July 10, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in June: ducks, orioles, and falcons
Just like the month of May, the first day of June (a Monday) was quite memorable for me. Someone reported that two extremely rare ducks had been seen at Willow Lake, just south of the Augusta-Rockbridge County line near Raphine. So, I prevailed upon Jacqueline to make that one of our stops during a leisurely drive through the countryside, and I lucked out. We started out at McCormick's Mill, located nearby, and had nice views of an Eastern Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, and Warbling Vireo. Then we drove to Willow Lake and soon saw a Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, and a Green Heron. I didn't know exactly where the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were supposed to be, but a guy from Elkton named Mike Smith spotted them, next to the gazebo. (He had a spotting scope.) I could only get to within about 80 yards of the ducks, so the photos were mediocre but still clear enough for positive identification. Life bird #508!! Unfortunately, there is no indication that those birds flew north one mile into Augusta County, as it would have been the first-ever record of that species in this area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Warbling Vireo, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Meadowlark, and (center) Eastern Kingbird. (McCormick's Mill and Willow Lake, June 1)
The next day we went for another lengthy drive, this time into the Shenandoah National Park -- all the way from the south entrance to Route 33 east of Elkton. It was sunny at first, but then clouds began to impinge negatively upon the lighting conditions. We got our first good bird views at the Crimora Lake overlook, where an Indigo Bunting and Pine Warbler both responded to their species' songs being played back on the iPhone. Further along, at the Dundo picnic area, we saw two Eastern Wood Pewees fighting over territory, as well as an Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwings, Red-eyed Vireo, and Chipping Sparrows. Next, at the Powell Gap parking area, I heard and finally saw a Cerulean Warbler, which -- typically -- refused to cooperate with my picture-taking efforts. Finally, at the Hightop Mountain trail head (part of the Appalachian Trail), I had a great view of a young male American Redstart, an Ovenbird, a female Eastern Towhee, and glimpsed another Cerulean Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, and Ovenbird. (Shenandoah National Park, June 2)
On Friday June 4th I paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane, and was handsomely rewarded. I saw both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles (the latter munching on mulberries in a tree), as well as a Great Crested Flycatcher and others listed below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher, and (center) Great Crested Flycatcher. (Bell's Lane, June 4)
The next day Jacqueline and I went to Braley Pond, hoping to see Bald Eagles, but I settled for nice views of a Pine Warbler and a Wood Thrush. On June 8th I went back to Bell's Lane and was amused to see a Willow Flycatcher perched on a wire in close proximity to a Brown Thrasher. (Willow Flycatchers seem less common this year.) The other highlights were a Baltimore Oriole and Green Heron. I went all the way to the end of the extended portion adjacent to the golf course, where I heard but did not see a Prairie Warbler singing. Six days later, on June 14th, I returned to Bell's Lane. Once again I saw both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, but the big highlight was seeing two adult male Pileated Woodpeckers right next to each other along the extended portion of Bell's Lane. I was surprised that there was no physical altercation between them! Once again I heard the Prairie Warbler singing.
On June 15th, for the first time this year, I went to the lowland meadow along Indian Mound Road, northeast of Staunton. I could hear a Common Yellowthroat singing, but only caught brief, distant glimpses of it. I did get a nice view of an Indigo Bunting, however, and on West Amber Road, which intersects Indian Mound Road, I saw an Orchard Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and Cedar Waxwings. That place is a veritable hot spot for birds, and should be monitored more often.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Brown-headed Cowbird*, Indigo Bunting, and (center) American Goldfinch. (Indian Mound Rd. & W. Amber Rd., June 15)
* seen on the extended portion of Bell's Lane.
Returning from the Washington, D.C. area on June 17th, I decided to take the scenic route, entering the Shenandoah National Park via Route 211 east of Luray. My first stop was at the parking lot where the Panorama restaurant used to be, adjacent to Route 211. (It had been closed for many years, but I didn't realize that it has been completely demolished.) Barn Swallows were zooming all around, some at very low level. I had brief views of some American Goldfinches, but not much else. Then I stopped on the south side of the tunnel adjacent to the peak known as Mary's Rock. There I saw Eastern Phoebes and some kind of warbler. At the Stony Man overlook I had nice looks at a Chipping Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, but the highlight of the day was at the Timber Hollow overlook. There I spotted a young Peregrine Falcon soaring and diving at high speed, but it soon departed the area. That is a rare species, and I was awestruck. I also was lucky to see a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the same overlook. Soon thereafter I stopped at the the Franklin Cliffs overlook, where I was told that the Peregrine Falcon restoration project is located. That was time well spent! Later in the day I stopped at Big Meadows and one or two overlooks farther south, where I finally saw my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year. I was running late, so decided to bypass Pocosin Cabin trail, one of the premier birding hot spots in the region, and headed home via Route 33.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting, Peregrine Falcon, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male). (Shenandoah National Park, June 17)
I talked with this wildlife biologist about the Peregrine Falcon restoration project, which is explained in that sign. She was monitoring the "hacking box" next to the Franklin Cliffs overlook, where four young Peregrine Falcons were placed last month. They were moved from nexts atop high-rise buildings in Richmond or other cities, and are fed every day so that they can survive while learning to hunt on their own. (Click on the image to see it full size.)
One week later, on June 24th, I hiked along the Madison Run trail, my first time there since May 31st last year, I believe. I had a few nice views, especially of a Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher, but it was only an average day overall.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, and Ovenbird. (Madison Run, June 24)
My final bird outing of the month was on the 26th of June, when I hiked about a mile north from the Confederate Breastworks along the Shenandoah Mountain trail. Among the highlights were a Scarlet Tanager (probable year-old male), Black-throated Green Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. I saw several Pine Warblers, but had a hard time getting a good photo of them. Perhaps the most notable sighting was of a young Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I only identified after looking at the image on my camera screen a few minutes later. They are rare breeders in the highlands of Virginia, the southern edge of their summer range.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, and Worm-eating Warbler. (Shenandoah Mountain trail, June 26)
(NOTE: There were no Augusta Bird Club field trips in June.) More montages and photos of individual birds can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
July 9, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Schwarber gets hurt, Nats get swept
After the pivotal role he played in the Nationals' big rebound last month, the loss of Kyle Schwarber in the lineup has had a huge effect on the Nats's fortunes during the early part of this month. In the opening game of the four-game series against the Dodgers in Washington on Thursday July 1st, Schwarber once again ignited the offense with a first-inning leadoff double, but the run he soon scored was one of only two for the Nats that day. Patrick Corbin did very well as pitcher until the fifth inning, when the Dodgers scored five runs. Final score: 6-2. On Friday Max Scherzer took the mound and once again lived up to his All-Star caliber standards. (For some incomprehensible reason, however, he was not selected for the 2021 All-Star Game.) He struck out eight and only gave up one run over six innings, but the bullpen immediately crumpled in the seventh inning, as the Dodgers scored nine (9) runs. Argh!!! Final score: 10-5.
The worst part of that game, however, was that Kyle Schwarber pulled a hamstring while rounding first base, and immediately left the game. He was put on the ten-day Injured List, so he might be back soon after the All-Star break. Such injuries are often dicey, however, and we won't really know his status for at least another week.
On Saturday, Josh Harrison filled in as leadoff batter and left fielder, while the Nats acquired Alcides Escobar from the Kansas City Royals. (Escobar has taken Harrison's place at second base.) Paolo Espino was having an OK night pitching until a lengthy rain delay in the fifth inning put an end to his evening on the mound. The Dodgers scored a couple runs in the latter innings and won that one too, 5-3. On Sunday, the Fourth of July (game time 11:05 AM!), the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to Starlin Castro's RBI single, but the Dodgers came right back to tie it. Starting pitcher Joe Ross was having one of his best games of the year, striking out eleven batters over six-plus innings, but then he gave up an RBI single to aging superstar Albert Pujols, and that proved to be all the Dodgers needed. They won the game 5-1, thereby completing a four-game sweep of the home team on a quite disappointing Independence Day in D.C.
Nats get thwarted in San Diego
Then the Nationals headed to the west coast to face the San Diego Padres in another grueling four-game series with a highly competitive team. Thanks to the acquisitions of infielder Manny Machado and pitcher Yu Darvish, the Padres have been highly competitive in the National League West Division this year. They even held first place for a while earlier in the season, but have slumped a little recently. On Monday Jon Lester only lasted into the fourth inning as pitcher for the Nats, but home runs by Trea Turner (back from a short stint on the IL) and Josh Bell proved to be the decisive edge in the Nats' 7-5 victory. On Tuesday Erick Fedde had a mediocre day on the mound, giving up six runs in less than five innings. As a starting pitcher, he has sometimes been excellent and sometimes not this year. In spite of homers by Josh Harrison and Juan Soto, the Padres won that game, 7-4. On Wednesday Patrick Corbin was dominant for seven innings, only allowing two runs to the home team. Juan Soto homered again, while "the two Joshes" (Bell and Harrison) had three hits apiece in the offensive eruption. Final score: Nats 15, Padres 5.
Last night (Thursday) started out great for the Nationals, and thanks in part to Trea Turner's two home runs, they had an 8-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. That's when Fernando Tatis Jr. put his team on the board with a leadoff home run. That apparently rattled the Nats' pitcher Max Scherzer, who proceeded to hit two of the next four batters, while another one hit a single. Nerves began [to] tighten across Nats Land when he walked in a run with the bases loaded, but since the next batter was a backup pitcher who had just been called up from the minor leagues, what's the worst that could happen? You guessed correctly, a #&@$%! grand slam! The batter, Daniel Camarena, had never even gotten a hit in the major leagues before, and Max Scherzer had never given up a home run to the opposing pitcher throughout his entire career. So, you might say it was an unlikely event. The pitch he hit was a bit low and inside, reminding me of when Howie Kendrick hit such a pitch for a home run to give the Nats the lead in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. How Camarena connected with that pitch is a mystery. The score was now 8-6, and all depended on whether Scherzer would compose himself and get out of the inning with the (shrunken) lead intact. He did not. The next batter, Tommy Pham, doubled, and Max was replaced by Kyle Finnegan, who gave up an RBI single to Tatis, and the margin was now only one run. Two innings later, Pham doubled again, driving in the tying run. The Nats failed to score any runs in the latter innings, and in the bottom of the ninth, relief pitcher Sam Clay (who was culpable in the fourth-inning debacle in the July 2nd game), gave up a walk and two hits, including the game-winning single hit by Trent Grisham. The Padres won it 9-8 after being behind 8-0 in the middle of the fourth inning. It was one of the worst collapses in Nationals' history, ruining what could have been an uplifting series win against a very good team. Instead, the Nats and Padres split the series two games apiece.
As a result, the Nats fell into a tie for third place, and facing the division-leading Giants in San Francisco tonight, things are not looking much better...
July 4, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in May: many great views, a few rarities
Much like the month of April, I had several very good birding experiences in May, but relatively few out-of-the ordinary sightings. The only rare warbler I saw was a Nashville Warbler, on May 11. The two rare birds that I did see -- Red-necked Phalarope and Yellow-breasted Chat -- were near the end of the month, on the 25th. In the narratives and captions below, asterisks (*) indicate first-of-year bird sightings. A high priority for me this summer is updating my first-of-year (spring) and first-of-season (fall/winter) records, which I used to do on the extremely outdated Annual arrival page. We shall see...
After being canceled last year due to the coronavirus, the annual "Big Spring Day" count fell on the first day of May this year, and it was a pretty big day for me. In the early morning I covered at the picnic area at Ramsey's Draft in western Augusta County, In the afternoon, I hiked along the Shenandoah Mtn. trail about 3/4 mile south of the Confederate Breastworks, where I saw several warblers and vireos. Later I stopped briefly at Dowell's Draft, where I saw two Ovenbirds courting, and Chimney Hollow, where I saw two Wood Thrushes. Other species of note: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Louisiana Waterthrush, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, and Pine Siskin. Altogether I tallied 42 species that day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler* (M), Northern Parula (F), Indigo Bunting (M), Ovenbird, Wood Thrush*, American Redstart (M), Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and (center) Yellow-rumped Warbler (M). (Ramsey's Draft, Shenandoah Mtn. trail, Dowell's Draft, May 1; Underlines distinguish birds at Ramsey's Draft from those at other places.)
Penny Warren scheduled an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Betsy Bell Hill for May 3, but it was rained out, so I went there the next day when weather was much better. I was amazed that my new Canon PowerShot SX70 camera (purchased in February) was able to get such a good image of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak up in a tree at least 40 yards away. Besides the birds shown below, I also heard a Red-eyed Vireo and a Yellow-throated Vireo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak* (M), Northern Parula (M), E. Wood Pewee*, and Scarlet Tanager*. (Betsy Bell Hill, May 4)
On May 8th the Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic brunch was held once again, after being canceled last year due to the coronavirus. It was at the same location as in 2018 and 2019: the Humpback Rocks picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had great looks at Ovenbirds engaged in physical combat, as well as a Red-eyed Vireo at eye level. Multiple Blue-headed Vireos and Ovenbirds were seen as well. Afterwards I made a few stops along Rt. 610 on the way home, and saw Great Crested Flycatcher*, Hooded Warbler*, and a Cerulean Warbler*. Others such as the Am. Redstarts and Cerulean Warblers were more elusive, staying in the tree tops. I took the three photos along the bottom at the visitor center and along Rt. 610 on the way home, including a Hooded Warbler (also seen by Linda J. Matkins) near the BRP visitor center, and my first Great Crested Flycatchers* of the season.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo*, Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher*, Hooded Warbler*, Cerulean Warbler*, American Redstart, and (center) Ovenbird. (Humpback Rocks picnic area and Rt. 210, May 8)
I went to Bell's Lane four times in mid-May, hoping to catch the tail end of migration season. On the 11th (Tuesday) I took a long stroll there and eventually had great looks at several warblers, etc. Jo King arrived just before I was about to leave, and she saw the N. Parula but not the Nashville Warbler, which is smaller than most warblers and therefore capable of hovering like a hummingbird. The view of the Common Yellowthroat was exceptional as well.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (male), Northern Parula (M), Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Common Yellowthroat (M), and (center) Nashville Warbler. (Bell's Lane, May 11)
Penny Warren invited me to another visit to Bell's Lane the next morning, and I couldn't resist! We saw three kinds of flycatchers, including a Great Crested and an Eastern Phoebe, as well as an Empid of some sort -- probably a Willow Flycatcher. The highlight was when we heard a mysterious warbler song, so I started playing back various ones. The Connecticut Warbler song elicited a strong response, and we were eagerly hoping to see that species as the bird was moving around in the bushes. It turned out to have been a relatively plain Northern Waterthrush, however. They are uncommon, so it was a worthwhile sighting. It was the first one I had seen this year. It's remarkable how similar the two species' songs are. We later saw Northern Parulas, a Black-throated Blue Warbler*, and an American Redstart, as well as a first-year male Orchard Oriole in the distance. On the way back I got a nice look at an Indigo Bunting.
On the afternoon of the 13th, I went to Montgomery Hall Park, just in case there were any warblers there. That area is not nearly as bird friendly as it once was, but I did at least see an Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Red-eyed Vireo, and heard a Great Crested Flycatcher and Indigo Bunting. My luck was somewhat better on Bell's Lane, where I saw my first Baltimore Oriole* and Yellow Warblers* of the year. It was hard to get pictures, though. On the plus side, a Barn Swallow posed briefly in the sun.
My fourth visit to Bell's Lane that week was rewarded with good looks at several recent arrivals, most notably a Yellow Warbler at the corner toward the far (NE) end. Nearby was a Warbling Vireo*, the first I have seen this year. The Northern Waterthrush that Penny Warren and I saw earlier in the week was still there, singing loudly. I also saw my first House Wren of the year, as well as an American Redstart, a Great Crested Flycatcher (on the ground!), and an Indigo Bunting. A guy named John Tyndall (whom I had met once before) tipped me off about a Solitary Sandpiper in the stream south of Carolyn Ford's farm, and I noticed it was having escargot for brunch.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Warbling Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, House Wren, Solitary Sandpiper, and (center) Northern Waterthrush. (Bell's Lane, May 14)
On the 15th of the month (Saturday), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Ramsey's Draft, joined by Penny Warren, Peter Van Acker, and Herb Myers. The weather was just beautiful. We started by exploring the fringes of the picnic area, noting some American Redstarts at mid-level, as well as some other warblers up high. There was a nest full of young Eastern Phoebes under one of the kiosks. Then we began hiking up the Road Hollow trail for about a mile, with some good views of a Black-throated Blue Warbler, some Ovenbirds, a Worm-eating Warbler, and some Northern Parulas. The highlights of the day were two or three Blackburnian Warblers squabbling up above, and a female Scarlet Tanager at close range down below. On the way back to Staunton we stopped at Braley Pond but didn't see the Bald Eagles that had been seen earlier in the morning. We did hear an Acadian Flycatcher at close range, but never saw it. I stopped at nearby Chimney Hollow and saw a Northern Parula and a couple Wood Thrushes there, but not much else.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo (male), Blackburnian Warbler (M), Northern Parula (M), Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager (F), Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Ramsey's Draft / Road Hollow trail & Chimney Hollow, May 15)
Wednesday May 19th was my day to take recycled items to the landfill south of Staunton, and since it was a beautiful day I kept going south after that. I first paid a brief visit to the Shenandoah Wetlands Bank south of Stuarts Draft, where I had excellent views of a Green Heron and a Common Yellowthroat. Later I drove up Howardsville Pike to some of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I saw a number of warblers, etc.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart (M), Scarlet Tanager (M), Green Heron, Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting (M), Dark-eyed Junco, Common Yellowthroat (M), and (center) Hooded Warbler (M). (Shenandoah Wetlands Bank and Blue Ridge Parkway, May 19)
On May 22nd I drove up to Harrisonburg, hoping that my past good luck at Hillandale Park would be repeated. That was not the case, however. At Cove Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater, however, I did get a nice view of two Cedar Waxwings engaged in courtship rituals. I hadn't seen any of that species for several months.
On May 24th I went to Bell's Lane for the first time in seven days, and had an excellent look at a male Baltimore Oriole, as well as a Brown Thrasher, and a few other birds.
Thanks to an e-mail alert from local nature lover Rich Wood, on Tuesday May 25th I made a quick impromptu visit to the pond next to the Target distribution center in Stuarts Draft. The object of my quest was a rare Red-necked Phalarope, and sure enough, I easily spotted it as soon as I parked my car along the road. (It is a constricted area with very little grass.) Also there were a few Least Sandpipers, likewise my first of the year. Since I was relatively close, I next headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which turned out to be completely shrouded in fog. I almost did a U-turn when I reached the top, but I figured I might as well check out the first overlook at least. I'm very glad that I did, as I soon heard a peculiar "song" consisting of whistles, clucks, and buzzes, like a catbird on steroids. Could it possibly be a Yellow-breasted Chat*? I played the "song" on my iPhone, and soon spotted the colorful vocalist. At first all I could get were miserably dull photographic images due to the fog, but soon it approached and perched in some bushes below the overlook -- a perfect pose for my camera! On the way back, I stopped at the Blue Ridge Tunnel west trailhead, where bright sunlight prevailed. There I saw a Scarlet Tanager, an Ovenbird, and some Red-eyed Vireos, one of which was acting like a nuthatch, hanging upside down from a tent caterpillar nest in pursuit of food. Most amusing! A Hooded Warbler was singing nearby, but I didn't see it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-necked Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, and Scarlet Tanager (M). (Target pond, BRP / Afton overlook, and Blue Ridge Tunnel west trail, May 25)
On Thursday May 27th, I went for a long drive birding in various hot spots in western Augusta County. At Chimney Hollow I finally saw an Acadian Flycatcher, a species which hitherto I had only heard this year. Also present were Ovenbirds, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Northern Parula. At nearby Dowell's Draft I saw Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Worm-eating Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Indigo Bunting; I also heard Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. There was no sign of any Prairie Warblers, however. Finally, I drove on the back roads up to Elkhorn Lake, and as usual the vicinity of the restroom was chock full of birds: American Redstarts, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Wood Thrushes. There were no Blackburnian Warblers, however. At the lake itself, a Bald Eagle flew past. Overall it was a pretty good day with beautiful weather.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Evening Grosbeak (male), American Kestrel, E. Meadowlark, Evening Grosbeak (female), Red-winged Blackbird (male) and White-crowned Sparrow. (Rt. 250 near West Augusta and Bell's Lane, May 27)
Finally, on May 31st I went back to Bell's Lane and confirmed that a Willow Flycatcher was there. In past years there were at least two or three breeding pairs in that area, but there numbers (and those of Yellow Warblers) seem to have descreased this year. And that concludes the "merry, merry month of May"! More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
July 1, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Super Schwarber sparks Nats' amazing upsurge
After stumbling a bit in Miami over the weekend (see below), the Washington Nationals have drawn closer to their rivals the New York Mets in the race for the National League East title. On Monday they played the first of three makeup games against the Mets necessitated by the postponement of the scheduled early April series in Washington. Since the #5 starting pitcher Erick Fedde was placed on the Injured List, Paolo Espino was tapped to fill in for him, and just like in the game I saw on June 16, he rose to the occasion again and got the win. Kyle Schwarber hit yet another leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning, and the #2 batter Trea Turner did likewise. In the second inning, Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra, recently called up from the minor leagues, hit his first MLB homer of the year, and in the fifth inning, Schwarber hit a second solo homer. In the top of the eighth inning, the Mets closed the gap with two homers of their own, but in bottom of the inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a long three-run homer into the Red Porch seats, securing the Nats' 8-4 win. That brought the Nats to within three games of the Mets in the NL East race.
Schwarber's June homers
Believe it or not, for the first eleven days of the month, Kyle Schwarber did not hit any home runs. Then manager Davey Martinez decided to move him into the leadoff spot, which seemed strange for a batter known more for power than batting average or speed. Well, it turned out to have worked out very well, to say the least! For the rest of the month, Schwarber made history becoming just the third player ever to hit 16 home runs within an 18-day period. The other two, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, have big asterisks next to their records, and one may easily conclude that Schwarber really stands alone in this regard. [With 25 home runs this year, he now ranks #4 in the major leagues, one behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (Padres), and three behind the Angels' incredible slugging pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who has hit five more homers in the last seven games.] Perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of Schwarber's hot streak is that seven of those 16 homers were in the first inning! He hit two home runs in three games over that span, and three home runs in one game. He hit home runs in ten games overall between June 12 and 29, nine of which the Nationals won. I happened to see (on June 16) one of the nine games during that period in which Schwarber did not homer. Here's a quick listing:
("@" = away)
| June 12
| June 13
| June 14
| June 19
| June 20
| June 23
| June 24
| June 25
| June 28
| June 29
= Nationals victory; = Nationals defeat
Scores and opponents are shown once per game only; ditto marks indicate multiple home runs by Schwarber within one game.
Kyle Schwarber at bat in the fifth inning at Nationals Park on June 16. In the first inning, he hit a leadoff single, but this time he flew out to left field.
In left field, Kyle Schwarber catches a fly ball hit by Gregory Polanco for the third out in the top of the sixth inning.
Nats split with Marlins
Last Thursday the Nationals flew down to Miami to play Marlins, almost coinciding with the apocalyptic collapse of that condominium building north of Miami beach. Joe Ross had one of his best nights on the mound this year, allowing just two runs over seven innings. Two more home runs by Kyle Schwarber proved to be decisive in the Nats' 7-3 win. The first one landed several rows up in the upper deck near the right field corner, and the second one landed just beyond the center field fence, in a spot that would have been in play before they shortened the center field dimension a few years ago. In Friday's game, pitcher Jon Lester was just awful, and he later expressed deep frustration over not being able to command the ball. He was replaced during the third inning, by which time the Marlins were way ahead. Kyle Schwarber's home run was of little consequence. Final score: Marlins 11, Nats 2. On Saturday, Patrick Corbin completed six innings on the mound, but the Nats only scored two runs, losing in a close one. Sunday was Max Scherzer's turn to pitch for the Nationals, and he came through once again. Home runs by Trea Turner and Josh Bell (both with one runner on base, both in the sixth inning) gave the Nationals the winning edge in the 5-1 final score. Thus ended the 2-2 series split.
Nats take two from Rays
On Tuesday night the Nats welcomed to town the Tampa Bay Rays, who until recently had been leading the AL East Division. (The Red Sox pulled ahead last week.) Joe Ross was effective once again, but the real difference was -- surprise? -- another leadoff home run by Kyle Schwarber. Trea Turner then doubled and Juan Soto homered, giving the Nats a 3-0 lead before an out had been made. Victor Robles homered in the second inning, and then the Nats just kind of took it easy. Closing pitcher Brad Hand took the mound in the ninth inning, and promptly gave up a home run to Mike Zunino, making it a 4-3 ball game, but then the next three Marlins batters flew out or lined out to end the game. On Wednesday the big star was Trea Turner, who singled, doubled, homered, and (in the sixth inning) tripled to the right field corner to complete his third career "cycle," tying the all-time MLB record for that rare accomplishment. Two Washington Nationals, Brad Wilkerson (2005) and Cristian Guzman (2008) previously hit for the cycle. In the fifth inning, Jordy Mercer hit his first home run with the Nationals, and Starlin Castro did so one inning later. Jon Lester got the win even though he gave up five runs over five innings on the mound. Final score: 15-6. That put the Nationals (40-38) two games over .500 for the first time this year, and brought them to just two games behind the Mets.
For the month of June, the Nationals finished 17-9, an amazing improvement over their 11-17 performance in May. If ever one man made a decisive difference in a team's fortunes, this was it: Kyle Schwarber! The latest hard data and assorted useful factoids have been posted on the Washington Nationals page.
Tom Boswell retires
Long-time Washington Post sportswriter Tom Boswell has retired as of the end of June, and today's paper featured a series of tributes to him by colleagues and various sports notables, along with his final column, "The joy of sports can't quite be explained, but you can happily spend a lifetime trying." For most of his career in Washington, he was without a hometown baseball team to report on, but since the arrival of the Nationals in D.C. in 2005 he has relished covering first-hand the grandest sport of them all. I will miss his thoughtful and uplifting observations about the Washington Nationals and other sporting teams.
June 23, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Red-hot Nationals surge into
third second place
I picked a very good day to see a ball game in Washington one week ago. Actually, my old friend Dave Givens picked that particular date, an afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Day games are always more fun. The weather was perfect, and the Nats were on a roll. Once again, I underestimated the traffic delays crossing the 14th Street bridge into Washington, and we passed through the gates just as the first pitch had been thrown. In the second inning, Yan Gomes smashed a line drive solo home run to left field, after which neither team scored for the next four innings. In the bottom of the seventh, Juan Soto drew a walk and then Josh Bell homered to right field, adding two insurance runs that proved to be the winning margin.
It was "a beautiful day in the neighborhood" of South Capitol Street in Washington on Wednesday one week ago.
Paolo Espino was masterful for five solid innings, getting his very first major league win at age 34. (He also did pretty well this afternoon, getting a save in a tense back-and-forth slugfest against the Phillies.)
A gleeful Juan Soto greets Josh Bell, who had just hit a home run.
The bullpen buckled a little bit, giving up six hits and one run in the final three innings, but they got the outs when they absolutely had to. Usual closing pitcher Brad Hand relieved Kyle Finnegan in the eighth inning, and labored through five outs to earn the save. After the first two batters were out in the ninth inning, the next two singled, raising the tension level in the stands, but then Adam Frazier hit an infield dribbler for the final out. [Final score: Nats 3, Pirates 1.] SWEEP! Even though it was a smallish crowd by normal standards [16,781 attendance], that game signified a steady "return to normalcy," with live fans providing stimulative feedback to the players. I was a bit surprised that there were relatively little few warnings about covid-19, and although stadium employees were wearing masks, hardly any fans did.
What was perhaps a bit strange was the large number of players with whom I was not familiar. That's partly due to the fact that some of them started with the Nats last year, when none of us could actually attend games. In the montage below, I photographed seven of the players for the first time. (I was hoping to see third baseman Starlin Castro -- one of the heroes in today's game -- but he took emergency leave to deal with some kind of family problem.) The first nine players constituted the Nationals' starting lineup on June 16, and the last one (Josh Harrison) is the usual second baseman but only played in the final two innings, at third base.
TOP ROW (L to R):
Kyle Schwarber (LF), Trea Turner (SS), Juan Soto (RF), Josh Bell (1B), Yan Gomes * (C)
BOTTOM ROW (L to R):
Luis Garcia * (2B), Jordy Mercer (3B, 1B), Victor Robles (CF), Paolo Espino * (P), Josh Harrison (3B; played in the 8th & 9th innings, but no at-bats)
Underlined names indicate players who are new to the Nationals' roster this year.
* Asterisks indicate players who joined the Nationals last year, when taking photos was not possible.
Several of the above photos have been incorporated (in very small size) on the Washington Nationals page.
Six of the Nationals' pitchers, including the entire regular starting rotation, came out of the dugout to congratulate their team mates on the victory: Joe Ross, Stephen Strasburg*, Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer*, Erick Fedde (#23), and Jon Lester. In the upper right are Josh Bell, Alex Avila, Yan Gomes, and Ryan Zimmerman (#11).
* Then on the Injured List; Scherzer returned to the active roster on June 22.
Showdown with Mets
After a day off on Thursday, the Nationals welcomed the New York Mets to town. Erick Fedde had one of his best outings ever, striking out six batters over seven innings without giving up a run. Neither team scored until the bottom of the ninth, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a clutch single that advanced the runner on first to third base, after which Yan Gomes got the game-winning RBI with a single. That made it five wins in a row! The Nats' winning streak came to an end on Saturday afternoon, as their starting pitcher Joe Ross gave up all five runs to the Mets in a truncated seven inning double-header game. But in the second game, Jon Lester was superb for six innings as his former Cub team mate Kyle Schwarber hit two home runs in a 6-2 victory. On Sunday Patrick Corbin was the Nats' starting pitcher, and he repeated what Lester had done, giving up just [two] runs over six innings on the mound. The Amazing Kyle Schwarber hit three more home runs, but two of them were solo shot, so the Nats' victory margin (5-2) was smaller than you might expect. He thus tied a major league record for hitting five home runs in a two-day span. For this superhuman achievement, he was named as the National League Player of the Week!
Way to go, Kyle Schwarber!!!
Thus, the Nats beat the first-place Mets three games out of four, coming to within three games of the division leaders. The NL East race is becoming extremely tight!
Showdown with Phillies
After resting on Monday, the Nats headed to Philadelphia to confront the Phillies. Back from the Injured List, Max Scherzer pitched five innings, getting eight strikeouts, and thanks mainly to Yan Gomes, who got two RBIs, the Nats won in a nail-biter of a finish, 3-2. This afternoon, Erick Fedde had a rough outing, giving up five runs over four innings, but [thanks to yet another Kyle Schwarber home run (with two on base)] the Nats came right back to tie it, 5-5. Both teams had grand slams over the next inning, including one by Josh Bell, and after more back-and-forth drama, the Nats finally won it 13-12 thanks to a clutch 2-run single by Starlin Castro in the ninth inning.
Once again, Brad Hand [OOPS: The photo caption above is correct: Paolo Espino] got the save -- just barely!
That means the Nats (35-36) are now ahead of the Phillies [34-37] in the NL East, and pending the result of the Mets-Braves game later tonight, the Nats may end up in sole possession of second place. [UPDATE: The Braves lost! The Nats] have won nine out of their last ten games, and with the momentum on their side, anything is possible as the middle of the season approaches.
June 16, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Nationals struggle to climb out of NL East "cellar"
The Washington Nationals just emerged from two series against the respectively highest-ranked teams in the two leagues -- the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants, and in some respects they performed surprisingly well for a last-place team. But since it's been a while since my last baseball blog post, let's first do a quick rundown of the last month...
On Friday, May 7, the Nationals arrived in New York City to face the Yankees, and thanks to home runs by Josh Bell, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, and Juan Soto, they overcame the hosts, 11-4. It was tied 3-3 until they Nats scored six runs in the eighth inning. It was a great way to rebound after being swept at home by the Braves, but the momentum was ruined by a blown save in Saturday's game. Max Scherzer pitched 7 1/3 solid innings and exited the game with a 2-1 lead. But in the bottom of the ninth, Nats' closer Brad Hand walked the leadoff batter and gave up two singles, thus tying the game. In the tenth inning, the Nats went back ahead, 3-2, but then the Yankees scored twice to win it in walk-off fashion. Final score: 4-3. Why Davey Martinez kept Hand on the mound after having blown the save an inning before is a mystery to me. In the Sunday game, Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game 2-2, but Brad Hand gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Yankees emerged with a series win.
Next came a home series against the Phillies, who won on Tuesday May 11 by a score of 6-2. It was a close game (3-2) until relief pitcher Kyle Finnegan gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in the eighth inning. On Wednesday, Jon Lester was in line for the win after pitching six innings of one-run ball, but Brad Hand blew the save in the ninth inning and then gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth inning. He took the loss in a most unfortunate 5-2 defeat for the Nats. On Thursday the 13th both Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell hit two-run homers in the first inning, and the Nationals hung on to win it, 5-1. Patrick Corbin struck out nine batters over seven full innings on the mound, a big improvement for him.
Then the Nationals flew to Arizona to play the last-place Diamondbacks. The 17-2 victory on Friday May 14 marked their highest score of the season thus far. Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and Andrew Stevenson all homered, and Max Scherzer pitched five innings to get an easy win. But on Saturday Joe Ross had a tough time on the mound, giving up three runs in the first inning, and eight altogether over four innings. The Nats lost that one, 11-4. In Sunday's game, Erick Fedde had a much better outing, with seven innings of shutout pitching. Yadiel Hernandez homered, and Trea Turner went three for four at the plate in the 3-0 victory.
On Monday May 17th the Nationals began a four-game series at Wrigley Field, against the Cubs, who were in the midst of an upsurge after a slow start to the season. Former Cub Jon Lester took the loss for the Nats in the 7-3 game. On Tuesday Patrick Corbin started but got a no-decision after reliever gave up two runs in the sixth inning. The Cubs won that one too, 6-3. Wednesday's game went much better, as Max Scherzer got the win after pitching five innings in a 4-3 victory. Juan Soto's solo homer in the fifth inning proved to be the decisive score of the game. On Thursday the Nats took a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to homers by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, but Joe Ross gave up four runs (two unearned, thanks to errors by Starlin Castro) and was charged with the loss in the 5-2 final score.
The Nationals haven't had much to brag about so far this season, but the three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend was a small step in the right direction. The series opener on Friday was marked by the return of Stephen Strasburg after being on the Injured List for over a month. His last game was April 13, when he was pulled during the fifth inning in an ugly loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. His sore shoulder seems to be healed, as he went five and a third innings without giving up any runs in a 4-2 victory over the O's. Josh Bell got three hits that night, and Kyle Schwarber doubled twice; both those players have been showing signs of improvement after a disappointing first month with the Nationals. On Saturday night, Jon Lester had a rough first inning, as the Orioles scored four runs. But the Nats immediately came back and got three runs of their own. In the fourth inning, tied the game 6-6, and then Ryan Zimmerman came up to bat with two runners on base. Boom! He launched a home run that gave the Nats a 9-6 lead that they would not relinquish. Final score: Nats 12, Orioles 9. On Sunday, Patrick Corbin pitched just well enough, and a Kyle Schwarber home run boosted the home team in a 6-5 win that completed the sweep. Brad Hand gave up a home run in the top of the ninth, another nerve-wracking performance.
I checked my Washington Nationals annual pages and found that only twice in the 16 years that the Nationals and Orioles have played each other (2006-2020) have the Nationals come out ahead in their interleague series: 2007 (4-2) and 2018 (5-1). The Orioles have prevailed in eight of those years, and in five of those years they have split evenly. Including this year, the cumulative total in head-to-head matchups is 35 wins for the Nats and 45 wins for the Orioles.
On Tuesday May 25th, the Nationals welcomed the Cincinnati Reds to town, with a special pre-game ceremony honoring their former closing pitcher Sean Doolittle, who now pitches for the Reds. Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats and once again performed superbly, striking out nine and giving up just two runs (both homers) over seven innings. Unfortunately, his team mates failed to score any runs until the ninth inning, when Josh Bell hit a solo homer to cut the visiting team's lead in half. And that was it. Final score: Red 2, Nats 1. The Wednesday night game was halted in the middle of the fourth inning, and after a three-hour wait, they decided to suspend the game until Thursday afternoon. Very annoying for the fans!!! The Nats eventually won that one, 5-3. Because of the double-header, the originally-scheduled game was cut to seven innings, and the Nats lost it, 3-0.
After the Friday game was rained out, the Nats began a series against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers with another double-header on Saturday. Patrick Corbin gave up all four runs in the afternoon game, while all the Nats could manage was a solo homer by Kyle Schwarber. In the nightcap, Jon Lester pitched solidly for almost six innings, but the bullpen faltered and the Nats lost again, 6-2. On Sunday Max Scherzer took the mound and did his job, striking out ten batters while giving up just two runs over six innings. His team mates failed to score at all, however, and then 3-0 loss sealed a series sweep at the hands of the Brew Crew.
The Nats then flew to Atlanta to play the Braves, losing the series opener 5-3. Joe Ross took the loss once again. The next day (June 1st), however, the Nats ended their losing streak even though Stephen Strasburg had to exit the game in the second inning due to a tight shoulder or back muscle. He may be out for another few weeks, a big blow to the Nats' hopes of a mid-season rebound. But the bullpen rallied and kept the Braves under control while Ryan Zimmerman and Juan Soto led a big offensive campaign in the 11-6 win. The Nationals also won the next day, 5-3, thanks to solid pitching by Jon Lester and homers by Juan Soto and Yan Gomes. But in the series finale, the offense fell flat again, and the Nats lost, 5-1. Patrick Corbin took the loss.
The Nationals flew to Philadelphia on Friday, June 4th, and beat the Phillies 2-1 in a classic pitchers' duel in which Max Scherzer (nine strikeout) came out on top. The Nats lost on both Saturday (5-2 final score, loss charged to Joe Ross) and Sunday (12-6 final score, loss charged to Austin Voth).
After a much-needed day of rest (and airline travel), Nats arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first-place Tampa Bay Rays beat them in the first game, 3-1, but the Nationals bounced back in the second and final game of the series with a much-needed 9-7 extra-inning victory. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, and Juan Soto homered as well, but those heroic feats were almost squandered by the bullpen. The Nats scored twice in the tenth inning, after which Brad Hand blew the save (once again), and in the eleventh inning Starlin Castro doubled in the go-ahead run and later scored himself. Whew!
Back in Washington at long last, Thursday night's game against the Giants was rained out, so the four-game series began on Friday instead. Max Scherzer had to leave the game in the first inning, due to a pulled groin muscle. It was a bad omen, but nevertheless the bullpen pulled together in one of their best performances ever. Sadly, the Nats just couldn't get hits when they needed them, and they lost, 1-0. On Saturday afternoon, Kyle Schwarber homered in the first inning, while Erick Fedde had a great outing, striking out seven batters in five innings. Final score: Nats 2, Giants 0. On Saturday night, a newby by the name of Jefry Rodriguez took the mound for the Nats, and did just fine, pitching four scoreless innings. Neither team scored until the eighth inning, when the Giants got two runs and the Nats came back with one run. Final score: 2-1. On Sunday, Joe Ross finally delivered a top-notch performance, striking out nine batters over eight innings. It was an amazing turnaround compared to his earlier outings this year. Two more home runs by Kyle Schwarber were more than enough to seal the 5-0 victory, as the Nats earned a split with the top National League team. If things had gone just a little bit different, the Nats could have swept all four of those games!
On Monday, the Nats and Pirates were locked in a close game with the score at 2-2 until Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer to take the lead. Yes, he did it again!! Last night, Yan Gomes hit a grand slam in the first inning (the 67th in team history), giving the home team a 5-0 lead, and the Nationals went on to beat the Pirates 8-1. Patrick Corbin had another fine outing, after struggling earlier in the season, and came within two outs of pitching a complete game. The Nats will go for a series sweep later this afternoon, and I'll be there!
Pythagorean winning percentages
An article in the latest edition of the Society of American Baseball Research Journal compared the actual winning percentages to the Pythagorean-predicted winning percentages over the past century-plus. So, I set out to make those computations for the Washington Nationals, extracting the annual run totals for each year since 2005. (I have kept annual spreadsheets with the scores and home attendances for all Nats' games since the very beginning.)
NOTE: This table will be updated at the end of the 2021 season; the preliminary version displayed only included games through June 9, when the actual winning percentage was 43.1% and the Pythagorean-predicted winning percentage was 44.3%.
Two more no-hitters!
The pace at which no-hitters are occurring this year is rather stunning. On May 18, Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers no-hit the Mariners in Seattle, and the very next night, Corey Kluber of the New York Yankees no-hit the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Field. That makes six (6) no-hitters so far this year! None have been registered in June, as far as I know, but the rising trend of no-hitters has gotten widespread attention.
Baseball in Washington
I happened to be in Washington on June 6, when the Nationals were out of town, but I drove past venerable old RFK Stadium on the way downtown, and took a few photos in the mid-afternoon, including this one. Lighting conditions would be better in the morning. RFK Stadium is now essentially vacant, and may be demolished some time in the next year or two. With so many great baseball, football, and soccer games having been played there, it's sad to contemplate RFK Stadium's eventual demise.
RFK Stadium, U.S. Capitol, and Washington Monument, as seen from East Capitol Street on the east of the Anacostia River, June 6, 2021.
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