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July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Bullpen woes = misery for the Nationals

NOTE: Obviously, I've been struggling to keep up with various things lately, but as all good sports fans know, I'm not giving up! smile I will leave until tomorrow the task of systematically recounting the Nationals' successes and failures over the past two months.

They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and for the Washington Nationals this year, that weak link is obviously the group of relief pitchers in the bullpen. When was the last time a team with such enormous talent in the slugging and starting pitching departments didn't even have a regular closing pitcher??? After some early struggles and a brief stint on the disabled list, Koda Glover was on his way to settling down in that position, but then had a spectacular failure on June 10, blowing a save and paving the way for the Texas Rangers to win in extra innings. After the game, Glover disclosed -- too late -- that he had a sore shoulder. Not being candid about physical infirmities like that is just inexcusable. Since then he has been on the DL once again, as is Shawn Kelley, who was the losing pitcher in that game and also briefly served as closer.

Two weeks ago (June 15), the Washington Post had a story indicating that Nationals' bullpen is one of the worst in the major leagues since 1980. "The Nationals have lost 10 games with their starter exiting the game on record as the would-be winning pitcher, [second only to the Mets.]" Such an outcome has not been repeated since that article came out, but the starting pitchers started failing more often -- especially Tanner Roark, who only lasted three innings against the Cardinals last night. Thus, the Nats finished the month of June with a mediocre record of 14-14. What is especially disheartening is that some of those gut-wrenching losses happened at home in Nationals Park, where the Nats actually had a losing record for the month: 6-8. For the record, here are the vital pitching stats for the Nationals' usual relief pitchers, ranked according to innings pitched. Not a pretty picture...

Pitcher ERA Saves Save oppor-tunities Innings pitched
Jacob Turner5.080339.0
Enny Romero3.352437.2
Blake Treinen6.113535.1
Matt Albers1.822429.2
Joe Blanton8.240019.2
Koda Glover *5.1281019.1
Shawn Kelley *7.004618.0
Oliver Perez3.781116.2
Matt Grace4.730013.1

* = Currently on disabled list.
SOURCE: MLB.com

Wounds healed at Nationals Park

One day after the terrible shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a ballpark in nearby Alexandria (June 14), the annual congressional baseball game went on as scheduled at Nationals Park. If ever a time there was for The National Pastime to bring this country together, this was it. Members of Congress mostly wore uniforms from colleges in their home states, so it was hard to tell who was on whose side. They said a prayer before the game, and partisan differences were left aside at least for one day. One positive side-effect from the tragedy was that many more tickets were sold than usual, as over 20,000 people attended. See the Washington Post.

Comiskey Park update

Comiskey Park

About a month ago, I posted updates to the Comiskey Park diagrams, adding a new variant for 1983. These revisions were prompted in part by a photograph, and partly by the fine photographs of that ballpark taken by Al Kara, which I mentioned on April 21. My estimate of the distance to the backstop is now just 67 feet, rather than 78 feet as before. Why? Because of one aerial photo I saw of the 1959 World Series (photoshelter.com), taken from almost directly overhead in broad daylight. Comparing the backstop distance to the distance between home plate and the pitching rubber left no doubt: It could not possibly be 78 feet! (Bruce Orser concurs with my judgment on that, by the way.)

This reduced my estimate of foul territory from 29,500 to 29,000 square feet. Estimated fair territory remains the same as before, 113,600 square feet.

NOTE: I made finishing that diagram update my top baseball priority in May, and as so often happens, I encountered some unexpected hangups. For example, after supposedly finishing the updates in late May, I discovered that the grandstand was a few feet too shallow along the baselines compared to the curved portion between the dugouts. Making that adjustment forced me to make further compensating adjustments elsewhere.

Minute Maid Park

My friend Dave Givens was in Houston several weeks ago, and saw the first-place (!!!) Houston Astros play in Minute Maid Park, which underwent revisions during the off-season. I plan to revise the diagrams on that page, but I'm still waiting to see better photos of the new center field area, which is now perfectly flat. frown

Minute Maid Park from 3B UD.jpg

Minute Maid Park from the upper deck on the third base side. Photo courtesy of Dave Givens, taken May 9, 2017.


July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest

CATCHING UP: In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada (1867), it's an appropriate occasion to finally write a description of my trip up to Canada -- and from thence out to South Dakota -- two summers ago. (I will soon do likewise, even more belatedly, for my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, in June 2014.) It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I already posted separate blog accounts related to baseball in August 14, 2015 and will do one about wild birds in the next day or two.

Toronto, Detroit, Chicago

TOP: Toronto; MIDDLE: Detroit; BOTTOM: Chicago.
Roll your mouse over the image to compare those skylines to the ones for Boston, Providence, Manhattan, and Philadelphia, which I visited in early September last year.

My trip began on July 18, heading in a northerly direction along I-81 into The Keystone State, then west briefly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then north again on the Bud Shuster Highway (I-99). That reminded me of all the corruption and pork-barrel scandals in which the former congressman was involved; see cato.org. From there I continued into western New York state, and spent the night in Buffalo, where I stopped to take photos of Coca-Cola Field (formerly Pilots Field), where the minor league Buffalo Bisons play.

Before the sun came up on July 19, I arrived at the American side of Niagara Falls, took a few photos there, and then crossed the bridge into Canada. I had been on that side once before, in the 1980s, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls are much bigger and dramatic in appearance. In the morning light, the skyline of the city of Niagara Falls was truly spectacular. The gardens and buildings are very well maintained.

Niagara Falls Horseshoe

Niagara Falls (Horseshoe), at the crack of dawn. (July 19, 2015)

After Niagara Falls, I drove west along the coast of Lake Ontario. I passed by two historical sites of note: McFarland House and the Battle of Fort George, in which the U.S. Army invaded and briefly occupied part of Canada during the War of 1812. How many Americans know anything about that conflict? (See warof1812.ca.) It is a very prosperous area, with nice homes and many fruit orchards. Passing quickly through the city of Hamilton, I arrived in downtown Toronto shortly after noon, found a place to park and walked toward Rogers Centre, where I saw the Blue Jays defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. I marvelled at the immense CN Tower next to the Rogers Centre, but was disappointed that there is a long wait to take the elevator trip to the top, so I'll have to do that some other time.

CN Tower

CN Tower, next the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (July 19, 2015)

I spent the night at a motel near London, Ontario, and briefly explored the city the next day. Not surprisingly, there is a Thames River, and I stopped at a park adjacent to it. I bought some premium beer at a Labatt's brewery store downtown, to share with my brothers. Then I left and headed west toward Michigan. I thought I might save time by avoiding heavy traffic in Detroit by crossing at Port Huron. I had a satisfying meal in Sarnia at Harvey's, a Canadian hamburger chain restaurant. I had poutine, a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. That'll stick to your ribs!

London - Westminister Ponds

London - Westminister Ponds. (July 20, 2015)

Then I crossed the bridge back into the good old U.S. of A., but was annoyed by the long delay at the immigration / customs inspection station. My gas tank was almost empty, making me even more anxious. About an hour later, I entered Detroit but took the wrong exit and wasted another 15 minutes finding Comerica Park, where the Tigers were playing the Seattle Mariners. After the game, I stopped briefly at the site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.

The next day (July 21), I paid a visit to the University of Michigan in the city of Ann Arbor. I wanted to see Michigan Stadium, the biggest college football stadium, with a capacity of over 100,000. I tried but failed to get inside for a look. I then drove through southern Michigan, which was unremarkable, and stopped at Indiana Dunes, from whence I had a view of Chicago, located about 30 miles to the west. It's an amazing place, great for observing nature or just for enjoying the sun at the beach. After a couple hours there, I drove into Chicago, cursing at all the traffic and toll booths, and arrived at U.S. Cellular Field well over an hour before the White Sox began playing the St. Louis Cardinals, in an interleague game. Afterwards, I left the city via a "shortcut" that was a little trickier than I expected. The south side of Chicago is reputed to be tough (as Jim Croce noted in his song, "Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown"), but it really wasn't so bad. I spent the night near Joliet, which reminded me of the Blues Brothers movie.

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Chicago skyline

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Lake Michigan, and distant Chicago skyline. (July 21, 2015)

July 22 was strictly devoted to driving westward, and my only stop of significance was in the town of Van Meter, Iowa. I learned that the Bob Feller Museum now shares the building with the City Hall, presumably for reasons of economy. [He was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.] I had visited there once before, but it wasn't open that day. Late in the day I arrived in Vermillion, warmly greeted at the door by my Dad. (About nine months later, he passed away.)

On July 25, Dad and I drove south into Nebraska, his beloved native state. (He actually grew up in Kansas, but that's another story.) We stopped at a few scenic spots along the way, but missed the turn which led to the town of Malmo, where his mother grew up. In Lincoln, we saw Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and then visited his fraternity house (ATΩ), the State Capitol (famed for its tall tower), and finally the house where two of his aunts once lived. I remember visiting them, but the neighborhood seemed much more crowded than I thought. On the way back home, we stopped in the town of Oakland, which hosts the Swedish Heritage Center. (For some reason, Dad became obsessed with his Swedish heritage late in life.)

Nebraska State Capitol tower

Nebraska State Capitol tower. (July 25, 2015)

On August 1, we took a day trip to Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, where we watched birds for a while. We stopped at a few towns along the way, including Lesterville, home of a famous strip club. The next day we played a round of golf, and I shot a 38, the under-40 first round for me in over a decade! Dad shot a 42, which is probably even more impressive, given that he was 86 at the time.

On August 6, Dad and I drove up to Sioux Falls, stopping at a couple wetland areas on the way there to look for birds. In Sioux Falls, we joined up with my brother Chris to see the falls on the Big Sioux River. Then we continued north to the picturesque town of Dell Rapids, and to the nearby natural wonder known as the Palisades. It's South Dakota's version of the Grand Canyon, you might say.

Palisades, Big Sioux River

Palisades, on the Big Sioux River. (August 6, 2015)

Just before leaving Vermillion, I finally did something I had postponed for many years: visit the National Music Museum. It was created by former USD music professor Arne B. Larson, and was originally called the "Shrine to Music." It has exhibits with exotic instruments from around the world, as well as classical music instruments. There is even a guitar formerly owned by the renowned singer Shawn Colvin, who was a friend of mine in grade school! (Last year my brother Dan bought me a CD recorded by her and Steve Earle, which she autographed and inscribed for me.)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota. (August 8, 2015)

On my return trip to Virginia, I took the southerly route, visiting my brother Dan in the Kansas City area. We had a great barbecue dinner, and Dan delighted in showing me all of the home renovation and landscaping projects he is working on. On the way out of town, I stopped briefly to take photos of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Royals, who had won the American League pennant the year before, and were on their way to winning the World Series later that year)! About ten miles east of Kansas City, I stopped at Burr Oak Woods natural area, hoping to see birds. To my surprise, there were many interesting butterflies there. About five hours later I arrived in St. Louis, and spent some time taking photos in downtown. I even went to the top of the Gateway Arch, for the first time since 1987. As you can see, the weather was ideal for picture-taking:

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. (August 10, 2015)

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch. (August 10, 2015)

Just before leaving St. Louis, I took some quick photos of Busch Stadium, which I had toured four years earlier. From there it was pretty much a non-stop drive east along Interstate 64, through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and back into Virginia. To see a comprehensive set of photos from that trip, please take a look at the Chronological (2015) photo gallery page.


July 26, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals: nearly dominant

(NOTE: I've got a lot of catching up to do, so here's a quick run-down of how the Nationals fared from May through July.) After nearly four months of play this year, the Washington Nationals continue to perform very, very well -- most of the time. The recent acquisition of two top-caliber relief pitchers (see below) has patched the main glaring weakness in their roster, but there are other potential vulnerabilities as well.

The Nats went on a nine-game road trip following the All-Star break, and won seven games. Not bad at all. The Nats swept the Reds in a four-game series in Cincinnati, and then split a two-game series with the Angels in Anaheim, and then took two out of three games from the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. Bryce Harper has been on a big rebound (currently a 17-game hitting streak), raising his home run total to 25. Anthony Rendon has been erasing any doubts as to whether he should have made the All-Star team, raising his batting average to .318. Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy is holding his own at the top of the batting average rankings, while Ryan Zimmerman has cooled off after a torrid first two months of the season. But four Nationals players are still in the top ten, in terms of batting average, and that is pretty darned impressive.

As for the postseason, the Nationals' main hope is that "anything can happen" in October.

Nats bullpen gets relief

The Nationals recently acquired veteran relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in a trade with the Oakland A's, giving up Blake Treinen, some prospects, and perhaps some cash. Thus far, Doolittle has been the closer. Those two pitchers have helped the bullpen stabilize, and so far they have not blown any saves. Whew! But with Joe Ross out for the season (Tommy John surgery) and Stephen Strasburg taken out of the game after two innings on Monday, now it's the starting rotation that is looking vulnerable. Edwin Jackson did just fine in his first start last week, but in the Nats' 8-0 loss to the Brewers last night, he was a disaster. There may be more big deals before the trade deadline.

Nat stars shine at All-Star Game

Although five members of the Washington Nationals were selected for the 2017 All-Star Game, only four of them ended up playing. All four were in the starting lineup, and all four did their part. Max Scherzer mowed down the three batters he saw in the top of the first, but was unfortunately replaced after that. Ryan Zimmerman had a big chance in the inning, but grounded into a double play. In the fourth inning, he hit a towering fly ball to the warning track in center field, which was caught by . Nolan Arenado tagged up at first base but was easily thrown out at second; not very smart. For his part, Bryce Harper hit a single and took a walk in his second and last plate appearance, plus he made a great diving catch in left field. (That made me nervous.) Daniel Murphy also got a hit, but didn't score either. Stephen Strasburg didn't get a chance to pitch, but might have if the game had gone into the 11th inning.The American League scored a run in the fifth inning, and the National League tied it two innings later.

Last year, four Nationals were chosen, but only one (Bryce Harper) was in the starting lineup. Last year it seemed there were too many Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox being chosen as All Stars, and this year the same could be said about the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

2017 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
Position National League American League
My pick Actual My pick Actual
C Buster Posey
(SF)
Buster Posey
(SF)
Salvador Perez
(KC)
Salvador Perez
(KC)
1B Ryan Zimmerman
(WSH)
Ryan Zimmerman
(WSH)
Jose Abreu
(CWS)
Justin Smoak
(TOR)
2B Daniel Murphy
(WSH)
Daniel Murphy
(WSH)
Jose Altuve
(HOU)
Jose Altuve
(HOU)
3B Anthony Rendon
(WSH)
Nolan Arenado
(COL)
Miguel Sano
(MIN)
Jose Ramirez
(CLE)
SS Zack Cozart
(CIN)
Zack Cozart
(CIN)
Carlos Correa
(HOU)
Carlos Correa
(HOU)
OF Bryce Harper
(WSH)
Bryce Harper
(WSH)
Avisail Garcia
(CWS)
George Springer
(HOU)
OF Charlie Blackon
(COL)
Charlie Blackon
(COL)
Aaron Judge
(NYY)
Aaron Judge
(NYY)
OF Marcell Ozuna
(MIA)
Marcell Ozuna
(MIA)
Mike Trout *
(LAA)
Mookie Betts
(BOS)
DH Giancarlo Stanton
(MIA)
Giancarlo Stanton
(MIA)
Corey Dickerson
(TB)
Corey Dickerson
(TB)
P -- Max Scherzer
(WSH)
-- Chris Sale
(BOS)

* = on disabled list during All-Star Game.
SOURCE: Washington Post

Happy 4th of July in Washington!

As usual, the game in Washington on July 4 started early -- at 11:05 AM -- and from start to finish it was a very Happy Fourth for the home town fans. The Nats beat the Mets 11-4, as Daniel Murphy continued to torment his old teams, going four for five with five RBIs. One year ago, when the Nats lost to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 4, I presented a table I summarized all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals. The Nats' record in 4th of July games at home is now 8-4.

It was also a Happy 7th of July, although it was very nearly the huge letdown. The Nats gave up five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, barely holding on to a 10-7 win over the Reds. Those games illustrated in sharp contrast both the good side and the bad side of the Washington Nationals this year, showing why their prospects for going deep into the postseason this October are rather shaky. otherwise-dominant

As of July 25, the Washington Nationals are 11 1/2 games ahead in the NL East race, but they really should be doing better. Right now the Nats are 59-39, or .604. I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data through the end of May, when they were 33-19.

Jayson Werth has been on the DL much longer than expected. Hopefully he will be back in the lineup by August.

Nats' bullpen chokes

I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of 2017.

Washington Nationals' 9th (+) inning blown leads, Apr.-June 2017 frown
Date Winner Loser Nats
runs in 9th
Opp.
runs in 9th
Extra innings, notes
4-6-17 MIA 4 WSH 3 0 1 Blown save by Blake Treinen, and Joe Blanton takes the loss in 11 innings.
5-9-17 BAL 6 WSH 4 0 2 Blown save by Enny Romero, and Jacob Turner takes the loss in 12 innings.
5-14-17 PHI 4 WSH 3 0 3 Blown save by Shawn Kelley, who takes the loss.
6-10-17 TEX 6 WSH 3 0 2 Blown save by Koda Glover, and Shawn Kelley takes the loss in 11 innings.
6-12-17 ATL 11 WSH 10 1 3 Blown save by Matt Albers, and takes the loss.
6-29-17 CHC 5 WSH 4 0 3 After Nats take 4-2 lead in the 7th, blown save by Blake Treinen, who takes the loss.

This table shows games in which the Nationals gave up the lead during the ninth inning and then lost the game, including games that went into extra innings. Home team is underlined. It is taken from a table on the Washington Nationals

Elsewhere in the majors...

How about them Houston Astros!? A couple years ago there was a rising star named Jose Altuve, but little else, and now they are far and away the best team in the American League. (I'm still having a hard time adjusting to their switch from the National League.)

And who is Mike Judge? Seldom if ever has a Rookie of the Year Award been decided so far in advance. After a red-hot first half of the season, he has slowed down a little, so breaking the 50-home run mark is now in doubt. But there is still a very good chance that he will lead the Yankees into the postseason, filling the void left by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano.

The World Champion Chicago Cubs (!!??) had a disappointing first half of the season, and currently in a neck-and-neck race with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central. The Brew Crew smashed the Nationals 8-0 last night, ending a recent tail spin. The Cardinals and Pirates aren't far behind, so that race could prove to be interesting.

Whither "Mount Davis"?

Now that the Raiders have committed to leaving Oakland, in favor of Las Vegas, the question arises of what is to be done with the monstrosity looming above center field that was constructed specifically to lure them back from L.A.? "Mount Davis," named after long-time Raiders owner Davis, Mike Zurawski drew my attention to this article at newballpark.org, casting doubt on any short-term fix to the big mess. But just in case, I thought it would be interesting to contemplate a large-scale renovation to Oakland Coliseum, and my new hypothetical diagram on that page shows the lower deck being completely rebuilt and moved closer to the infield. In other words, it would resemble the standard "paired swivelable circular section lower deck" (PSCSLD) configuration from the era of "cookie-cutter" stadiums. Fat chance? Probably so.

Dept. of Corrections

In my April 21 blog post I mentioned "Adam Eaton, formerly of the Padres..." Well, of course he is formerly of the White Sox, as I noted in my February 19 blog post. D'oh!!! Obviously, I got his name mixed up with that of Derek Norris, who was slated to become the Nats' primary catcher until they got Matt Wieters to sign a one-year contract in March.

Hockey news: NOT fake!

Speaking of corrections, I should know better than to write anything at all about hockey (see June 15, 2009, for example), but with the Washington Capitals coming oh-so-close winning the second-round in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I just can't help myself. The Caps lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ended up repeating as winners of the coveted trophy.


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