July 11, 2016
The pivotal four-game series with the Mets in New York started off with a wild slugfest on Thursday, not the way the Nationals wanted it to. Washington's rookie starting pitcher Lucas Giolito showed some good stuff but failed to hold an early lead, and was replaced during the fourth inning. Four Nationals hit home runs, including Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, but they ended up losing to the Mets, 9-7. Apparently Giolito needs more time sharpening his skills, as the hot prospect was sent back down to the minors.
But in the next three games, things went the Nats' way. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both went seven full innings (on Friday and Saturday), and both times the Mets were held to one run. In the Friday game, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer, providing all the offense Washington needed in a 3-1 victory. On Saturday, Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer, and got another RBI, accounting for most of Washington's six runs. On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez gave up two home runs to Jose Reyes, but managed to last nearly six innings without allowing any other runs to score. Once again, a home run from Daniel Murphy proved decisive in the 3-2 win.
I think it's fair to say that my rebuttal to Mets fans at Nationals Park on June 29 bears repeating:
We got Murphy! We got Murphy!
With a 3-1 series win, the Nationals thereby widened their lead in the NL East from 4 to 6 games. At 54-36 (.600), they are on track for a 98-64 season, which was what they accomplished in 2012. It ties the mark set in 1994 for the highest winning percentage for any team in the Montreal-Washington franchise. As F.P. Santangelo mentioned during the Sunday game, if Montreal had won the World Series in that strike-ruined year, the franchise might have thrived and never moved to Washington. Hmm-m....
In some ways, the series in New York almost wasn't a fair fight, however. After surging only a week earlier, the Mets had a sudden string of bad luck. It was already known that third baseman David Wright would be out for the rest of this season after having neck surgery last month, but then came word that Matt Harvey would also miss the entire second half of the 2016 season because of "thoracic outlet syndrome." Also, first baseman Lucas Duda is on the 15-day DL with a stress fracture in his lower back. As for less-serious ailments, Noah Syndergaard is suffering arm fatigue (he exited early in the Friday game against the Nats), and Yoenis Cespedes is listed as day-to-day with a right quad muscle strain. See MLB.com
Regarding Harvey's departure, many analysts have wondered whether the Mets put too much pressure on him last year after having had Tommy John surgery. He was a key factor in the Mets' surge to the World Series, but the long-term damage to his body may greatly outweigh that moment of glory. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell compared how the Mets treated Harvey with how the Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg, who leads the majors with a 12-0 win-loss record.
Ryan Zimmerman was placed on on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained rib cage, and was replaced on the active roster by Trea Turner. Outfielder Michael Taylor was also called back up from the minors, filling the roster spot vacated by Lucas Giolito. The usual fifth starting pitcher, Joe Ross, is on the DL with a sore shoulder. See MLB.com. Compared to other teams, and compared to last year, the Nationals have had pretty good luck with their players being healthy this year.
Max Scherzer is replacing Stephen Strasburg on the NL All Star roster, as Strasburg is trying to rest his arm after a recent brief stint on the DL.
Miami Marlins star slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby tonight, beating Todd Frazier (of the Cincinnati Reds) 20-13 in the third round. Frazier was the winner last year. In Round 1, Stanton out-homered Robinson Cano (of the Mariners) 24-7, and in Round 2, he out-homered Mark Trumbo (of the Orioles) 17-14. Stanton not only hit more homers, he hit them much farther than the others; some of them were measured at nearly 500 feet, in fact. Poor Chris Berman got tired of his "back, back, back" routine. (Frankly, I did too.)
Being a simple, single-decked stadium, it wasn't too hard for me to do a diagram of Fort Bragg Field, where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins on July 3. (ICYMI, "Atlanta" lost, 5-2.) I estimate that it has 116,200 square feet of fair territory (pretty big) and 22,700 square feet of foul territory. If I understand correctly, all of the grandstand along the baselines and in the outfield will be removed soon, leaving just the small rectangular grandstand behind home plate.
There are two other stadiums at which official MLB games have been played in recent years for which I have not yet drawn diagrams: Champions Field (now called "Disney's Wonderful World of Sports") in Orlando, Florida, and Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Sydney, Australia.
Speaking of the Braves, Terry Wallace commented on Facebook that it's ironic that two stadiums of the same franchise -- Braves Field and Turner Field -- are meeting identical fates. Braves Field was "inherited" by Boston University for use as a football venue, and Turner Field will soon be "inherited" by Georgia State University, for exactly the same reason.