August 1, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Hellish month comes to an end *
After a surprisingly decent 3-3 road trip to the far southwest, the Nats began their current home stand on Friday night, welcoming the St. Louis Cardinals to town. Anibal Sanchez gave up three runs in the third inning, but made it through the next two innings intact. Even though he already had a pitch count in the 90s, for some reason Dave Martinez put him back on the mound in the sixth inning, whereupon he gave up three more runs. The Cardinals won the opener, 6-2, and Sanchez lost his third game in as many starts this year. Saturday's game was a tense back-and-forth affair in which everything hinged upon Josh Bell in the bottom of the seventh inning. With runners on first and second and nobody out, he smashed the ball just over the wall in right center field, giving the Nats a 7-5 lead. The Cardinals rallied with one run in the top of the eighth, and Kyle Finnegan came in to relieve Carl Edwards Jr., putting out the fire and coming back to finish the game in the top of the ninth. His five-out save was a truly heroic accomplishment! Nats 7, Cards 6. On Sunday afternoon, Josiah Gray pitched OK, but a three-run homer by Corey Dickerson gave the visiting team a lead that proved just too big to overcome. In the bottom of the ninth, Tres Barrera singled and Lane Thomas doubled, making it almost a certainty that the Nats would score at least one run. Did they? Nope. It was the Nats' 9th shutout loss of the year, compared to just three shutout victories. (See the annual shutout summary table I compiled on June 2.)
* That was one of the sub-headlines in my August 5, 2021 blog post, when the Nats had a record of 8-18.
And thus, the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals finished the month at 35-68 (.340), lower than any other team in the majors, with an awful 6-19 record (.240) for the month. But by salvaging some of their dignity with a win over the Cardinals on Saturday, they at least the Nats averted setting an ignominious new team record. Their official worst-ever month remains July 2008, when they went 5-19 (.208) See the newly-updated Washington Nationals page.
This evening, the Nats welcome the NL East-leading New York Mets to Washington, as their former ace pitcher Max Scherzer (6-2, 2.06 ERA) goes against the guy who was supposed to be #1 in their rotation this year: Patrick Corbin (4-14, 6.43 ERA). Given that Corbin could not even complete one inning in his last appearance, it is hard to imagine a more unbalanced matchup. On Tuesday, the Mets' ace Jacob deGrom, who was placed on the injured list just before the season began, will mark his 2022 debut, with some rookie named Abbott pitching for the Nats. And on Wednesday afternoon, the Nets' Chris Bassitt (7-7) faces Anibal Sanchez (0-3). It would take a "minor miracle for the Nationals to win even one of the games"... Right?
Since the trade deadline is tomorrow at 6:00 PM, tonight may be Juan Soto's final game in a Washington Nationals uniform. I trust General Manager Mike Rizzo to make a good deal, and if he gets a good enough offer from one of the likely other teams (Dodgers, Padres, Cardinals), I will reconcile myself to Soto's departure. I still hope he stays in Washington (who wouldn't?), but chances are he will get traded away. Likewise for Josh Bell, who should have made this year's All-Star Game. I just hope to Nats don't trade away Kyle Finnegan or Andres Machado, their two most reliable relief pitchers.
August 2, 2022 [LINK / comment]
¡Hasta la vista, baby!
Juan Soto is traded to the Padres, along with Josh Bell
Well, the once-unthinkable worst-case scenario has come to pass: Just before noon today it was announced that young superstar Juan Soto is being traded to the San Diego Padres. Later in the afternoon, the details of the exchange were announced: the Nats' mid-career slugger Josh Bell was part of the package, and the Nats were to receive one veteran and five rookies and minor league prospects. Only two months ago, General Manager Mike Rizzo declared unequivocally that Juan Soto will NOT be traded! Just six weeks ago he [Soto] shook hands with the Lerner family during the Ryan Zimmerman retirement ceremony, a hopeful sign that a deal was still possible. Evidently, there was never much chance that Soto would agree to any terms offered by the Nationals. For that, we presumably have his agent Scott Boras to blame.
So, let's take a look at who got traded today (details from MLB.com): two players are going from Washington to San Diego, while six are going the opposite direction. (Each player's position and age are listed in parentheses.)
- Luke Voit (1B/DH, 31)
- Mackenzie Gore (P, 23)
- C.J. Abrams (SS, 21)
- Robert Hassell (OF, 20)
- James Wood (OF, 19)
- Jarlin Susana (P, 18)
- Juan Soto (RF, 23)
- Josh Bell (1B, 29)
The first three players have been added to the Nats' 40-man roster, likely to be called up from the minors in September, while the other three will spend a year or more developing their skills in the minor leagues. So, who got the better end of the deal? I read one commentator who opined that the Nationals got "fleeced," but I wouldn't go that far. Given that most of the players the Nat are getting are very young and of uncertain ultimate value, it will be years before we know for sure. Yesterday I expressed trust in General Manager Mike Rizzo's judgment to get a good deal, but the fact that he threw in Josh Bell along with Soto just to get the deal done really makes me wonder. Good negotiators keep in mind their "BATNA": Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, that is, what do you do if the deal falls apart? Just because Soto's trade value is higher now than it would be during the coming off-season doesn't mean the Nats couldn't have gotten a better deal for him later on. Sure, it would have been awkward with Soto just hanging around for the last two months of this season with minimal chance of staying with the Nationals over the long term, but that's his problem! Voit will presumably inherit first base from Josh Bell, but his batting average is only average: .258 over six seasons with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Padres.
And so, all that is left of the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals team is Victor Robles, Stephen Strasburg, and Sean Doolittle -- the latter two of whom hardly played at all this year due to injuries, and whose futures are quite uncertain. What an awful collapse for a franchise that seemed poised to become a dynasty. In retrospect, the big contract given to Strasburg in late 2019 was a huge mistake, draining the team of the financial resources necessary to field a contending team. Robles has shown steady improvement this year, and it's entirely possible that he will attain the high hopes the team had of him when he was called up for the first time in 2018 -- along with fellow Dominican Juan Soto, who was initially a big unknown.
It is not just Juan Soto's offensive firepower that makes him worth so much much, it's his rare charisma and grace that could inspire his team-mates to perform better and brought crowds to a frenzy. Compared to him, Bryce Harper is just a very gifted mechanic who does his job very well, but that's about it. Soto's special qualities became evident almost as soon as he was called up to the majors as a 19-year-older in June 2018. Ironically, it was against his new team (the Padres) that he hit a home run in his first at-bat as a starting MLB player; it was on the very first pitch he saw, in fact! Even though the Nats didn't make the playoffs that year, Soto repeatedly got clutch hits that kept his team in the running until late in the season. In November 2018 he lost in NL Rookie of the Year voting to the Braves' Ronald Acuña, despite amassing better statistics overall.
In 2019 Soto blossomed and became a regular slugger who helped propel the Nats into the postseason. I saw him help the Nats beat the vaunted Dodgers in a thrilling game on July 28, hitting a home run. That game turned out to be a preview of the dramatic National League Divisional Series, which the Nats won, of course.
Juan Soto belts one to right field, as Dodger catcher Will Smith watches. Later in the game Soto hit a three-run homer (do a mouse rollover to see his trademark gesture of thanks as he crosses the plate), as the Nats won, 11-4. (July 28, 2019)
But perhaps Soto's biggest contribution ever to the Nationals was in the eighth inning of the NL Wild Card Game in Washington on October 1, 2019 when he hit a clutch 3-run single (aided by the right fielder's error) to give the Nats a 4-3 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Nationals Park erupted in a jubilant shower of beer tossed into the air! It was a truly miraculous comeback victory. Then, after the Nats overcame both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in successive series, Soto played a huge role in the World Series, with mammoth home runs in Minute Maid Park (Game 1 and Game 6), as well as a clutch RBI single in Game 7. (See my October 25, 2019 and November 10, 2019 blog posts.) In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Soto won the NL batting title with a .351 average. In 2021, he led the Nationals in the big three categories: batting average (.313), home runs (29), and RBIs (95). Just two weeks ago he won the 2022 Home Run Derby in Dodger Stadium, and last night in Washington, for the first time since the All-Star break, he hit a home run -- his 21st of the year; see below.
¡Hasta la vista, Juan! Que le vaya bien en San Diego.
Other big trades
Among other high-profile trades today, the Red Sox acquired Eric Hosmer from the Padres, after Hosmer exercised his no-trade clause to refuse to be traded to the Nationals. Ouch! It should be noted that the Red Sox are still in last place behind the Orioles in the AL East, and have only a slim chance of making it to the postseason, even with the third wild card team this year. Also, the Philadelphia Phillies added former Met pitcher Noah Syndergaard in a trade with the L.A. Angels. Finally, even though it's not a trade, the Braves announced yesterday that their slugging third baseman Austin Riley had signed a ten-year contract worth $212 million.
Miracle: Nats win again!
Another miracle took place in Nationals Park this evening: an unknown rookie by the name of Cory Abbott out-pitched Mets ace Jacob deGrom, just returning after four months on the Injured List. Abbott barely got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, throwing more than 30 pitches, but then he settled down and went a full five innings. He left the game with the Nats ahead 1-0, but his replacement (Victor Arano) gave up a solo home run, spoiling Abbott's chance for a win in his second start in the big leagues. It was one heck of an outing. In the bottom of the sixth inning the Nats quickly retook the lead on a two-run homer by Luis Garcia, followed immediately by a homer by Yadiel Hernandez. And one inning later, 30-year old Joey Meneses got his first major league hit -- a solo home run! That was after Kyle Finnegan was called in from the bullpen to thwart a Mets rally, which he did thanks to an unassisted double play by shortstop Luis Garcia. Just like in the Nats' win on Saturday, he pitched 1 2/3 tense late innings to help ensure another "miracle" victory. Nats 5, Mets 1.
The Mets won Game 1 of the series, to the surprise of no one, as Max Scherzer did his usual dominant pitching on behalf of his new team. He did the fans a favor by pitching to Juan Soto, who hit a solo homer (#21) in the fourth inning. Hooray!? Meanwhile, Patrick Corbin at least improved upon his previous outing (2/3 inning) and kept the Nationals in the game when he left in the fifth inning. But in the sixth inning, Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer to give the Mets a 7-3 lead, and that's what the final score was.
Tomorrow afternoon the series concludes, as the Nats' Anibal Sanchez (0-3) takes the mound, going up against Chris Bassitt (7-7). It would take a minor miracle for the Nationals to win this series, right? Then the Nationals go on a road trip to Philadelphia and Chicago, after which they welcome to town none other than -- the San Diego Padres!
August 4, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Vacation 2022: "quickie" road trip to Canada
Much like our trip to New Orleans last year, Jacqueline and I went for a long-distance drive last month. The primary destination was Niagara Falls, which is where we went on our honeymoon nearly 30 years ago. (!) The difference this time was that we didn't make any advance reservations and improvised our itinerary on a day-to-day basis. That strategy yielded some benefits, but it also raised a few difficulties. Our original plan was to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the first time, but the weather forecast was less than ideal. A storm front was approaching from the northwest, and in fact there were heavy rains along that part of the Atlantic coast during our trip. In contrast, the weather up north was just beautiful, as can be seen in the photos below.
We departed mid-morning on Thursday July 7, driving up I-81 across the eastern tip of West Virginia into Maryland. From there we took a zig-zag course: northwest on I-70, then westbound on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-70/I-76), then north along I-99, passing State College (home of Penn State), then turning back west on I-80, and finally north on U.S. Highway 219. That zig-zag course was made necessary by the relative lack of major north-south highways in Pennsylvania, which is dominated by the contours of the Appalachian Mountains, curving toward the east. Along 219 the land was flat, and we thought we had finally left behind the rough terrain, but then we saw a sign warning trucks to take a detour because of a dangerous stretch of road ahead. We began a steep, winding descent that was indeed alarming, and at the bottom of the big "canyon" we entered the town of Ridgway. It turned out to be incredibly scenic, so we stopped for a while to stretch our legs and take some photos.
The north side of the Elk County Courthouse, in Ridgway, Pennsylvania.
Resuming our northbound course through Pennsylvania, we passed through the town of Bradford, which has a major petroleum refinery. I told Jacqueline about the first big oil strike in U.S. history in Titusville, about 60 miles to the south-southwest. (Edwin Drake built the first oil well there in 1859.) Sure enough, just before we reached the New York state line we saw the "Penn Brad Oil Museum," prompting another brief stop. Upon entering New York, we passed by Alleghany State Park, and the scenery was indeed beautiful. There seemed to be a lot of luxury resorts in that part of the state, especially around the town of Ellicottville, which is near some ski resorts. Route 219 became a four-lane divided highway, and since it is one of the major roads toward Buffalo, New York, I assume that there are long-term plans to upgrade it into an Interstate highway all the way to I-80 in Pennsylvania. Late in the afternoon we arrived in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, and I stopped to look at the home of the Buffalo Bills, which is now called "Highmark Stadium." To ge there, we drove along "Timothy J. Russert Highway," named for the host of NBC's Meet the Press who was among the Bills' biggest fans. (He died of a sudden heart attack in June 2008.) We dined that evening at a restaraunt called "Louie's," part of a local chain that specializes in "Texas Red Hots." I was intrigued, but it turned out that's just a regional term for a chili dog. It was a decent meal, at least. In their parking lot there is a sign warning football fans not to park there during football games; Highmark Stadium is only a block away.
Early the next morning we drove into Buffalo, stopping first at the marina on Lake Erie and then going to the nearby Tifft Nature Preserve; see my wild birds blog post. In downtown Buffalo I stopped at a couple places to admire the archicture with all the ornate stone carvings, especially the Ellicott Square Building and the Electric Tower. (I also stopped briefly at Sahlen Field and then at the site of the former War Memorial Stadium, as described in my July 13 baseball blog post.) As we were driving through the city toward the northwest I thought about the horrible mass shooting that took place on the north side the month before; the Jefferson Avenue Tops Friendly supermarket, the scene of the crime, reopened just a few days after we were in Buffalo.
The Electric Tower, and gold-domed M & T Bank, in Buffalo, New York.
After leaving Buffalo we soon entered the city of Niagara Falls, New York, and were lucky to find a free parking place within a quarter mile of the falls. We began by crossing the footbridge onto Goat Island, which separates the American Falls from the much larger Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. After snacking on ice cream and buying souvenirs, we drove across the bridge and waited for a half hour or so to get through the border inspection gates. After seeing signs about the need to pre-register (with covid vaccination information) via the "ArriveCAN" mobile app, I dutifully did so, but due a technical glitch, the final "submit" step simply did not function. It kept saying "failure, try again," and I must have done so a dozen times or more, to no avail. On the Canadian immigration website I saw an announcement that ArriveCAN was not working due to an Internet outage by the Rogers Corporation, but the Canadian immigration officer seemed unaware of that. It added a few minutes of hassle. Then we changed our money and headed to the parking area near Horseshoe Falls. We ended up spending nearly five hours altogether on the two sides of Niagara Falls.
The American Falls (east) part of Niagara Falls, from Goat Island, which is on the south side.
Then we got back in the car and headed west, crossing a huge bridge over the Welland Canal, which allows ocean-going ships to transit between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Then we passed through the city of Hamilton, at the sharp bend in Lake Ontario, and started looking for lodging. To my surprise, the prices were much higher than I expected, so we kept going. Late in the afternoon we arrived on the outskirts of Toronto, and soon found ourselves in the middle of a huge traffic jam. Getting through downtown proved to be very time-consuming, foiling my hopes of seeing some landmarks in Canada's biggest city, but at least the urban scenery was pleasant. There were many pedestrians who were apparently hoping to attend a musical festival that was canceled or postponed due to that Internet outage. That festival probably made the traffic worse. We didn't reach the eastern edge of the metropolitan area until 7:30 or so.
Approaching downtown Toronto from the west, along Lake Shore Boulevard. The iconic CN Tower stands right next to Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Much to our dismay, none the motels we stopped at east of Toronto had any rooms available (at a reasonable price, that is), so we had to keep going. I was surprised that there were so few towns east of Toronto. Not until we reached town of Port Hope, well after sunset, did we find a motel room. (That town's name had big meaning for us: "I hope..."!) At least we had a very nice dinner at a local restaurant called "Turtle John's." I had a hearty Yorkshire pudding with steak slices, and Jacqueline had shrimp fettucine. Both were delicious, and we saved the leftovers for lunch the following day. She was amused that Canadians serve hard cider with ice! On the way back to the motel I started driving the wrong way on a downtown street and had to do a quick U-turn.
The next morning, after an hour-long birding expedition, we resumed our easterly drive. Downtown Port Hope had looked very quaint and picturesque the night before, but we were in a hurry, so lamentably, I didn't take any photos of it. Near the town of Trenton, Ontario, I saw a monument for the Royal Canadian Air Force consisting of an old fighter jet that had been mounted onto a pylon, so I stopped to take a look. The RCAF Museum is located in Trenton, but it was not a priority for Jacqueline, so we kept going. Our final big destination in Canada was the Thousand Islands observation tower, located near the U.S.-Canada border, and that was something we both enjoyed immensely. The Thousand Islands are the transition zone between Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which passes by Montreal, about 165 miles to the east. You gain access to the elevator (which ascends 40+ stories) via the souvenir shop, so while there we liquidated our remaining Canadian dollars buying tickets, souvenirs, maple syrup treats, etc. While at the top I was amazed by how far away we could see. Once again, the skies were perfectly clear, ideal for scoping out the gorgeous landscape. On the eastern horizon, downstream the St. Lawrence River, I could see a tall suspension bridge, and I later learned that it connects Ogdensburg, New York to Prescott, Ontario -- about 38 miles away!
View toward the north from Thousand Islands Tower, near Brockville, Ontario.
From there we easily crossed back into the United States of America and spent a while at the New York state visitor center, getting maps and buying more treats. Unfortunately, I took the wrong turn on the way out and we wasted at least 15 minutes driving along back roads in parallel with Interstate 81, which is where we were supposed to be. Finally we got back on course, and passed Fort Drum, which is the home of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. I would have been fascinated to visit it, but we were short on time. At Watertown we left I-81 and headed southeast along secondary highway through land that was ideally suited for hunters and fishermen. Not surprisingly, I saw many Trump signs and flags in that part of the state. I was still hoping to spend time in the Adirondack Mountains, as Jacqueline and I had done during the second phase of our honeymoon, but motels were surprisingly scarce in the area east of Utica. We stopped in the town of Herkimer, know for the hard quartz crystals known as "Herkimer diamonds." (A customer at the Clocktower restaurant included one as part of the tip when I worked there last summer.) As the sun descended in the west, we decided to be realistic and turned toward the southwest. I knew that there would be plenty of lodging opportunities around Cooperstown, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located, and I was right. We found a very nice place, occupying part of a large cabin along the incredibly scenic Otsego Lake. Our evening and morning there was very relaxing and enjoyable.
hunting and fishing Rental cabins at Otsego Lake, a few miles north of Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.
On Sunday morning, the last day of our trip, I spent a couple hours at the Hall Of Fame (see my July 13 baseball blog post), while Jacqueline strolled around the picturesque downtown. To my surprise, she really enjoyed Cooperstown. We got on a highway toward Binghamton, where we rejoined I-81, which took us into Pennsylvania. We drove past Scranton (made famous by the TV sitcom The Office), Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg (the state capital), crossed the Maryland state line into Hagerstown, quickly crossed eastern tip of West Virginia again, and early in the evening we finally made back home to Staunton, in the Old Dominion. We packed a lot of excitement and fun into a short time, and it was all very worthwhile. The above photos, and many more, can be seen on the Chronological Photo Gallery (2022) page.
August 4, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in July: New York (state), Canada, and nearby
My birding adventures in July began with a four-day weekend road trip in which Jacqueline and I drove up to Canada and back; see my travel blog post. Early Friday morning, July 8, we went for a casual walk through the Tifft Nature Preserve on the south side of Buffalo, New York. The highlights there were Yellow Warblers, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, Belted Kingfisher, and Barn Swallows. I also saw a tern about 100 yards away, probably a Common Tern. Then we explored the city and went to Niagara Falls, where the usual Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls abounded, but unlike my previous visit I didn't see any Peregrine Falcons. Warbling Vireos were heard at both locations, but not seen.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Marsh Wren, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egret, Ring-billed Gull, Yellow Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, and Barn Swallow. (Tifft Nature Preserve & Niagara Falls, NY, July 8.)
My second bird outing [on that trip] was in the town of Port Hope, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I found two local hot spots using online sources, but the first one was swarming with mosquitoes, so I gave up quickly and headed to Sculthorpe Marsh, on the east side of town. There I saw two Mute Swans at a nest, as well as a Lesser Yellowlegs. They are supposed to breed much farther north, so I'm not sure if this one was a stray or what. I also saw on the pond a Great Blue Heron, Canada Geese, and later a Green Heron. The best part came in a semi-open bushy area east of the pond, where I heard or saw Warbling Vireos, a Yellow Warbler, an American Redstart, a Common Yellowthroat, House Wrens, and Eastern Kingbirds. Also, I heard (but alas did not see) a Least Flycatcher!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Green Heron, Mute Swan, Lesser Yellowlegs, Great Blue Heron, and in center, Canada Geese. (Port Hope, Ontario, July 9.)
On the final day of our trip, Sunday, July 11, I spent a short while looking for birds around our rental cabin at Otsego Lake, north of Cooperstown, NY. I spotted a Bald Eagle fighting with an Osprey, as often happens when fish are around. There was a family of Eastern Kingbirds up in the trees, with young ones being fed by the parents. I was lucky to get one of my best-ever photos of a House Wren. There aren't any Carolina Wrens that far north! By a parking lot on the north side of town I also had a nice view of a Common Yellowthroat, but couldn't get a good photo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bald Eagle, House Wren, Common Yellowthroat (M), Eastern Kingbird, and Cedar Waxwing. (Otsego Lake and Cooperstown, NY, July 10.)
My first visit to Bell's Lane in July was on the afternoon of the 15th, but it was mostly the usual suspects, with multiple Eastern Kingbirds and American Goldfinches, as well as a sinister Red-tailed Hawk hiding in the foliage.
On July 16 I went to Augusta Springs for the first time in quite a while, and had a few good bird views here and there. [A] Ruby-throated Hummingbird was at the top of a dead tree at least 30 yards away, hence the poor photo quality. I saw a ragged-looking young bird which I'm pretty sure was a Worm-eating Warbler, due to the thick pink bill, pink feet, and short tail. Besides [an] American Redstart (J or F?), I also saw Ovenbirds and a Black-and-white Warbler. Two birds were conspicuous by their absence: Scarlet Tanagers and [Eastern] Wood Pewees. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were seen or heard at multiple locations, and there were multiple Louisiana Waterthrushes by a stream along Rt. 42 about a half mile east of the Falls Hollow trail on the way home.
On the morning of July 19 I made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for only the second time this year, I believe. It was slow going for a while, but things got busier as I went farther south along Rt. 610, which parallels the BRP. I heard the harsh "cooo-cooo" song of [a] Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and seeing it was the highlight of the day for me. Cerulean Warblers were singing in several places, and I think I saw a family of them by the communication tower. Scarlet Tanagers and a Cedar Waxwing added color saturation, while a Black-and-white Warbler added contrast. I also heard but never saw an American Redstart or two, and likewise a White-breasted Nuthatch, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and an Acadian Flycatcher. Finally, an Eastern Towhee and an Indigo Bunting rounded out the list of notable birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cerulean Warbler (M), Scarlet Tanager (M), Eastern Towhee (M), Cedar Waxwing, and Black-and-white Warbler (M). (Blue Ridge Parkway, July 19.)
On the morning of July 22 I went for a walk to the top of Mary Gray Hill, and saw a few Turkey and Black Vultures at the top of the cell phone tower there. There weren't many birds otherwise, just an Eastern Wood Pewee, a couple Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and the usual Tufted Titmice, etc. Later I went to Bell's Lane and saw a couple Indigo Buntings, Eastern Kingbirds, Gray Catbirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk.
My main objective on Saturday July 23 was to get some much-needed exercise, so I hiked up the Dowells Draft trail, gaining about 700 feet in elevation over two miles, and then returning. Early on, I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch and saw a families of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Scarlet Tanagers. After a while I heard and eventually saw an Acadian Flycatcher, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. Not surprising, given the 92-degree temperature! Near the top I heard and then saw some Blue-headed Vireos, and on the way back down I saw an olive-colored bird scurrying along the trail, and it turned out to be an Ovenbird! Otherwise, zero warblers for the day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager (F/J), Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Blue-headed Vireo. (Dowells Draft trail, July 23.)
Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, on July 30 I hiked upstream from Braley Pond in the direction of Bald Ridge, farther than I had ever gone before. As I was passing the Izaak Walton preserve, just west of Lone Fountain along Rt. 250, I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk on a wire, so I stopped to take a photo. As soon as I got out of my car at Braley Pond I heard Red-breasted Nuthatches, and I estimate there were at least a dozen of them at various places along the way. (In my eBird report I made sure to describe clearly how and where I observed such a large number of them.) Unfortunately, the only one I had a good look at (bottom left) lacked any orange in front; perhaps it was a juvenile? Other highlights included a Red-shouldered Hawk flying high, two Indigo Bunting families, a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Acadian Flycatcher, a Scarlet Tanager, Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, at least three Ovenbirds (which were silent), two singing Louisiana Waterthrushes, and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Not a bad day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and in center, Scarlet Tanager (M) and Acadian Flycatcher. (Braley Pond and vicinity, July 30.)
As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
August 8, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Weekend sweeps alter standings
There were several dramatic showdowns this past weekend, leading to a few shifts in the divisional standings. Most notably, the newly-reinforced San Diego Padres arrived in Los Angeles on Friday to challenge the NL West-leading Dodgers. The results were not pretty: the Dodgers won all three games, and in the closest game (on Sunday), the Padres were shut out, 4-0. Maybe it will take some time for Juan Soto and Josh Bell to acclimated to the desert southwest and play up to their usual standards. The Dodgers have won eight games in a row (having swept the Giants in a four-game series in San Francisco earlier in the week), and now have the highest record in the majors: 75-33.
In the borough of Queens in New York City, after losing the game on Friday the Mets dealt harshly with the second-place Atlanta Braves. The Braves' hot starting pitchers, especially Ian "Jethro Tull" Anderson and Max Fried, just could not rise to the occasion. In the second game on Saturday, Fried (covering first base) was shaken up up landing face down while lunging and trying to throw the ball home after shortstop Dansby Swanson threw it badly to first. The Mets scored two runs on that play. While not quite a sweep, the Mets ended up winning four games of that five-game series, and now have a 70-39 record -- the same as their cross-town rivals in the Bronx!
In the Gateway City, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in three games straight, [and have taken over first place in the NL Central Division from the Milwaukee Brewers]. The Yanks begin a three-game series in Seattle later tonight, after having lost two of three to the Mariners in New Yankee Stadium last week. It has been a full week since Aaron Judge's last home run (#43 for the year!), when the Yankees beat the Mariners. The Yankees (70-39) are still 9 1/2 games ahead of the Blue Jays, and there's not much chance that they will relinquish first place in the AL East, but you never know...
And, in the City of Brotherly Love, the Phillies swept the Nationals in a four-game series. The Phillies have won nine of their last ten games, and are now the #2 wild card team. In the first game, last Thursday, the Nats briefly had the lead (2-1) thanks in part to their new first baseman, Luke Voit; he hit an RBI single in the first inning. But the Phillies scored four runs in the bottom of the third inning. The Nats rallied in the top of the fifth, getting two runs before Yadiel Hernandez tried to tag up from third base on a short fly ball to right field, and was easily thrown out [to end the inning]. Just dumb baserunning. Almost immediately the game went into a rain delay, and after a futile wait of nearly two hours, the umpires called the game [after the bare minimum amount of play had taken place], so the Phillies won it, 5-4. That was as close as the Nats came to winning in that series. On Saturday Patrick Corbin gave up five runs in the first inning before being relieved -- almost exactly the same thing as happened on July 27 against the Dodgers. Ouch! On Sunday, the Nats' new pitcher Cory Abbott (who had done very well on the previous Tuesday) endured a five-run meltdown [in the fourth inning], and the Phillies never looked back. In the final three games the Nats lost by a combined score of 31 to 8, as Rhys Hoskins homered in all four games.
Tonight the Nationals begin a three-game series in Wrigley Field against the Cubs, with Anibal Sanchez (0-4) starting on the mound. This Thursday the Cubs will take up temporary "home" quarters in a certain ballpark located in Dyersville, Iowa...
Futile home runs
At home on Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels set some kind of record by hitting seven home runs but in each case nobody was on base, and they failed to score any other runs, and somehow managed to lose to the last-place Athletics, 8-7. Shohei Ohtani homered twice, and former National Kurt Suzuki was among the others who homered.
In preparation for this year's postseason, which includes three wild card teams in each league for the first time, I had to do some major reformatting of my postseason scores page, which will be updated soon. For the record, I detest adding more teams to the MLB postseason series. It detracts from the regular-season performance of the top-seeded teams, and it's all about squeezing more dollars out of ticket sales and TV broadcast rights. Very short-sighted, in my opinion.
Also for the record, I updated the Diagram update log for the first time this year. It only includes stadiums in which MLB games have been played, whereas the Stadium lists page is more "diverse and inclusive."
August 21, 2022 [LINK / comment]
War Memorial Stadium update
Well, that took some doing! After laboriously scrutinizing all the photos I could find for weeks on end, I finally came up with a suitably accurate set of revised diagrams for War Memorial Stadium. It was once the home of the Buffalo Bisons as well as the fictitious NL "New York Knights" from the movie The Natural (1983), starring Robert Redford. As usual, you can compare the new and old (in this case, 2012) diagram versions by clicking on the image, and then moving your mouse away. (Not suitable for mobile devices.) In general, the updated version is larger than the old version, especially along the north side of the huge roofed grandstand. All the usual details, such as home and visitor dugouts, slope of access ramps, and even the entry portals, which were not included in my diagrams until the latter part of 2011.
Note that most of those diagrams are larger than the standard size: 600 x 600 pixels rather than 500 x 480 pixels. In coming months, more and more diagrams will be revised to conform to the new standard, which allows for nearly all stadiums to fit without being truncated. It also allows more space for stadium profiles, which are very crowded on some pages.
Seeing the site of War Memorial Stadium in person was a very interesting experience. Unlike the sites of Griffith Stadium, Shibe Park, and Ebbets Field, where big buildings now occupy the space, there is a nice ball field and football field for public use, making it easier to imagine what it was like when the old stadium was still standing. That is why I took extra care to render the "site today" diagram.
The southeast gate to what used to be War Memorial Stadium, in Buffalo, New York. This would correspond to center field.
For the record, I updated the Diagram update log for the first time this year. It only includes stadiums in which MLB games have been played (such as Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but not War Memorial Stadium), whereas the Stadium lists page includes various miscellaneous stadiums -- minor league, foreign, etc.
Nats struggle to stay afloat
The Washington Nationals surprised many people by winning their first two games in San Diego (6-3 on Thursday and 3-1 on Friday), and they took early 1-0 leads in both the Saturday and Sunday games. In both cases, however, home runs by former Nationals players put the Padres ahead in the latter innings, and the Nats lost both games 2-1. On Saturday, Juan Soto tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth inning, and two innings later Josh Bell also hit a solo homer. Bell had been doing poorly since donning the Padres uniform early this month, but his bat finally woke up. On Sunday he hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning, and that was all the Padres needed. Patrick Corbin had been pitching his best game of the year, but for some reason manager Davey Martinez decided to leave him in just a little bit too long. (It's not the first time.) So, the Nats settled for a 2-2 series split, which is not bad, all things considered.
With today's loss, however, the Nats are now 38 games behind the Mets in the NL East standings. That ties for the lowest relative standing since the Nationals were "reborn" in 2005; on September 27, 2009 they were 38 games behind the Phillies, and then won their last seven games of the season, ending up 34 games behind. [This year,] in contrast, there is very little hope that the Nats could keep up the pace with the Mets, which means it is almost certain that they will end the season well over 40 games behind the Mets (or the Braves; see below). [In order to research games-behind historical data,] I recently went through my spreadsheets with all the daily game scores going back to 2005 [with some gaps in data filled from baseball-reference.com], and put them together to derive monthly data that is summarized in a new table on the Washington Nationals page.
One of the Nationals' bright new stars is a 30-year old guy from northwestern Mexico named Joey Meneses. He signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals in January, and was called up from Rochester on August 2. [He quickly became the first player in franchise history to hit four home runs in his first seven MLB games (see MLB.com), and] in his first 17 games in the major leagues so far, he has hit five home runs and has a .318 batting average. What a shame that his talent wasn't recognized by some MLB scout years before! He and former Padre Luke Voit will apparent share defensive duties at first base; Meneses has also played several games in the outfield. The Nats are also getting solid performance out of catcher Keibert Ruiz, who has been getting banged up by foul tips, etc. The Washington Post had an article about his physical travails [on Friday], and the announcers in this afternoon's game against the Padres also mentioned him being shaken up.
Dodgers soar, while Yankees slouch
The L.A. Dodgers continue to win at a truly historic pace, with a .700 (79-44) win-loss record. The St. Louis Cardinals have won their last seven games, widening their lead over the Brewers in the NL Central Division, but it is hard to see how they could catch up to the New York Mets, who have an inside track to the #2 seed in the playoffs on the NL side. The Atlanta Braves narrowed the gap in the NL East race recently, but the Mets will be very hard to overcome. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees have been slipping badly this month, falling behind the Houston Astros in the race for the #1 seed on the AL side. It's a wide-open race for the three AL wild cards slots, and the Rays, Blue Jays, and Mariners are currently tied, with three other teams close behind.
August 31, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Watch out, Babe and Roger: Here comes the Judge!
Until this week, only two New York Yankee players had ever hit 50 or more home runs in one year twice during their career: Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Now you can add a third player to that list: Aaron Judge! He hit his 50th home run on Monday, and his 51st home run on Tuesday. Both homers were in games against the Angels, in Anaheim. With five full weeks left to play, he has an inside track to surpass both Babe Ruth (60, over 154 games) and Roger Maris (61, over 162 games) in the non-PED era home run race. Judge hit 52 home runs in 2017. Adding to the drama is the fact that Judge is in the final year of his contract with the New York Yankees, and can expect to get an annual salary comparable to that of Juan Soto.
On the National League side, the Phillies' Kyle Schwarber has slowed down in his pace of hitting home runs, logging only 3 of them during the month of August, after hitting 12 in June and 10 in July. Hot on his heels is Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals: he has 33 for the year, including 9 in August. He is tied with Pete Alonso (of the Mets) in the RBI category, with 105, and leads the majors in batting average, with .332. Goldschmidt has a very real chance at picking up the first Triple Crown in the National League since 1937, when Joe Medwick (of the Cardinals) accomplished that feat. The last American League Triple Crown was won by Miguel Cabrera (of the Tigers) in 2012.
Nationals put an end to an awful streak
On Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals faced the Cincinnati Reds, who had won the first two games of the series. With Patrick Corbin on the mound, the home team's prospects did not look good at all. The last game he won was on June 28, at home against the Pirates. Since then he has struggled to get batters out, taking the MLB lead in the losses category, with 17. The two most ignominious days for him were July 27 and August 6, in both cases being replaced after giving up several runs before the end of the first inning. But he has shown improvement, including the game in San Diego on the previous Sunday when he gave up only two runs over 5 1/3 innings; with some run support he could have won that game.
Corbin's struggles have been matched by other Nationals starting pitchers, who were then in the midst of a historically bad streak in which none of them had been credited with a win for 43 straight games! That is almost impossible to imagine. The last winning starting pitcher for the Nats was Josiah Gray, on July 6. In the 43 games from July 7 through August 27, Nats starters were 0-20, while the relievers were 12-11. Obviously, lack of run support was part of the problem, but it still added up to one big stinkeroo for the starting rotation.
In sharp contrast, this past Sunday's game may have marked a big turning point for Corbin and for his team. It so happens that I witnessed the high drama in person at Nationals Park, accompanied as usual by my old friend Dave Givens. The first two innings didn't go very well, and I dreaded the possibility of another world-class meltdown, but the Reds only scored two runs.
Showing true grit and determination, Patrick Corbin pitches to Austin Romine (who flew out) immediately after Stuart Fairchild hit a leadoff home run in the top of the second inning, giving the Reds a 2-0 lead. Then Corbin struck out the next two batters.
The Nats finally staged a rally in the bottom of the 4th inning, sparked by Cesar Hernandez's leadoff double. Then the Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo hit the next two batters (Joey Meneses and Luke Voit) to load the bases. Nelson Cruz drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch that could have been called a strike, and the Nats had their first run. But then Lane Thomas lined out to shortstop and C.J. Abrams was called out on strikes, leaving it all up to the catcher, Riley Adams. With a batting average under .200, chances looked bleak, but he roused the crowd with a single to center field that tied the game. For some reason, the third base coach waved the stocky Luke Voit home as he reached third base, and he was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. One inning later, the Nats new third baseman, Ildemaro Vargas (age 31) smashed a home run about 8 rows up in the left field stands, giving the Nats a 3-2 lead. Hallelujah! To my surprise, Corbin returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning, and in spite of my trepidations, he got the three batters out in quick order. From the third through the sixth inning, Corbin allowed only one hit and one walk, with five strikeouts altogether. Hunter Harvey Jr., Carl Edwards Jr., and Kyle Finnegan each pitched a full inning, very efficiently, as only one Reds player got a hit during the final third of the game. Final score: Nats 3, Reds 2.
One reason I was eager to see a game was curiousity about all the new Nationals players. Just like the June 17 game that I saw (see my June 24 blog post), most of the players' faces were virtually unknown to me. [The big changes are that Ildemaro Vargas has replaced Maikel Franco at third base (Franco was "designated for assignment"), Joey Meneses has replaced Juan Soto in right field, and Luke Voit has replaced Josh Bell at first base. C.J. Abrams filled in for Luis Garcia at shortstop, and it appears likely that Garcia (who is error-prone, defensively) will shift to second base. Riley Adams will remain the second-string catcher, as Keibert Ruiz has been doing very well overall. Obviously, there are big questions about center fielder and designated hitter for next year...]
TOP ROW (L to R): Lane Thomas (LF), C.J. Abrams (SS), Joey Meneses (RF), Luke Voit (1B), and Riley Adams (C)
BOTTOM ROW (L to R): Cesar Hernandez (2B), Ildemaro Vargas (3B), Victor Robles (CF), Patrick Corbin (P), and Nelson Cruz (DH).
Roll your mouse over the image to compare these players to the ones at the respective positions on June 17; only four of those ten players (underlined) were in the lineup: Lane Thomas, Cesar Hernandez, Victor Robles, and Nelson Cruz.
Last night, the Nationals took a 4-1 lead over the visiting Oakland Athletics after two innings, and then starting pitcher Erick Fedde suffered another "meltdown." It's strange how he is so inconsistent: sometimes very good, sometimes lousy. He was replaced during the third inning, and the next pitcher ((Hunter Harvey) gave up a two-run double as the A's took the lead, 6-4. Two innings later, Sean Murphy hit a grand slam to give the A's a 10-5 lead, essentially winning the game. Final score: 10-6.
In tonight's game, however, the Nats took a 4-1 lead and didn't give it up. In the fifth inning the Nats got some great clutch RBI singles from Josh Palacios and Luis Garcia, followed by a two-run homer by Luke Voit. One inning later, Ildemaro Vargas knocked in another run with a double. Anibal Sanchez pitched seven full innings, and got his very first win of the year; he missed the first half of the season due to injury and is now 1-5.
And so, the Nats finished August with a 44-86 record, 38 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Mets. That officially breaks their previous games-behind record of 38 (on September 27, 2009), as shown in the new monthly table on the Washington Nationals page, which has been updated with new roster information, etc.
Nationals Park from the left field corner, after the game.
"Little League Baseball Classic"
As I mentioned briefly late last month, special MLB games have been played recently in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (where the Little League World Series is played every year) and Dyersville, Iowa (where the movie Field Of Dreams was filmed). The main significance for most baseball fans is that an actual Major League Baseball game had been played at a nearby minor league ballpark just a few days earlier. Last year the "home team" Cleveland Indians defeated the Los Angeles Angels 3-0, but somehow I wasn't paying much attention. The final three games of the Little League World Series had to be postponed due to bad weather played. (The event was canceled in 2020, for obvious reasons.)
In case I didn't mention this before, the "Neutral" category on the Anomalous stadiums page has updated information abouthas been divided between "Emergency" (for sudden, brief relocations due to bad weather, etc.) and "Promotional" (for games played in other countries or in special U.S. locations). For the record, my initial reaction to this game (September 29, 2017) was that it "reeks of cheap sentimentalism." Well, what do I know?
New stadium page: Bowman Field
And so, I drew three diagrams for Bowman Field, including a 1950s version and a "roofless" version that shows details in the small grandstand. I found some good information on dimensions as well as excellent photographs from the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, and from a website called Virtual Globetrotting.
On the day of this year's game it was announced that the Washington Nationals will play the Philadelphia Phillies there next August. It is expected that there will be an MLB game there every year for the indefinite future.