September 30, 2013
Even though most of the division races were wrapped up quite a few days ago, the final week of the regular baseball season contained a fair amount of drama. As expected, the St. Louis Cardinals built a slight lead in the NL Central, while the Pirates kept beating the Reds to take the first wild card spot, with home field advantage. The American League was especially tense, as the Cleveland Indians surged into the #1 wild card slot by winning ten consecutive games at the end. In fact, they came within one game of the Detroit Tigers, who barely hung on to win the AL Central. Not many people saw that one coming. Congratulations to Terry Francona's Tribe! It will be the first postseason game in Cleveland since 2007. Tonight at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-2, thereby grabbing the second AL wild card spot. And so, there won't be any October baseball in Texas this year, after three straight playoff seasons.
Since I expected this might be the final game of the season in Arlington, I decided to update the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington diagram. (Much like two years ago!) As usual, the inclusion of entry portals yielded greater accuracy. The angle and depth of the upper deck grandstand changed slightly, otherwise not much.
As fleeting hopes faded away and as grim reality reared its ugly head last week, the best the Washington Nationals could hope for was to end the 2013 season on a positive note. Getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals during the early part of the week was not a good way to do that. On Tuesday, the Cardinals were one out from getting a no-hitter against the Nationals, but Ryan Zimmerman managed to reach base on a high-hopping infield single in the top of the ninth inning. That prevented what would have been a first for the Nationals.
In their final series in Phoenix, Arizona, the Nats made a much better showing. They won 8-4 on Friday evening, boosted by home runs hit by Jayson Werth (a monster blast that bounced off the front edge of the upper deck in left field) and Wilson Ramos. Stephen Strasburg pitched seven solid innings, and picked up his eighth win of the year. Saturday was a much closer affair. Dan Haren pitched very well in what was probably his last game as a National, giving up just three hits over seven innings. A triple by Denard Span and a home run by Chad Tracy provided the only runs scored in the game. On Sunday afternoon, Tanner Roark pitched another very solid game, and was in line for the win until relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus gave up two runs in the eighth inning. That's how the Diamondbacks won the game, 3-2. It put the damper on what would have been a gratifying way to end manager Davey Johnson's career, but he still ended up with 300 more wins than losses as manager, meeting his personal goal. See MLB.com
Two Sundays ago, I was in D.C. to see the Miami Marlins put an end to the Nats' hopes for a postseason berth. It was a nice day, partly sunny and mild temperatures. Thanks to yet another traffic delay (%#&$@!!), this time a Latino parade on Constitution Avenue, we didn't get there until after the pregame ceremony honoring Davey Johnson. The ticket clerk told us that the only seats left were going for $75 -- what a crock! There were easily several hundred empty seats all around the upper deck. So, my wife and I settled for standing-room-only tickets.
It worked out pretty well, because we ordered lunch at the Red Porch restaurant (a first for me), and sat at one of the outside tables. It was a great view, and my hopes that a home run ball would land near us come came true, thanks to Ryan Zimmerman. With the Marlins ahead 3-0 and a runner on first base with two outs in the sixth inning, Z-man lunged low (as he so often does) and made perfect contact with the ball, which came sailing our way. Fans down below us were scrambling to grab that souvenir, and I took a photo the man who got it, along with his son. You can see the photos below, and you can actually see Jacqueline and me in the video clip of Zimmerman's home run. Yes, we were on TV! Hit pause at 8 seconds into the clip, and you see me on the left side wearing a red shirt behind a guy in a white shirt with his hands raised; Jacqueline was wearing white, just to the right (my left). See MLB.com.
Unfortunately, that homer was the only bright spot in the game, and the Nats ended up losing, 4-2. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Zimmerman was called out on strikes, and he argued with the umpire for a few seconds. I was taking a video of that at bat, and freezing the frame when the ball crossed the plate leaves no doubt that it was below his knees. Oh well...
That loss officially eliminated the Nationals from contention in the NL East race (which had not been a realistic possibility since early August), and for all intents and purposes eliminated them from any hope of overtaking the Reds in the wild card race.
The Sunday afternoon game we saw was supposed to be the last home game of the year, but they had to play a makeup game from the night before, when the game was rained out. I cannot understand why it took them until 11:00 to announce that the game was being postponed, making thousands of fans wait in the miserable rain for hour after hour. And they call September "Fan Appreciation Month"? I don't think so. Not many people bothered to use their rain checks in the Sunday evening game, and even though the Nats did win it, 5-4, it was still a rather melancholy way to end the baseball season in Washington.
For the first time since the Nationals started playing in 2005, they did not win any of the games I saw them play. Is my rotten luck related to the last two digits of this year? (Baseball is full of superstition, of course.) I guess I've been lucky up until now, as they have won at least half of the games in each year, even in those dark years (2008 and 2009) when they were under .400. Here's a summary of all the Nats games I've seen over the years, including two on the road:
NOTE: Underlined numbers indicate that one of those games was on the road.
The Nats finished the 2013 season with a record of 86-76 (.531), ten games behind the division champion Atlanta Braves and twelve games ahead of the third-place New York Mets. It's the first year the Nats have finished in second place. They were 18-9 in September, their best month by far this year. They were four games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card race; Davey Johnson was absolutely correct when he said the Nats would need to win 90 games to make it to the postseason.
Ryan Zimmerman led the team with 26 home runs this season, one more than last year, and six less than in his best season, 2009. Early in the season there were big doubts about whether he had recovered from shoulder surgery, but he seems to be back to his old self again. Jayson Werth led in both batting average (.318) and RBIs (82). He was likewise shaky physical condition for a while, but came roaring back in the second half of the season.
The same could be said for Wilson Ramos, who batted .272. He finished the year with 667 2/3 innings as catcher, barely surpassing Kurt Suzuki, who had 659 innings in that position. His batting average was .272, compared to .222 for Suzuki. Kurt will get to play at least a few more games in October, now that he is back with the Oakland A's, who won the American League West.
The big question mark, of course, is Bryce Harper. Will he be playing at 100% next year?
As for pitching, Stephen Strasburg led the team in ERA (3.00), while Jordan Zimmermann led in wins (19), and Gio Gonzalez had the most strikeouts (192, one more than Strasburg). It's a sign of a well-balanced pitching rotation.
The Washington Nationals drew just over 2.6 million fans to Nationals Park this year, almost breaking the record they set in their inaugural year at RFK Stadium (2.7 million, in 2005). Those and other fun facts can be found on the newly-updated Washington Nationals page. I still need to add a day-to-day winning percentage chart and a few other details, but it's more or less finished.