out. It was indeed a happy July 4 in Washington, D.C.!
Speaking of which, the Nationals' cumulative record in 4th of July games is now 9-5. The Red Sox spoiled last year's 4th of July festivities in Washington, beating the Nats 3-0. (Starting pitcher Erick Fedde only lasted one inning!) In 2017, the Nats beat the Mets 11-4, thanks in large part to ex-Met Daniel Murphy. In 2016, I presented a table summarizing all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005.
Since the Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies this evening, the Nationals have now pulled a half game ahead of the Phillies in the National League East Division race, but they remain six games behind the Braves. The rest of the season is going to be very interesting, in the NL East as well as the NL Central, where all five teams are potential contenders.
I recently updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of the year, including head-to-head matchups and various records of note. At the end of June (two days after the exact midpoint in terms of number of games), the Nats' record was 42-41, and now it's up to 45-41 (0.523). It's certainly below pre-season expectations, but they are headed in the right direction, unlike this time last year.
A sudden tragedy struck the Los Angeles Angels on Monday afternoon when their starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in a hotel room in Southlake, Texas. No foul play is suspected. The game scheduled for that evening was postponed to allow his team mates time to cope with their grief. See MLB.com. It happens that Nationals' pitcher Patrick Corbin was a good friend of Skaggs, as they were both drafted by the Angels in 2009 and came up together from the minors. Corbin was emotionally distraught when he pitched on Tuesday night.
The much-heralded first-ever Major League Baseball game played in England turned out to be something of a joke. Both teams scored six runs in the first inning, and both teams scored six runs in later innings as well. The Yankees ended up beating the Red Sox by the absurd score of 17-13: thirty runs total??!! Well, that's not cricket! For all the details, see MLB.com. Attendance was 59,659, with a capacity of 66,000 seats. The Yankees also won the next day, 12-8, thanks to a nine-run seventh inning; very strange. The way London Stadium was reconfigured for baseball took me by surprise, as I had assumed that the diamond would be laid out with center field being oriented along the the long axis of the oval. That would follow the logic of Memorial Stadium (Baltimore) and Cleveland Stadium. But instead, for some inscrutable reason, they put the diamond such that center field was only 385 from home plate, with the foul poles being 330 feet away. Even with large seating sections being moved in to fill the void on the right and left sides of the field, there was still a huge amount of foul territory. Several folks have asked me about doing a London Stadium diagram, and indeed that is on my "Coming Attractions" to-do list. Stay tuned!
As a way to provide a clearer idea of where various stadiums are (or were) located, I have recently been adding some new thumbnail map/diagrams, including Chicago (see below), Cleveland, Kansas City, as well as Milwaukee. I also greatly enhanced ones I had previously done for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc. back in January. I even added the locations of certain turn-of-the-20th-Century stadiums such as West Side Grounds, where the Cubs resided before Wrigley Field. Finally, I decided that I needed to rename what had been called the "Stadium proximity" page. It is now called "Stadium locations," since it encompasses not just stadiums that happened to be situated next to their predecessors, but all MLB stadiums. For the time being, however, there are no thumbnail map/diagrams for some cities. I have finished with cities in the central portion of the country, and have done a few eastern cities but so far only Seattle in the west.
NOTE: One detail shown on the Arlington map/diagram is that the future home of the Texas Rangers will be called "Globe Life Field," rather than "Globe Life Park" (the same name as their current stadium) as I had thought. I have been doing very preliminary work on a diagram for it based on photos at MLB.com, as well as the aerial photo taken by Clifford "Bucky" Nance. (See March 20, 2019.)
I need to get caught up commenting on the selections for this year's All Star Game, which will be held in Progressive Field. Plus there are some other news tidbits that I have neglected...