July 7, 2013
Thanks to a sudden profusion of big hits, and a couple lucky breaks, the Washington Nationals capped a successful weekend series with an 11-7 victory over the San Diego Padres today. It was the Nats' first three-game series sweep since April 9-11, when they swept the Chicago White Sox, which was just a week after they swept the Miami Marlins; both times were at home in D.C. The Nats took a 1-0 first inning lead, but the "defining moment" (MASN jargon) came when the bases were loaded in the third inning: On the very first pitch, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a home run ball several rows deep in right field, his fourth career grand slam. Two batters later, rookie Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer to make it a 7-1 lead. The Nats added four more runs two innings later, which came in handy because the Padres kept adding runs in the later innings. Stephen Strasburg was straining in the hot and humid weather, which doesn't suit him well, but he lasted six full innings and finally got his fifth win of the season. See MLB.com. It was the Padres' ninth loss in a row; they had been closing ground in the NL West race during the latter part of June. They and the San Francisco Giants (!??) are losing ground quickly in a division that is pretty much up for grabs right now.
The following list is extracted from the complete list of grand slams at the bottom of the Washington Nationals page.
* = 9th inning. That's right, ALL of Zimmerman's previous grand slams were in the 9th inning!
@ = away game
In Friday night's game, Wilson Ramos batted in three more runs a day after his "explosive" Fourth of July display (!), and that ended up being the winning margin. Final score: Nats 8, Padres 5. Gio Gonzalez went 6 2/3 innings, and got his sixth win of the season.
On Saturday, Adam LaRoche homered (solo), and Bryce Harper batted in three runs. Jordan Zimmermann was in line for his 12th win of the season, but relief pitcher Ross Ohlendorf gave up a three-run homer to the very first batter he faced, Jesus Guzman. That converted a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit. Groan... Until then, Ohlendorf had pitched superbly since getting called up from the minors last month. Fortunately, the Nats staged a two-run rally in the seventh inning, and Ryan Zimmerman put the team ahead with a clutch broken-bat RBI single. In the top of the ninth, closing pitcher Rafael Soriano allowed two runners into scoring position, almost blowing the save. Adam LaRoche snagged a hard ground ball and lobbed it to Soriano, who ended the game by stepping on first base. Whew! Final score: Nats 5, Padres 4.
Since the Braves lost four of their last five games (thanks, Phillies and Marlins!), the Nationals have climbed to within four games of the Braves in the NL East. It's the first time they've been that close to the divisional lead since May 20. Going by win-loss records, the Nats are now 46-42 (.523); before this weekend, the last time the Nationals were more than two games above .500 was May 18.
Before we get all ecstatic about the Nats' improving fortunes, let's consider one sobering statistic: During every one of the seven games in this home stand, the opposing team scored at least four runs. The Nationals' batters can't be counted upon to sustain their recent surge for the entire season, so the pitching staff needs to step up to the plate -- or the rubber, actually -- and do its part.
The New York Yankees were in a similar situation today, poised to wrest second place away from their AL East rivals in Baltimore. (The Red Sox remain on top in the standings, with a small but comfortable lead.) The Bronx Bombers were ahead by a run (1-0) in the top of the ninth inning. But Nick Markakis singled, and Adam Jones homered to put the O's on top, 2-1. It was the first blown save in a home game by Mariano Rivera since 2010. In the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles' often-shaky closer Jim Johnson retired the three Yankee batters in order to get the save. Quite a shocking turn of events in The Bronx!
Evidently not amused that the Cleveland Indians had surged ahead of them in the AL Central toward the end of June, the Detroit Tigers beat the Indians two games out of three, thereby solidifying their hold on first place. This came on the heels of beating the Blue Jays three games out of four earlier in the week.
In response to frantic pleas from fans, I plan to finally make the necessary (and overdue!) changes to the Safeco Field diagram in the next few days. The Mariners moved the fences in by a few feet this year, similar to what the Padres did at PETCO Park. Also, Jonathan Karberg reminded me that soccer and football games are being (or have been) played in Busch Stadium III this year, necessitating new diagrams. And there's more to get to after that...