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August 31, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Harper gets hot, Nats end skid

It's about time! Bryce Harper's two home runs on Wednesday night were the key to the 8-4 win over the Miami Marlins that put an end to the Nationals' embarrassing five-game losing streak. The second homer was just crushed by the lefty slugger, landing about seven rows up in the upper deck over the right field bullpen in Marlins Park. Bruce Orser estimates it would have gone 425 feet, which seems low given the height (40+ feet) and distance from home (390 feet) at impact point, but the ball apparently had overspin. In the ninth inning of that game, Harper was ejected after throwing his helmet down in anger after getting thrown out at first. He was almost certainly mad at himself and not the umpire, but it was still an example of not being fully mature. Plus, it was pointless: the Nationals were about to celebrate the win, their only one on that miserable five-game road trip.

In contrast, the night before was just a nightmare, as the Nationals' ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg gave up seven runs, of which five were earned, in five innings on the mound. The Marlins piled on two more runs in the late innings, winning by a score of 9-0, the worst defeat for the Nationals this year. The team's previous biggest margin of defeat this year was an 8-0 loss at the hands of the Phillies, on July 31. The Washington Post [link added] noted that Strasburg has won eight games immediately following losses by his team this year, specializing in getting the team out of a rut. This time, he just fell flat. With Strasburg only expected to start two or three more times this year, because of the innings limit imposed on him by General Manager Mike Rizzo, it's a shame for him to have put in such a lousy performance.

On Thursday night, the Nats welcomed the (2011) World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to town, and proceeded to take them apart without mercy. With Jayson Werth on first base in the bottom of the first inning, Bryce Harper smashed a home run (his 14th) into the right field bullpen, putting two runs on the scoreboard. The Cardinals' only run in that game was unearned, resulting from a bad throw to first by Ryan Zimmerman in the late innings. Edwin Jackson was just superb on the mound, getting ten strikeouts over eight innings. It also helped that Michael Morse and Ian Desmond were back in the lineup. Final score: Nats 8, Cardinals 1.

Tonight (Friday), the Nats did it again, in a virtual carbon copy of the previous game. There were two runs in the first inning, batted in by Adam LaRoche on a single. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all had multiple hits, and Werth reached base five times in five plate appearances (two walks). Zimmerman homered in the eighth inning, his 17th of the year. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez was simply dominant, allowing just five hits and zero runs over a full nine innings. It was his very first complete-game shutout, as he won his 17th game of the season. Final score: 10-0. Wow!

That marked the Nationals' 80th win of the season, matching the total number of wins from all of last year (which was pretty good by the Nats' previously humble standards), but with one less month! 2005 was the Nats' best year, 81-81, and they'll be exceeding that number of wins in just a couple days or so.

So, in each of the last three games, the Nationals have scored more runs than they had scored during the entire five-game losing streak (six runs total). That's great, but I just hope they can play with greater consistency as the postseason approaches. You can't afford a flukish losing streak when you are facing elimination in a playoff series.

Thanks to the Phillies' 8-5 win in Atlanta tonight, the Braves have slipped back a game in the NL East race. The Phillies tied the game in the top of the ninth inning, and then scored three more in the top of the tenth. Spoiler alert!

The Nationals-Cardinals game will be broadcast by FOX Sports at 4:00 Saturday afternoon.

Oh, what a month!

The Nationals now have a record of 80-51, once again with the highest percentage (.611) in the majors, barely ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, with 81-52 (.609). For the month of August they were 19-10, almost equalling their best-ever month, June 2005, when they went 20-6. If not for that losing streak earlier this week, they would have set a team (not franchise) record for most-ever wins in a month. With a 6 1/2-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and 31 games left in the regular season, the Nationals' "magic number" is now 25; that's the number of Nats' wins plus Braves' losses needed for them to win the NL Eastern division. The best part of all is that they play 19 home games and only 12 games on the road. They couldn't be positioned much better than they are right now...

I updated the Washington Nationals page with win-loss records, etc. from August. (Note that there is a link to a preliminary page featuring photos of Nationals players which I have taken over the past several years.) In their 62 home games so far this year, the Nats have drawn 1,794,063 spectators, which works out to 28,937 in attendance per game. That's nearly as much as in the inaugural year in Nationals Park (29,004), and would have been higher if it weren't for the dip in August.

Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond, warming up before the game in Washington on August 18.

Division races heat up

I can't help but marvel at how little the L.A. Dodgers have accomplished since beefing up their roster with all that high-priced talent. They have only won three of their last ten games, and have fallen 4 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West. What's going on? Bad chemistry in the locker room?

The Baltimore Orioles have been slowly catching up on the Yankees in the American League East, and are now only two games behind. The O's have won seven of their last ten games, while the Yankees have only won three of their last ten.

In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers are likewise pursuing the White Sox, whose lead over their rivals fell to just two games after they lost in a game at Comerica Park tonight.

But the most dramatic action in the Junior Circuit is in the AL West, where the Oakland A's have won seven games in a row, and are now just four games behind the Rangers, who have the best record (78-53) in the American League. The Athletics' push toward the postseason comes as a bit of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't since they have had so much experience over the past decade. Billy Beane's "Moneyball"!

Deal on Chase Field?

The Arizona Diamondbacks have submitted a proposal to transfer ownership of Chase Field from Maricopa County to the city of Phoenix. They hope to gain more control over the stadium and thereby raise their profit margins. Part of the plan is to reduce the number of seats in Chase Field, which is indeed too big for a city the size of Phoenix. (Same goes for the stadiums built about the same time in Atlanta, Seattle, and Arlington, Texas.) The problem is that the public paid for about two-thirds of the $354 million it cost to build the structure, and the taxpayers expect cheap seats. Well, I can't blame them. See Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 01 Sep 2012, 12: 51 PM

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