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October 14, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Red Sox, Astros, Braves advance; Dodgers survive

Thus far the 2021 MLB postseason is proceeding in a rather predictable, consistent way. The home teams won the two wild card games (see below), and did likewise in the opening games of all four divisional series. In contrast, the visiting team prevailed in Game 2 of three of the four divisional series, and three of those four series were ultimately decided in Game 4.

The American League divisional series got underway in St. Petersburg and Houston last Thursday, October 7th. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. went 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run, and the Chicago White Sox won easily, 6-1. In Game 2 the White Sox took a 4-2 lead in the top of the 5th inning, but the Astros came right back to tie it, as their star ace pitcher Lucas Giolito (a former National) faltered. Thanks to a 5-run rally in the 7th inning (for which Chicago relievers Aaron Bummer and veteran Craig Kimbrel were jointly responsible), the Astros secured the 9-4 win. At home on Sunday, the White Sox fell behind 5-1 in the top of the 3rd, but just when things looked bleakest they came roaring back with 5 runs in the bottom of that inning, and 3 more in the 4th. Final score: 12-6. Rain forced a postponement of Game 4 until Tuesday. The White Sox took an early lead when rookie Gavin Sheets* hit a solo home run in the 2nd inning, but that was the last run they would score as the Astros eventually won it, 10-1.

* While chatting about baseball with a retail cashier last month, I learned that he was a second cousin of Gavin Sheets, who was born in Lutherville, MD and played college baseball at Wake Forest. It's a small world! Sheets was called up by the White Sox from the AAA Charlotte Knights in late June, and hit a home run in his second-ever MLB game! He went back down to Charlotte in early August, and then returned to Chicago at the beginning of September. He finished the regular season with an amazing 11 home runs, in only 160 total at bats. He seems to have quite a promising future!

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 5-0 in their series opener, sparked by Randy Arozarena who homered in the 5th inning and actually stole home in the 7th inning. You don't see that very often! Game 2 was a wild one, as the Rays came right back with 5 runs after Boston scored two runs in the top of the first inning. As the innings passed, the Red Sox kept putting runs on the board, and the Rays' relief pitchers couldn't seem to stop them. Former Cardinal pitcher Michael Wacha gave up 6 runs in the final three innings, as the Red Sox won it, 14-6. In Boston for Game 3, the Rays rallied to tie it 4-4 in the top of the 8th inning, but wasted crucial run-scoring opportunites as the game went on into the 13th inning. That's when Christian Vazquez hit a 2-run homer to give the Red Sox a 6-4 victory. Game 4 featured a similar heroic comeback effort by the Rays that wasn't quite enough: Down 5-0 after 3 innings, they tied it 5-5 in the top of the 8th, only to lose the game and the series on a walk off sac fly by Enrique Hernandez in the bottom of the 9th. The Fenway Park faithful went wild at yet another epic postseason triumph!

In the National League, the Atlanta Braves faced the Brewers in Milwaukee's American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) last Friday. (History-oriented fans noted that this matchup took place in the Braves' former home city.) Braves pitcher Charlie Morton (formerly with the Rays and Astros) struck out 9 batters and only allowed 3 hits over 6-plus innings, but one of those was a 2-run homer by Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the 7th. A solo shot by Joc Pederson in the top of the 8th inning narrowed the gap, but the Brewers remained on top, winning 2-1. The Braves won Game 2 thanks mainly to Max Fried, who struck out 9 batters over 6 innings -- the same as Morton the day before. An apparent home run in the 3rd inning by Ozzie Albies (it bounced back from the top of the right field wall) was ruled a double after further review, but the Braves won it anyway, 3-0. In Game 4 on Monday Joc Pederson hit a 3-run home for the Braves in the 5th inning, the only scoring play of the game, as Atlanta took the NL divisional series 3 games to 1.

The exception among the four divisional series was the "clash of titans" between the two winningest teams in the majors this year: the wild card Dodgers (106 - 56) vs. the NL West champion Giants' (107 - 55). It has been a back-and-forth series, with the Giants taking Game 1 by a 4-0 score, handing a rare defeat to Walker Buehler. The Dodgers won Game 2 by a score of 9-2, thanks in large measure to clutch RBI doubles by Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock. In Game 3, former Nationals ace Max Scherzer took the mound, and he lived up to his reputation, striking out 10 batters over 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits, one of which was a solo home run by Evan Longoria in the 5th inning -- the only runs scored in that game. Max was furious when he was replaced in the 8th inning, reminiscent of his days with the Nationals. (Too many times in D.C. he didn't get enough run support.) It was the first time Scherzer was tagged for a loss in a Dodger uniform; he was 7-0 with them in the regular season. In Game 4 on Tuesday night the Dodgers took an early lead thanks to an RBI double in the 1st inning, and they never looked back. Final score: 7-2, evening the series at two games apiece and forcing Game 5, which is taking place at Oracle Park in San Francisco this evening. (It's 1-1 as of the 8th inning.)

Wild cards: Red Sox, Dodgers win

The Red Sox made full use of home field advantage in Fenway Park, taking an early 2-0 lead in the AL wild card game against the New York Yankees thanks to a home run by Xander Bogaerts. Former National (and Cub) Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer in the 3rd inning, and center fielder Alex Verdugo contributed 3 RBIs to Boston's total. The home team prevailed in convincing fashion, 6-2. (See the Postseason scores page.)

With a win-loss record of 106 - 56, the L.A. Dodgers ranked high above the other wild card team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Max Scherzer was pitching for L.A. in Dodger Stadium, but he had kind of an off day. The Cardinals scored a run when he threw a wild pitch in the top of the 1st, but that would be their last run scored. Justin Turner tied the game with a solo homer in the 4th inning, and Chris Taylor hit a fabulous walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th to win it for the home team, 3-1. Dodger Stadium was virtually filled to capacity, with 53,193 happy fans in attendance.

Tricky dealings in Tampa Bay

A public relations goof put the damper on spirits in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The front office thought it would be a good idea to promote the idea of having the Rays split their season between Florida and Montreal, Canada. The banner they put up behind the outfield seats caused an uproar, however, and was quickly taken down. Personally, I kind of like that idea, but if it is to succeed, it will have to be handled in a very delicate fashion.

Back in May, the minority owners of the Rays filed a lawsuit against franchise owner Stuart Sternberg, accusing him of leaving them out of secret negotiations with Montreal. See tampabay.com

Nationals end bad season badly

The Washington Nationals came close to winning the final two games of the season, facing the visiting Boston Red Sox, who were in a tight four-way race for the two AL wild card spots. In all three games the Nats' starting pitchers pitched into the 6th inning, and in the latter two games they were in line for the win until the bullpen crumbled once again. Friday night's game was quite a pitchers' duel until the 6th inning, when the Red Sox scored 4 runs on back-to-back home runs by Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec. It's a shame Josh Rogers couldn't keep up his otherwise-stellar pitching record for just one more inning. Final score: 4-2. On Saturday Nats rookie pitcher Josiah Gray (formerly with the Dodgers) struck out 7 while only giving up one run in 6 innings, and the game was tied 1-1 after 8 innings, but the Red Sox scored 4 runs in the top of the 9th and won it, 5-3. In the finale on Sunday, a rookie named Joan Adon (from the Dominican Republic) was the starting pitcher for the Nationals, and he did amazingly well: 9 strikeouts and just 2 earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. The Nats led 5-2 when Erick Fedde gave up 3 runs to the Red Sox in the top of the 7th inning. Kyle Finnegan gave up a 2-run homer to Rafael Devers, and the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Nationals with a 7-5 victory. That put them in the top-seed position for the wild card game, which proved to be crucial. And thus, a very bad season for the Washington Baseball Team (!) ended on a gloomy note.

In Sunday's game there was an emotional moment when Ryan Zimmerman trotted out to first base alone in the top of the 8th inning, then did a ritual U-turn waving to the crowd when it was announced that he was being replaced. He got a standing (and teary-eyed) ovation from the big crowd of nearly 34,000 fans. Since Zimmerman has not decided whether he will return to play with the Nationals this year, that may have been his final moment on the field in a Nats uniform. I certainly hope not. I was aware of the solemnity of the occasion that day, and did my best to see that game in person:

Nationals Park SW ext 2021

It was a beautiful day for baseball in Our Nation's Capital on October 3rd, and since I happened to be in Washington, I drove right past Nationals Park about three hours before game time. Unfortunately, however, I had to attend to More Important Obligations, and was therefore unable to see the Nationals' 2021 finale. The road construction in the foreground is where South Capitol Street is being re-aligned to more smoothly access the newly-completed Frederick Douglass Bridge, just southwest from the old bridge of that same name.

The astonishing magnitude of the Nationals' second-half collapse got me to thinking how this year compares with preceding years, so I came up with the following table. From April through the end of June this year, the Nats won 40 games and lost 38 (.513), but from July until the end of the season their record was a horrific 25 - 59 (.298).

Nats' 1st & 2nd halves

YearWinning %
April - June
Winning %
July - September
Difference
200560.3%40.5%-19.8%
200640.7%46.9%6.2%
200740.0%50.0%10.0%
200839.3%33.8%-5.5%
200930.3%41.9%11.6%
201043.0%42.2%-0.9%
201149.4%50.0%0.6%
201257.9%62.8%4.9%
201350.6%55.6%4.9%
201453.7%65.0%11.3%
201555.8%47.1%-8.8%
201660.0%57.3%-2.7%
201758.8%61.0%2.2%
201851.9%49.4%-2.5%
201950.6%64.6%14.0%
2020-43.3%NA
202151.3%29.8%-21.5%

The data above pertain to the first and second three-month periods of each season (including March games under April, and October regular-season games under September), not to the actual 81-game halves of each year. (In 2020, no games were played until late July.)


September 30, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Red-hot Cardinals grab a wild card spot

By the beginning of September, three teams in the National League had essentially claimed a berth in the 2021 postseason: the San Francisco Giants and L.A. Dodgers fighting it out neck and neck in the West Division, and the Milwaukee Brewers who were dominant in the Central Division. For most of the month, the Atlanta Braves clung to a small lead over the Phillies in the NL East, and just tonight they finally clinched the division title. Waiting in the wings as contenders for the second wild card slot early in the month were the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, while as of September 12, the St. Louis Cardinals were estimated to only have a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs. But then the Cardinals won 17 games in a row, surging ahead of the Padres and Reds to take the second NL wild card spot. It was an incredible late-season burst, somewhat reminisiscent of the 1969 New York Mets. The Cardinals finally lost a game on Wednesday night (to the Brewers), but they then beat the Brewers on Thursday. Now all that's left to decide in the National League is the West Division championship, but the Giants are virtually assured of winning.

Four-way wild card race in AL

In contrast to the National League, the race for the two wild card slots in the "Junior Circuit" is still wide open as the final weekend of regular season play is about to begin. The amazing Tampa Bay Rays clinched the AL East title a week ago, and yesterday they claimed top seed in the American League, getting home field advantage until the World Series. There was likewise little doubt that either the Chicago White Sox or the Houston Astros would win their respective divisions (AL Central and AL West), but there has been a great deal of volatility as far as the wild card slots. The New York Yankees have gone through big ups and downs, losing seven games in a row in mid-month, after a 13-game winning streak in late August. They recovered late in the month, and now have the inside track in the AL wild card race. The Boston Red Sox had been contending with the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild card spot, but both teams began to flag somewhat late in the month. The Oakland Athletics looked promising for much of the 2021 season, but they have had a poor month. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners seemingly came out of nowhere to tie the Red Sox in the wild card race, one game behind the Yankees. The Mariners have accomplished almost as big a surge as the Cardinals, winning nine of their last ten games. The Blue Jays are one game behind those two teams. So everything comes down to who wins their respective final regular season series this weekend.

As is customary, the postseason scoreboard begins to appear on the first day of October at the bottom of my baseball blog page. (Since the regular season extends into October this year, that scoreboard is only provisional at this point.)

Max Scherzer tops 3,000 strikeouts

It was a painfully bittersweet moment for Washington Nationals fans when their former ace pitcher Max Scherzer threw his 3,000th career strikeout on September 12. He threw eight perfect innings, including nine strikeouts, against the visiting Padres before giving up a single to Eric Hosmer in the top of the ninth inning. Scherzer was then relieved, and the Dodgers soon completed an 8-0 shutout victory. After striking out five batters in a rare mediocre outing against the Padres yesterday, he now has 3,020 strikeouts altogether, seven more than his former team mate (with the Detroit Tigers) Justin Verlander, who has not been healthy enough to pitch for the Houston Astros this year. Scherzer remains at 15 wins for the year, with just four losses. Since joining the Dodgers at the beginning of August he has won seven games and lost none. Until recently, he led the majors in ERA, but Corbin Burnes (of the Milwaukee Brewers) just took the lead in that category. Ironically, Burnes was the pitcher who followed Max Scherzer in the 2021 All-Star Game, and in fact he was the one who took the loss. Here is a quick look at Max Scherzer's career:

From Until Team Strikeouts
2008 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks 240
2010 2014 Detroit Tigers 1,081
2015 2021 Washington Nationals 1,610
2021 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers 89
2008 2021 TOTAL 3,020

Nationals show some improvement

After two straight "hellish" months (8 - 18 in July and 7 - 20 in August), the Washington Nationals performed just a little better in September, with a record of 10 wins and 16 losses. After enduring a second seven-game losing streak this year (August 28 - September 4), they won almost every other game for the next two weeks, and they even won three games in a row, two of which were against the Marlins in Miami, on September 21 and 22; that was the only series they won this month. Losing series to the Mets (Sept. 3-6), Braves (Sept. 7-9), and Reds (Sept. 23-26) was understandable, but they really should have won more of the series against the Pirates (Sept. 10-12), Marlins (Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 20-22), and Rockies (Sept. 17-19 and Sept. 27-29). They managed to avoid getting swept by any of those teams, at least. Back home in D.C. this weekend after a long road trip, the Nationals will face the Boston Red Sox, who are highly motivated, needing at least two wins if they are going to take a wild card slot. After the last regular season game is completed on Sunday, I will update the Washington Nationals page with data for September (including October).

One of the most amazing statistics from this year is that the Nationals are actually leading the National League with a .249 team batting average. How can that be when they have lost so many games? Partly it is the poor pitching, with a 4.79 team ERA (ranking 24th out of 30 MLB teams) and the second-most home runs given up of all MLB team: 241. (The Orioles "lead" with 247 home runs given up.) Somehow the Nationals pitchers have tied a record (14) for most number of grand slams given up in one season. Will they break that record this weekend? But it is also partly the failure to provide run support when pitchers do have good outings. The Nationals batters have been notoriously weak in clutch situations, leaving many runners on base.

Another weakness of the Nationals is their failure to score in extra innings. According to my calculations, they have won only two extra-inning games this year, while they have lost eleven. (This includes games lasting eight or nine innings in double-header games that last seven innings under the special rules instituted last year.)

Among the many positive developments is that Juan Soto has fully recovered from his mid-season injury, and now has 29 home runs and a .318 batting average. He briefly had the highest average in the majors this week, but former National Trea Turner (now with the Dodgers, batting .325) reclaimed the number one position in that category. Soto has 94 RBIs, and with a little luck can break into the triple digits during this final weekend.

It is also worth pointing out that several of the newly-acquired players have performed exceptionally well. Josh Rogers, who was designated for assignment by the Orioles early in the year, has really blossomed with the Nationals since being called up at the beginning of September. In five starts, he has a 2.73 ERA, 19 strikeouts, and a 2-1 record. Former Cardinal Lane Thomas is batting .285 and has hit seven home runs; he is now the regular center fielder, replacing the disappointing Victor Robles, whose days with the Nationals may be numbered. Two young catchers show great promise as sluggers: Keibert Ruiz (part of the mega-trade with the Dodgers) and Riley Adams. Meanwhile, veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Alcides Escobar, Josh Bell, and Yadiel Hernandez are also hitting well on a regular basis.

All these things point to a big improvement for the Nationals next year. But how big??? Are the Lerners going to put down some big bucks to acquire first-class pitchers in order to become contenders once again, or will the "rebuilding" process take two or more years?


August 27, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Nats fall into cellar, bounce back

To the surprise of no one, the newly-rebuilt Washington Nationals struggled throughout this month, and for a while they appeared to be going from bad to worse. After getting swept in a four-game series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies (see August 5), the Nats chalked up just one victory during the following nine games. They lost seven games in a row from August 8 through August 15, at which point they had fallen into last place, behind the Marlins. Then they bounced back with three consecutive wins and presently have a tenuous hold on fourth place.

From August 6 through 8, the Nationals were nearly swept by the Braves at Truist Park in (or near) Atlanta. Thanks to a pinch-hit double by Ryan Zimmerman and a home run by new catcher Riley Austin, they put three runs on the board in the ninth inning and managed to win the second game of the series (Saturday), 3-2. That late rally helped the Nats' promising new pitcher Josiah Gray avoid a would-be loss; he struck out ten batters over five innings.

After resting on Monday, the Nats headed up to New York City for three games against the Mets. Rain forced a suspension of the first game, which the Mets won 8-7 the next day. Rain also forced a postponement of the second game to Thursday, when a double-header (seven innings each) was played. The Mets won the early game 4-1, with a guy just called up from the Rochester minor league affiliate, Sean Nolin, pitching for the Nats. In the late game, the Nats rallied to tie it 4-4 in the top of the seventh inning, thanks to a clutch two-run single by Andrew Stevenson, but in the bottom of that inning Pete Alonso hit a walk-off home run to win it for the Mets. In a way it was fitting, since he was the champion of the Home Run Derby in Denver last month. Nats' pitcher Kyle Finnegan took the loss.

On Friday the 13th, the Nationals returned home to D.C. and welcomed the division-leading Atlanta Braves to town. There was a rain delay of over three hours, which seems ridiculous, but given the wet forecast for the weekend, they may not have had a choice. The Nats only scored two runs apiece in the first two games, but perked up offensively in the third game on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Braves hit three home runs and won that game (6-5), thus completing the sweep.

The day off on Monday, August 16 seemed to help the Nationals, as they racked up their first double-digit run total in nearly a month when the Toronto Blue Jays came to Nationals Park the next day. Home runs were hit by both Yadiel Hernandez and new catcher Riley Adams, who also doubled and singled. (Adams was traded to the Nationals for pitcher Brad Hand in late July, and he has improved markedly.) On Wednesday both teams hit three home runs, but the Nats came out ahead thanks to a four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning. Brad Hand took the loss in the 8-5 final result, and Kyle Finnegan got the save for the Nats.

Then the Nationals spent Thursday flying out west to play the Brewers at American Family Field (not "Miller Park" any more) in Milwaukee. After numerous disappointments on the mound this year, Patrick Corbin had a superlative game, striking out seven batters and giving up only one run over six innings. The Nats' star player (with 2 RBIs) in that game was left fielder Lane Thomas, who was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Jon Lester. (See below.) Much like Riley Adams, Thomas has been hitting much better since he joined the Nationals. He has also played center field, and may end up replacing Victor Robles, whose hitting and base-running struggles are almost legendary. On Saturday the two teams were tied 4-4 until the bottom of the eighth inning, when the Brewers scored five runs thanks mainly to a grand slam by Christian Yelich. (The Brewers slugger has been on the Injured List for most of this season.) Nats' pitcher Javy Rodriguez took the loss in the 9-6 outcome, and lasted a third of an inning. In the Sunday game, the Nats equalled their hosts in terms of hits (9) but just couldn't capitalize on run-scoring opportunities, and lost by a score of 7-3.

Monday the 23rd was yet another travel day for the Nats, as they flew to Miami to play the Marlins. In the Tuesday game Erick Fedde pitched his best game of the year, striking out ten batters over six innings. Home runs by catcher Tres Barrera and Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals a much-needed 5-1 victory. On Wednesday Josiah Gray pitched very well for the Nats once again, but his team mates didn't give him any run support until the seventh inning. That's when Josh Bell and Yadiel Hernandez hit back-to-back home runs to give the Nats a 3-2 lead. But in the bottom of the inning, relief pitcher Andres Machado gave up a leadoff triple, and soon the game was tied 3-3. It stayed that way until the tenth inning, when the Nats' Carter Kieboom (automatic runner on second base) was thrown out at home on a single by Riley Adams. So close! The Marlins executed a sacrifice bunt to get their automatic runner to third base, all but guaranteeing a home team victory. Marlins 4, Nats 3.

After flying to New York once again, tonight the Nationals faced the Mets, who have been perhaps even more jinxed than the Nationals over the past month. Thanks to some clutch hits in the third inning, the Nats managed to eke out a 2-1 victory, credited to starting pitcher Paolo Espino. In contrast to what happened two weeks ago, Kyle Finnegan got the save.

Kyle Finnegan

The Nationals' new de facto closer, Kyle Finnegan, at Nationals Park on June 16.

Injury update

The Nationals' fifth starting pitcher, Joe Ross, is out for the rest of the season, but at least for the moment it does not appear that he will need Tommy John surgery, as appeared to be the case at first. If so, it would be his second time. In addition, catcher Alex Avila has been on the injured list for several weeks. Relief pitcher Austin Voth returned to the Nats roster after being placed on the Injured List late in July, and his performance seems more reliable thus far. And, in another chapter of a never-ending tragedy, Stephen Strasburg had surgery to repair thoracic muscles, meaning that he will not only miss the rest of this year, but probably the first part of next year as well. He hardly played at all last year. Sad to say, but his renewed contract in late 2019 after the Nats won the World Series may turn out to be one of the biggest busts in franchise history.

Meanwhile, in L.A. ...

Former National Max Scherzer is doing his best to help his new team (the Dodgers) catch up with the Giants in the NL West race. He has won four of his five starts with Los Angeles, with no losses yet. Last night in San Diego (when the Dodgers won, 4-0) he struck out ten batters, raising his strikeout total to 188 for the year (41 with L.A.), and 2,972 lifetime. If he keeps up this pace, there seems little doubt that he will cross the immortal threshhold of 3,000 Ks some time in the middle of September. The other former National that was traded to the Dodgers in late July, Trea Turner, is likewise keeping up the pace in terms of batting and fielding. With a .320 batting average, he still leads the National League in that category.

Yankees win yet again

On Monday evening, for the first time in 120 years (really???), two teams with nine-game winning streaks faced each other: the New York Yankees and the host Atlanta Braves. The Yankees won 5-1, and beat the Braves again the next day, 5-4. After beating the Athletics twice in Oakland, the Yankees now have a 13-game winning streak and are putting pressure on the AL East Division leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have won nine of their last ten games, which is not too shabby.

Orioles finally win

They came very close to losing once again, but thanks to a five-run eighth-inning rally on Wednesday, the Baltimore Orioles just barely managed to beat the visiting L.A. Angels, thus putting an end to their miserable 19-game losing streak. Suddenly pumped up with adrenaline, they clobbered the Angels 13-1 the next day. After losing to the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, the Orioles are now 40-87 for the year (.315), 39 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East. I heard they have one of the best farm systems in the majors, however, and with the anticipated top draft picks for next year, the franchise should improve markedly.

The Nationals' diaspora: (CORRECTED)

I realized that I had omitted the name of a (former) Nationals player who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in late July: veteran pitcher Jon Lester. My apologies for leaving him out. So here is a corrected version of the table that I included in my August 5 blog post.

Name Position New team With Nats since
Max Scherzer P L.A. Dodgers 2015
Trea Turner SS L.A. Dodgers 2016
Kyle Schwarber LF Boston Red Sox 2021
Daniel Hudson P San Diego Padres 2019
Josh Harrison 2B Oakland Athletics 2020
Yan Gomes C Oakland Athletics 2019
Brad Hand P Toronto Blue Jays 2021
Jon Lester P St. Louis Cardinals 2021

I will try to assemble a corresponding list of newly-acquired Nationals players, since many of them show great promise for the future. Overall, General Manager Mike Rizzo did a great job in getting very good talent in return for all the top stars who were traded away one month ago.


August 17, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Hollywood ending in the Field of Dreams

I was a little skeptical when it was first announced, but the Yankees-White Sox game played in the corn fields of eastern Iowa last Thursday, August 12 turned out to be a big hit. The Field Of Dreams game had been delayed by one year due to the covid-19 pandemic, and it was a stroke of good luck that the weather was almost ideal. With seating limited to just 8,000 fans, MLB arranged a ticket lottery open only to residents of the state of Iowa. Fair enough. (Mark London, a long-time fan of this website, kept me posted about developments in the weeks before the game took place, and he tried to get tickets via the lottery.) A similar game held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in July 3, 2016 was open only to members of the armed services and their families. Field Of Dreams actor Kevin Costner was part of the opening ceremonies, in which the players for both sides entered the field from the corn, a very effective gimmick. The Yankees and White Sox battled back and forth as the game progressed, with the lead changing four times. In the top of the ninth inning, the Yankees erased a three-run deficit and took the lead thanks to home runs hit by two of their biggest sluggers: Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. But in the bottom of the ninth, Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson hit a home run into the corn beyond right field, as the "home team" White Sox won the game in dramatic walk-off fashion. Almost as if it had been scripted that way... White Sox 9, Yankees 8.

The game was such a success in terms of TV viewing and advertising revenues that MLB announced that there will be another game there next year: between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs. If they open it up to non-Iowans, I'd like to see that game...

Field of Dreams update

Field Of Dreams

And so, needless to say, I made some corrections and enhancements to the Field of Dreams page. It now includes separate diagrams for the new stadium where the game was played last week, as well as the diagram showing the diamond about 1/4 mile to the east, where the movie was actually filmed. [It is based largely on various aerial photos I have seen, including photos I took of the TV screen during the game. NOTE: The estimated 1,300-foot distance between the home plates of those two fields as rendered in the "combined" thumbnail image is only an "eyeball" approximation, and could be off by as much as 50 feet.] The thumbnail image above allows you to compare (by clicking, rolling your mouse over, etc.) the original (1988) Field Of Dreams with the new one where the MLB game was just played.

The new stadium is a simple, one-deck grandstand, resembling Fort Bragg Field, where the Braves hosted the Marlins on July 3, 2016. The portion surrounding the infield consists of 20 rows of seats with a row press boxes perched on top of fan amenities to the rear of the grandstand. There are access ramps on both the first and third base sides. Along the third base line down to the left field corner there is a large bleacher section, with about 40 rows of bench seats. The bullpens are in center field, and the corn fields run right up against the right and left field fences. Behind the main grandstand are two very large tents, presumably serving as emergency shelters and logistical functions. (There are also a number of other smaller structures and tents, which the diagram omits for reasons of simplicity.)

In addition, I have updated the Anomalous stadiums page with that information, as well as the two temporary ballparks used by the Toronto Blue Jays this year: TD Park (new page pending) in Dunedin, Florida and Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York.

Another (very special!) no-hitter

There was yet another no-hitter on Saturday night, as Tyler Gilbert, age 27, led the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 7-0 victory over the visiting San Diego Padres. It was the seventh (!) no-hitter this year, according to my calculations. This one was special, however, as it was the first time that a pitcher had thrown a no-hitter in his very first major league start since Bobo Holliman did it for the St. Louis Browns in 1953. (Holliman didn't last long in the majors, however.) Gilbert's parents were attending the game in Chase Field, obviously delighted beyond measure. Ironically, the losing pitcher in Saturday's game, Joe Musgrove, had thrown the first no-hitter in Padres history back on April 9.


August 5, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Fire sale from the smoldering ruins:
Nats trade away Max, Trea, Kyle, and many more!

As expected, after their season effectively went crashing down in flames last month, the Washington Nationals officially parted ways with three of their biggest stars: Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Kyle Schwarber. As the trade deadline (Friday July 30) approached last week, there was a rumor that Scherzer was about to be traded to the San Diego Padres, but then the L.A. Dodgers zoomed in and closed a deal that seemed more attractive to the Nationals. The key condition was that Trea Turner (who was under contractual obligation for another year) be included in the bargain. Scherzer becomes a free agent at the end of this year, and as a "rental" player is of less value to the Dodgers. Those two superstars were exchanged for four young prospects, most notably pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz. The transaction was contingent upon medical exams of all players concerned, and became a formality on Friday. By that time, Kyle Schwarber had already been traded to the Boston Red Sox, but he is still recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered a month ago.

But wait, there's more! In addition to the trades of Scherzer, Turner, and Schwarber, the Nationals also announced on Thursday that Yan Gomes (catcher) and Josh Harrison (infielder) were being traded to the Oakland Athletics, while Daniel Hudson went to the San Diego Padres. Actually, the first National to be traded last was closing pitcher Brad Hand, who was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays. No surprise there. The benefit to the Nationals side will come primarily from the savings in salaries owed, enabling the franchise to rebuild its minor league system.

Although few knowledgeable baseball observers would question the need for the Nationals to unload some of their priciest stars, some might question whether General Manager Mike Rizzo went too far. Obviously, major league baseball is a business, but financial success is derived to a large extent from maintaining the goodwill of the team's fan base. When the Florida/Miami Marlins had "fire sales" immediately after their World Series victories in 1997 and 2003, it did great damage to the Marlins' popularity in south Florida. To the credit of the Nationals' owners, the Lerner family, they did invest a substantial amount of money after the 2019 World Series championship in retaining old talent (e.g. Stephen Strasburg) and acquiring new talent (e.g. Kyle Schwarber). It just didn't work out, and there was no point in pretending otherwise.

The Nationals' diaspora

Name Position New team With Nats since
Max Scherzer P L.A. Dodgers 2015
Trea Turner SS L.A. Dodgers 2016
Kyle Schwarber LF Boston Red Sox 2021
Daniel Hudson P San Diego Padres 2019
Josh Harrison 2B Oakland Athletics 2020
Yan Gomes C Oakland Athletics 2019
Brad Hand P Toronto Blue Jays 2021

The acquisition of free agent Max Scherzer in January 2015 was probably the biggest coup of Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo's career. The seven-year $210 million contract turned out to be a spectacular bargain for the Nationals, as Scherzer played a key role in winning the NL East Division three times and winning the World Series in 2019. (I wrote back then "Is he really worth that much?" Ha! smile) Scherzer threw two no-hitters during his very first year with the Nationals: June 20, 2015 (at home vs. the Pirates) and October 3, 2015 (while visiting the New York Mets). He won the National League Cy Young Award in both 2016 and 2017, after having won the AL Cy Young in 2013 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. During his four months playing with the Nationals this year, Max Scherzer had eight wins and four losses, with 147 strikeouts (seventh best in the major leagues), and a 2.76 ERA. In his first start with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, he gave up a home run to the second batter he faced but then struck out ten batters over seven innings, getting the win. Typical Max! The near-capacity crowd at Dodger Stadium roared its approval, and Max relishes the opportunity to pitch deep into October as his new team tries to repeat its World Series title. It's all very difficult for me to absorb... frown

Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer pitched against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 30, 2017, when the visitors won the game, 4-1. Max finished with a 16-6 record for the year.

Whereas the departure of Scherzer (soon to be a free agent) was widely expected, Trea Turner's sudden exit was quite a shock. The Nationals were unable to come to terms with him on a long-term contract this year, but he is (or was) under team control for one more year. (I try to ignore rumors, but it seems that neither side was particularly motivated to renew the contractual relationship.) That fact that Turner was under a contractual obligation may have motivated the key demand made by the Dodgers in the Scherzer trade. Turner was originally acquired by the Nationals from the Padres in a multi-team trade in December 2014 -- just a few weeks before the Max Scherzer deal, in fact. A speedster, he spent most of 2015 in center field, after which he replaced Danny Epinosa (and Ian Desmond) as shortstop. (I saw his major league debut on August 21, 2015, when he he almost beat the throw on what would have been an infield single.) Over the years he blossomed from a solid contact hitter and defensive player into a top-caliber slugger. During his four months playing with the Nationals this year, Turner had 18 home runs, 42 RBIs, and a .322 batting average -- the fourth best in the major leagues! On July 29 he was placed on the 10-day Injured List after testing positive for covid-19. The Dodgers will benefit greatly from his presence, but there may be some rearrangement of the infield, since Corey Seager has held the shortstop position for a few years. Modest and youthful in appearance, Trea will be missed greatly by fans in Washington.

Trea Turner

Trea Turner in a game against the New York Mets on September 21, 2018, when the visitors won the game, 4-2.

In retrospect, perhaps the historic home run hitting performance by Kyle Schwarber in June (16 home runs within an 18-day period) was just too good to last. His hamstring injury in early July suddenly put a chill on the Nationals' aspirations to vie for the NL East title; it's almost as though the fortunes of the entire Nationals franchise were held together by those fragile ligaments in his legs. He heard an ugly "pop" while rounding first base, and the rest is history. Recovery from hamstring injuries is hard to predict, so it may take a few more weeks before he is able to help his new team (the Boston Red Sox) as they compete against the Tampa Bay Rays.

After two years of disappointment with the Nationals, catcher Yan Gomes (born in Brazil!) showed remarkable improvement in the batter's box this year. He and Josh Harrison were traded to the Oakland Athletics, who have been in a close race with the Houston Astros for the AL West crown. Harrison has been a very useful infielder, who can hit fairly regularly and can play a variety of positions. Relief pitcher Daniel Hudson, who replaced Sean Doolittle as the Nats' closer late in the 2019 season and got the final out in World Series Game 7, was traded to the San Diego Padres. He didn't enjoy being the closing pitcher, a very stressful and often thankless job.

Of all the trades made, the one involving closing pitcher Brad Hand (traded to the Toronto Blue Jays) was least painful for Nats fans. Despite getting a $10.5 million contract for this year, he repeatedly failed to meet expectations, and often turned victories into losses. Hand was criticized for several gut-wrenching blown saves this year, most notably the ones on July 25 (vs. the Orioles) and 26 (vs. the Phillies). After losing those two games, all hope was gone for the Nats. Hand got 21 saves out of 26 save opportunities with the Nationals this year, ranking a very respectable #13 in the major leagues. On the other hand, several of his saves were of a most precarious nature, giving up multiple hits, walks, and runs. It's an odd mixed bag of pluses and minuses. In the top of the tenth inning Monday, when the Blue Jays were hosting the Cleveland Indians, Hand gave up three runs and was tagged with the loss.

Brad Hand

Brad Hand pitched against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, getting his 13th save of the year.

Farewell and best wishes, Max, Trea, Kyle, Josh, Yan, Daniel, & Brad!

Hellish month comes to an end

There was a fleeting moment of wistful glory in the early afternoon of July 29 when Max Scherzer pitched his final game with the Nationals, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. He struck out five batters over six innings, and when Yan Gomes hit a go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh inning, that put Max in line to get his eighth win of the season. Nats 3, Phillies 1. But the second game that day turned out to be an eerie repeat of the 9-8 loss to the Padres on July 8. The Nats jumped to a 7-0 lead by the middle of the third inning, but starting pitcher Patrick Corbin and the relief pitchers that followed him began hemmorhaging runs. The Phillies scored three in the eighth inning, and four in the ninth inning on a grand slam by Brad Miller, winning it 11-8. Sam Clay took the loss for the Nats. It was yet another one of the worst collapses in Nationals' history, ruining what could have been an uplifting series win against a good team. Instead, the Nats and Phillies split the series two games apiece.

Back in Washington for the weekend, the radically revamped Nationals did fairly well against the Chicago Cubs, who also traded away some of their key players in a fire sale of their own. The Nats' Paolo Espino pitched well enough for a victory on Friday (4-3) and Erick Fedde did likewise on Sunday (6-5). But the Saturday game (July 31) was plagued by a mediocre performance by Joe Ross, who was replaced in the fifth inning. The Cubs won that one, 6-3. Still, getting a series win was at least something to be proud of for the New Nationals.

But then the Philadelphia Phillies came to town on the second day of August, and nothing went right for the Nationals. On Monday they had a 3-2 lead going into the top of the ninth inning, and Davey Martinez decided to send Gabe Klobosits back out to the mound after he got three quick outs in the eighth inning. Well, the first two batters singled, so the extraordinarily unreliable Wander Suero was sent in to finish the game. It was a complete, unmitigated catastrophe. Before you knew it, five Phillies had crossed the plate, taking a 7-3 lead. To their credit, the Nats came back with two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but they still lost, 7-5. Suero was promptly traded away, and quite frankly will not be missed in D.C. On Tuesday Patrick Corbin pitched very well until the seventh inning, when the Phillies scored three runs. Comeback rallies by the Nats fell short in the 5-4 defeat. On Wednesday Paolo Espino could not contain the Phillies, and the Nats lost 9-5 even though they hit four home runs -- two by the young second baseman, Luis Garcia. Thursday afternoon looked like the Nats would finally catch a break, as they headed into the ninth inning with a 5-3 lead. But Kyle Finnegan, who is the closest thing the Nationals currently have to a reliable relief pitcher, flinched when the heat was on. The Phillies tied it 5-5 on an RBI double by J.T. Realmuto, and then took a 7-5 lead on an RBI double by Rhys Hoskins. The one run scored by the Nats in the bottom of the ninth was not quite enough.

Two observations about that series: Nats' third baseman Carter Kieboom, who had been heralded as a future star until repeated disappointments, may finally have turned the corner and started to live up to his potential. He has hit two home runs recently, and is hitting regularly as well. Also, the Phillies' Bryce Harper has been on a hot streak lately, and may be a contender for the NL title in the home run and batting average categories. He may even be a candidate for NL MVP, which he won in 2015 -- way back when he was with the Nationals.

For the month of July, the Nats went 8-18, after going 19-9 in June; it was an apocalyptic downturn of truly epic proportions. The Washington Nationals page has been updated accordingly. Now that the Nationals are out of the postseason picture for this year, and probably for at least the next year or two, I plan to spend less time in this blog recounting their games. For a team in rebuilding mode, wins and losses are of secondary importance.

American League wins All-Star Game again

For the eighth consecutive year (not counting last year when the event was canceled), the American League won the All-Star Game. The Nationals' ace (at the time) Max Scherzer started the game for the National League, and got three quick outs. Why didn't they keep him in for one more inning? The pitcher who replaced him, Corbin Burnes (of the Milwaukee Brewers), gave up a run in both the second and third innings. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays' young phenom Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit a solo homer and later batted in a second run, thus becoming the youngest (age 22) player ever to be named All-Star Game MVP. The final score was 5-2. For the first time ever, the starting pitcher for one league (Shohei Ohtani) was the leadoff batter for that side. (Somehow they let him have a second at-bat as a designated hitter after he had been replaced as pitcher; very strange.) The game was moved from Atlanta's Truist Park to Denver's Coors Field, in response to protests against restrictive voting laws passed by the Georgia state legislature. See the Annual baseball chronology page.

Alonso wins Home Run Derby again

Do you like repeats? If so, you'll love the fact that Pete Alonso (New York Mets) won this year's Home Run Derby, just like the last time the event was held, two years ago. He beat the Orioles' Trey Mancini 23-22 in the final round after beating the Nationals' Juan Soto 16-15 in the second round.

But perhaps the biggest news from that Monday night spectacle was that the top-seeded Shohei Ohtani, who then led the majors with 33 home runs, was eliminated by the Nationals' Juan Soto in the first round. It was a memorable double-tiebreaker situation, with Soto ending up with 31 home runs to Ohtani's 28.

Baseball returns to Canada

On Friday July 30, the Toronto Blue Jays returned home to the Rogers Centre (ex-Skydome) for the first time since the end of the 2019 season. Because of travel restrictions made necessary by the covid-19 pandemic, the Blue Jays played all of the abbreviated last season at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York. They played the first two months this year at their spring training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida -- TD Park -- and then went back to Buffalo for the mid-summer. (Text updates to both those pages are pending; I will have to create a diagram for TD Park in the coming months.)

Superdome is renamed

As expected, the "Mercedes-Benz" Superdome was renamed in mid-July; it is now officially called "Caesar's Superdome," after the resort hotel / casino enterprise. The connection with gambling interests is troubling to some people, just as is the case with the Las Vegas (formerly Oakland) Raiders. The Superdome page has been updated to reflect that.




Postseason scores, 2021

Major League Baseball championship series, 2021
World Champions: TBA
Wild Card Games / Divisional series
Oct. 5 - 14
League Championship series
Oct. 15 - 24
World Series
Oct. 26 - Nov. 3
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NL-E: Atlanta Braves (.547) 1 3 3 5 X    
NL-C: Milwaukee Brewers (.586) 2 0 0 4 X    
    Los Angeles Dodgers  
    Atlanta Braves  
NL-wc: St. Louis Cardinals (.556) 1  
NL-wc: Los Angeles Dodgers (.654) 3   0 9 0 7 2
NL-W: San Francisco Giants (.660) 4 2 1 2 1    
 
 
AL-C: Chicago White Sox (.574) 1 4 12 1 X    
AL-W: Houston Astros (.586) 6 9 6 10 X    
    Boston Red Sox  
    Houston Astros  
AL-wc: New York Yankees (.568) 2  
AL-wc: Boston Red Sox (.568) 6   0 14 6 6 X   Extra-inning game: X
AL-E: Tampa Bay Rays (.617) 5 6 4 5 X   Win by visiting team: X

See explanatory notes at bottom.

Explanatory notes

(Regular season winning percentages in parentheses.) Boldfaced scores indicate the winning team. Underlined scores denote extra-inning games. Olive-shaded score boxes denote games won by the VISITING team. Higher-seeded teams (those with the initial home field advantage) are shown on the BOTTOM side in each matchup. However, beginning with 2012, each league has TWO wild card teams, competing in a one-game "play-in," and whichever of those two teams that wins in each league is displayed below (after the outcome is known), so as to properly align with the subsequent divisional series scores. Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2016, the league that won the All Star Game got the initial home field advantage in the World Series; prior to 2003, initial home field advantage in the World Series alternated from year to year. Except for 2002 (the infamous tie), the American League won the All Star Game every year between 1997 and 2009. Beginning in 2017, home field advantage in the World Series goes to the team with the higher regular season winning percentage.


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Baseball books:


See Sources for a brief description of the above books. Also see more specialized books on the Ebbets Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium pages.





Coming Attractions

General diagrams
to be updated:

General diagrams
yet to be created:

City map/diagrams
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(Includes major revisions, minor revisions, pages with additional diagrams, and future stadiums that are under construction. This is only a rough guide; the sequence is subject to change.)


Stadium construction

Soon after the 2017 opening of the new home of the Atlanta Braves (SunTrust Park), construction began on the future home of the Texas Rangers, a very brief lapse. The last significant lapse occurred from March 2012 (when Marlins Park was completed), September 2014 (when construction on SunTrust Park began). Before that, there was at least one major league baseball stadium under construction continually from September 1986 until March 2012. Both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays hope to get public funding for a new stadium, but near-term prospects are bleak.

NEW! Stadium construction page, with a chronology of the past 30 years.


Research department: