June 19, 2015 [LINK / comment]
It is hard to fathom the origins of the maddening inconsistency displayed by the Washington Nationals this year. One day they surpass their sky-high expectations with a performance worthy of the postseason, and the next day they play like a struggling minor league team. Over and over and over again.
The four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (June 11 - 14) was a good example. Tanner Roark, who had a couple good outings filling in as the fifth man in the pitching rotation after Doug Fister went on the DL, just couldn't get it together in Milwaukee. He's usually very reliable, but gave up too many hits to the Brewers, who won that game, 6-5. The next evening (Friday) Jordan Zimmermann lasted only three and a third innings, giving up six earned runs. It was one of his worst outings ever, putting more pressure on an already battered bullpen. More to the point, those losses put the Nationals back into second place in the NL East, behind the New York Mets. On Saturday, rookie pitcher Joe Ross took the mound, and I feared the worse. But to my immense surprise and delight, Ross went eight full innings, striking out eight, as the Nats won, 7-2.
In the final game of that series on Sunday (Flag Day!), Max Scherzer had a perfect game going until the seventh inning, when the Brewers' Carlos Gomez blooped a Texas Leaguer that just eluded second-baseman Anthony Rendon's grasp. Argh-h-h! Scherzer allowed one walk after that, but nobdy else reached base as he got the second complete game shutout of his career. He threw 16 strikeouts, and none of the batted balls was well hit, so in a sense it could be considered an even better performance than when Jordan Zimmermann pitched the no-hitter last September. Scherzer has had some bad luck on the mound, but he really is living up to the high expectations that were placed upon him. Nats 4, Brewers 0, with the series split two games apiece. So the Nats seemed to have recovered from that slump...
But then the team flew down to St. Petersburg, Florida, where the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays were ready and waiting. In Monday's game, Gio Gonzalez had a poor outing, virtually identical to what Jordan Zimmermann had just had: he lasted only three and a third innings, giving up five earned runs. It was an ugly 6-1 loss. But then on Tuesday, Tanner Roark recovered his old mojo and went seven full innings, as the Nats' bats came alive with a vengeance. Clint Robinson, the new left-batting outfielder, hit a colossal home run into the catwalks at Tropicana Field, and Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos followed suit. (Ramos homered twice.) Altogether the Nats had 23 hits, setting a team record, winning by a score of 16-4. It was a strange night, as the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles won by similarly huge margins. So that game had to mark a big turning point for the Nats, right?
Nope. As the dual-city series shifted from St. Petersburg to Washington on Wednesday, somehow the Nats fell into a torpor once again, only getting two hits. Jordan Zimmermann had a decent outing, striking out eight and giving up three runs over seven innings, but it was wasted effort, as the Nats fell, 5-0. That game was the first appearance in Nationals Park by Steven Souza, Jr., the guy who caught the long fly ball in the ninth inning to save Zimmermann's no hitter last year. The crowd cheered appreciatively for Souza, and he repaid the gesture by hitting a solo home run. Ouch! On Thursday night, Doug Fister returned to the mound for the first time in over a month, and he did just fine for five innings. But he was clearly tired by the sixth inning, giving up multiple hits, allowing the Rays to take the lead. Why didn't Matt Williams take him out before too much damage was done? It's not the first time this has happened, and it raised questions once again about his managerial decisions-making when it comes to the bullpen. Fister may have suffered from the rain delay, the second in as many nights at Nationals Park. Whatever the problem was, the Rays ended up winning, 5-3, taking three out of four games in that series. That was just a shame. The worst part about that game was when Bryce Harper slipped on the wet grass trying to make a throw to home in the late innings, pulling his left hamstring in the process. He is now listed as day-to-day.
So the Nationals' confidence was shaken once again, as one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates, came to town on Friday night. The Pirates had an eight-game winning streak, and with the Nationals' three best sluggers out of action and rookie pitcher Joe Ross on the mound, prospects were bleak. But Ross once again rose to the occasion, pitching seven-plus innings and striking out eleven batters. That guy is really something, and has a confident poise that belies his 22 years of age. Wilson Ramos led the Nats' offense with two clutch RBI hits (a single and a double), and that was enough for the much-needed 4-1 victory.
Max Scherzer will be on the mound Saturday afternoon, raising hopes that the Nats might finally win a series for the first time since late May. They might even climb back into first place, as the division-leading New York Mets have been stumbling recently as well.
In the first round of the College World Series, in Omaha, Nebraska last week, the University of Virginia Cavaliers beat the Arkansas Razorbacks. Two days later beat the Florida Gators (who were favored) in a very tense 1-0 game. Virginia's Brandon Waddell allowed only two hits in seven-plus innings, and amazing performance. The game's lone run came on a sac fly by Robbie Coman in the sixth inning. That win put Virginia on the easy path, getting three days of rest. This afternoon the Cavaliers faced the Gators again, and even though they got on the board with a run in the first inning, this time the top-seeded team won, 10-5. It was the first time Virginia pitcher Nathan Kirby had played in two months, but he had to be replaced in the third inning, when Florida scored four runs. Five more runs in the put the game out of reach. (See ncaa.com.) It was Virginia's first loss in the NCAA tournament, but they are still just one game away from reaching the CWS finals for the second year in a row, in which case it would be the same two teams in the final CWS series that made it there last year. Vanderbilt beat TCU today, obviating the need for another elimination game.
Very little is left of the former home of the San Francisco Giants. Only a few sections of the Candlestick Park grandstand are still intact, and they'll probably be gone by July. See sfgate.com.
But we still have photographs to remember The 'Stick! In fact, a couple months ago my brother John sent me some photos of a game at Candlestick Park in 1961 taken by fellow South Dakotan Vern Hofer, and they were astonishingly good quality. Unfortunately, Mr. Hofer only took three photos of the game and the stadium that day.
How did I figure that out? By looking at the scoreboard and the uniforms, and then consulting baseball-reference.com.
Those photos, plus another one taken from the parking lot, can now be seen on the Candlestick Park page. If anyone has photos of that stadium that they are willing to share, including demolition photos, I would be much obliged.
Speaking of San Francisco, I made a few minor corrections to the Seals Stadium diagrams. The grandstand angle is about one degree wider than before, the right-field bleachers extend all the way to the office building in the corner, and the left-field bleachers extend about 40 feet to the left of the foul pole. Finally, the left field corner in the original (1932) configuration is now cleared up. (Before there was a question mark there.) That was the original motivation for this update, when I discovered (via a photo of Mickey Mantle getting caught in a rundown during an exhibition game) that the San Francisco Seals had built an inner fence in left field prior to the 1951 season, reducing the distances by about 18 feet. They removed that fence one year later, however, so I decided not to bother with showing it in the 1947 diagram, at least not for the time being.