October 1, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Wild & crazy end of the 2018 regular season
There were some big surprises toward the end of the 2018 regular season, such as the late charge by the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers into a tie for first place. The L.A. Dodgers had seemed almost unstoppable since August, with the acquisition of Manny Machado (from the Baltimore Orioles) and some of their other stars back from the disabled list. But the Rockies (which had held first place for much of the summer) weren't daunted and forced their back to the top. Likewise, the Milwaukee Brewers somehow caught up to the Chicago Cubs, winning the last seven games of the regular season (not including today). For a while it seemed possible that the Oakland A's could overtake the Yankees in the quest for home field advantage in the wild card game, but the Yankees pulled out of a September slump and almost swept the Red Sox in Fenway Park during the final weekend of regular play.
As befitting the extremely tense final day of the season, all four teams that were contending for a division title (Rockies, Dodgers, Brewers, and Cubs) not only won their games on Sunday, but racked up double-digit run totals. (See the paragraph on the Nats' 12-0 loss to the Rockies below.)
And, as usual, I have prepared a table that will show all the scores of the postseason games, displayed at the bottom of my Baseball blog page. Note that it only appears in full when viewed in normal "desktop" display mode, not in "mobile" display mode, suitable for cell phones. You can also see that table, along with similar ones for the years going back to 2002 (when I started doing this), on the Postseason scores page.
Playoff games in NL West & Central
The upshot of the division races was that both the National League West and Central divisions were tied, requiring playoff games to decide the division champions: the Rockies facing the Dodgers, and the Brewers facing the Cubs.
Today was the first time that two playoff games had to be played to decided who would win the divisions, and it so happened that in both cases the loser automatically gained a postseason berth as a wild card team. The stakes were perhaps low, since the losers would later get another chance, and the play seemed to reflect that. In the early afternoon game, the Brewers and Cubs were tied 1-1 until the eighth inning, when the Brewers rallied for two more, and that proved to be the difference in their 3-1 win. After that, the Rockies played the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and the visitors just couldn't get their bats to connect. The Dodgers took a 5-0 lead into the ninth inning, whereupon their closer Kenley Jansen gave up home runs to the first two batters he faced. But then he got things under control and finished the game (not a save situation) in the 5-0 victory. (Jansen has missed a number of games since August due to a strange heart condition, and did not even travel with his team to Denver when the played the Rockies last month.) So tomorrow, the Rockies and the Cubs will play each other in a genuine elimination game, on the north side of Chicago in beautiful Wrigley Field.
I noticed that former National Daniel Murphy had one hit in four at bats for the Cubs, ending the season with a .299 batting average. Just one more hit and he would reached the .300 mark -- sort of like Max Scherzer did! It was such a tragedy that his knee took so long to heal this year, so that he didn't even start to play with the Nationals until June, and even then he was taking it easy to prevent a re-injury. Who will he sign with next year? What team needs an aging (and expensive) top-notch veteran slugger with perhaps three high-quality years left in him?
The playoff games are considered regular-season games, so each team could use the expanded 40-man roster, whereas once the actual postseason games begin, their rosters will have to go back down to the normal 25 players.
Nats rock the Rockies, then exit quietly
The Washington Nationals headed west for their final series of the 2018 season, landing in the Mile High City of Denver to face the Colorado Rockies. Joe Ross pitched on Friday night, and he lasted five innings, but the four runs he gave up were too much. In the sixth inning, Dave Martinez took a chance on the often shaky pitcher Sammy Solis, who promptly gave up a home run to the only batter he faced, David Dahl. Next! In a disgusting display of wasted chances that was sadly typical of this year as a whole, the Nationals only scored two runs even though they got 12 hits; a two-run triple by Trea Turner accounted for all the Nats' scoring. So would the Nats end this disappointing season with a lame whimper?
Absolutely not! On Saturday they came out blazing, as Juan Soto hit a two-run double in the first inning and Trea Turner hit a two-run homer after Adam Eaton singled in a run in the second inning, giving the Nats a nice 5-0 lead. Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and he was his old masterful self, giving up just two runs over six innings, while striking out seven. He finished the year with 156 strikeouts, and a 10-7 record thanks to this game. The Nats kept piling on more runs in the late innings (they seem to hit better when they don't really need to), and won by a lopsided score of 12-2. That was their 82nd win of the 2018 season, assuring them of a record over .500 for the year.
Having clinched a winning record for the season on Saturday, there really wasn't much left to play for on Sunday. That being the case, Max Scherzer sat it out, contrary to my supposition that he would seize the opportunity try to beat Walter Johnson's record of 305 strikeouts in a season. Instead, the 25-year old Erick Fedde took the mound, and once again was battered and bruised. He impressed me in some games during the summer, but lately he's just not getting it done. The Rockies hit home runs in every odd-numbered inning, five altogether since Nolan Arenado hit two four-baggers. Well, it was Coors Field... So why couldn't Bryce Harper get at least one home run while in Denver?? Before the series began, he had 34 homers, only two behind the league leader -- Nolan Arenado. To Bryce's credit, he did hit two doubles, including one in his last at-bat of the game, which may just be the final time he plays in a Nationals uniform. Anyway, the final score was Rockies 12, Nationals 0 -- the biggest margin of defeat they have suffered this whole painful year! Going from a 10-run victory one day to a 12-run defeat the next day just makes your head spin.
Coming out on top in four of their last six games gave the Nationals a record of 15-12 for September, their first winning month since May, when they went 19-7. Their 2018 record of 82-80 (.506) is the lowest they have achieved since 2011, when they went 80-81 (.497). But on the bright side, finishing with winning records in seven consecutive years is nothing to sneeze at. See the Washington Nationals page, which now has Nationals' head-to-head matchups, best batting and pitching records, and batting averages for their regular starting position players and ERAs for their starting pitchers. Lest you think that 2018 was all about Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, please note that Anthony Rendon had a team-best batting average of .308, tied with the Brewers' Lorenzo Cain for fourth place in the National League. Not bad at all! Juan Soto faltered a little toward the end of September, but he still had a batting average of .292, with 22 home runs (third among the Nats) and 70 RBIs (fourth). Pretty darned good for a rookie who didn't even start to play until May 15! FUN FACT: Soto wears the number 22 jersey, matching his home run total! We'll just have to wait until November to see whether the experts pick him or Ronald Acuña for Rookie of the Year.
Marlins Park MAJOR update
Some time after returning from Miami (and Latin America) last year, I realized that the soil in Miami was unsuitable for excavating below-ground playing fields, obliging me to do a quick fix of the profiles in my Marlins Park diagrams. But as so often happens, "one thing led to another," and before you knew it I was ripping out huge portions of the old diagrams and reorienting everything outside the playing field. Accordingly, this update to the Marlins Park diagrams is a fairly big deal.
Among the new details depicted in those diagrams are the retractable windows that provide fans with a view of the downtown Miami skyline, a few miles to the east-southeast. (Note that center field is oriented toward the southeast, a characteristic that is (I believe) shared only by Guaranteed Rate Field (as U.S. Cellular Field is now called) and Great American Ballpark. The windows are open in the 2012 diagram (among others), and closed in the 2016 diagram. (That is when they shorted some of the fences and reduced the distance to center field.) Other details are the long escalator at the end of the grandstand near the left field foul pole, the huge pillars that support the fixed-position roof that hangs slightly over left field, and the concourse area in the lower deck diagram.
To see exactly what changed since the last diagram update in 2016, just click on the diagram image. One of the changes resulted in my estimate of foul territory being reduced from 21,000 square feet to just 19,100 square feet. That and other such data revisions will soon be incorporated into the Stadium statistics page.
On September 17, the other promising rookie with the Nationals this year, Victor Robles, hit a monster home run to left field in Marlins Park. Amazingly, it was his very first home run in the big leagues! The ball sailed over "The Clevelander" club area and into a long balcony in front of a large bar in front of the huge retractable windows, landing right where there is a marker that reads "427." But is it really that far? After considerable effort, I think the distance to that spot is more like 420 feet. But since it is at least 20 feet above the field level, a ball on a normal home run trajectory would probably go another 15-20 feet, so a fair estimate would be 435 feet.
Sadly, attendance at Marlins games plummeted this year, as the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and others left fans with little to hope for. When the Nationals played two games there two weeks ago, fewer than 10,000 people showed up. After all the money spent by taxpayers to bring Marlins fans a long-awaited first class home, it would be a shame if the new ownership group (fronted by Derek Jeter) couldn't invest enough money to build a competitive roster.
One thing you will notice on the Marlins Park page is that all of the photos are high-resolution, showing many intricate details barely hinted at before. During the offseason, I plan to incorporate many more high-res photos on stadium pages...
Marlins Park, with the roof open, from the southwest. (March 5, 2017)
October 2, 2018 [LINK / comment]
The peak of fall migration season
The weather has improved somewhat over the past week, just as fall migration season has reached a peak, possibly delayed, as many southbound birds probably waited for the rain to stop. I have tried to take maximum advantage of better conditions, despite a lingering sore heel. Late in the morning on September 26, I checked out Bell's Lane, but aside from the usual birds, all I saw was three Solitary Sandpipers, one of which walked right next to a turtle. Photo op! When I went to on Betsy Bell Hill, however, I saw an American Redstart and a Magnolia Warbler, as well as a Red-eyed Vireo. It was hard to get good photos, or even any photos at all. In our back yard, the Cape May Warbler returned, and along Mountain View Road (by the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad that I used to frequent several years ago) I saw some Yellow-throated Vireos and a Black-throated Green Warbler, and both cooperated while I captured their photographic images, just before yet another rainfall later in the day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and Cape May Warbler. (September 26, 2018).
After a heavy rain on Thursday night, the sun came out in the morning of September 28, and the Cape May Warbler was still out back as well as a young Northern Cardinal. I was constrained by the obligation of finishing the Augusta Bird Club bulletin, however, and that was completed in the mid-afternoon. So I then paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane in the late afternoon. Before long I had seen a Black-throated Blue Warbler (F) and a Black & White Warbler, as well as a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. In the upland area I saw what I thought was a hawk fly past me, but soon realized it was actually an adult male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier! Further to the north I also saw a Northern Flicker and a Magnolia Warbler, both hiding in the bushes, and I duly noted those sightings on the Augusta Bird Club chalkboard. The lowland portion of Bell's Lane was a real mess that day (and still is), full of debris caused by an evident flood.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee, Black & White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Cape May Warbler, juvenile Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker (F), Magnolia Warbler, and in center, Northern Harrier (M). (September 28, 2018).
The weather on Saturday was ideal, but I was inside on the computer for most of the day. I went back to Bell's Lane in the afternoon, and soon saw my first Palm Warbler of the season. (Somebody had written on the chalkboard that they saw one there a few days ago.) In the vicinity of the beaver pond, there were also the usual Eastern Phoebes, Killdeers, and Solitary Sandpiper, plus a Kingfisher, Redstart, another Palm Warbler, and a probable Tennessee Warbler near the top of a sycamore tree.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper, Killdeer, and Tennessee Warbler (prob.). (September 29, 2018).
On Sunday I went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in spite of the cloudy conditions. It was the first time I'd been there in a few weeks, but hardly any birds were to be seen at the usual hot spots such as the Humpback Rocks visitor center and picnic area. So I went to the Hawk Watch on Afton Mountain, the first time I had been there in ove a year, I believe. Just as I had hoped, the sun finally came out soon after I arrived, enabling me to get a decent photos of a low-flying Turkey Vulture and a Broad-winged Hawk (one of a group of a dozen or so) pass of the other raptors that came into view. At one point, a Peregrine Falcon flew right in front of us, but I just couldn't get the camera to focus on it. That was a big disappointment.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Turkey Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Northern Harrier. (September 30, 2018).
On Monday I visited Bell's Lane in the late afternoon, and saw a probable Willow Flycatcher, "posing" in the sunlight for my camera. Not much else, however.
This morning, after dropping off the bird club bulletins at the post office and then doing recycling chores, I went to check out Montgomery Hall Park. For a long while, however, it seemed like a complete waste of time. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. At one point I played a Screech Owl call on my iPhone app, which attracted a few common birds but more importantly, it elicited vocal responses from two Screech Owls, in opposite directions! Well, that was something. On my way out of the park, I glimpsed some yellowish birds in the trees next to the road, figuring they were probably Goldfinches. Not! It was actually a family of Scarlet Tanagers, and I was lucky to get a photo of one of them before they flew off toward the softball fields.
Next I went to the new park trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, hoping for one of the Yellow-billed or Black-billed Cuckoos that seen there yesterday by two bird club members, Jo King and Bonnie Hughes. No luck there. (I had stopped there once or twice over the past year, and talked to the parks & rec official about Augusta County's plans to expand that trail into a lengthy network of asphalt trails spanning Verona.) But when I visited Bell's Lane on the way home, things started buzzing -- literally! A Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew past as I was photographing a probable Willow Flycatcher (perhaps the same one as yesterday) east of the lane at the beaver pond; a young Green Heron was on the west side. In the upland pastures portion, I saw some Palm Warblers acting like sparrows foraging along the side of the lane, and then all of a sudden, a Cuckoo flew past! Fortunately, I was able to get a photo (which indicated it was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, possibly young based on the relative lack of yellow color in the bill) before a passing bicyclist scared it away. Not a bad start to the month!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Palm Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Green Heron (J), and in center, Willow Flycatcher (prob.). (October 2, 2018).
I counted seven warbler species in the photo montages above, and adding Redstarts I have seen, that makes eight altogether this fall season. Hopefully I'll see at least a few more warblers in the weeks to come...
NOTE: Most of the text above was copied from my Facebook posts, and then edited for clarity and context. Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
October 3, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Shocker in Wrigley: Cubs are OUT!
Given their large lead in the NL East for most of the season, with the league-best winning percentage until the end, it was surprising enough that the Chicago Cubs had to endure a tie-breaking playoff game against the visiting (upstart) Milwaukee Brewers on Monday. But even with having to play in the National League wild card game against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field last night, you would think their home field advantage would count for a little more. Yet somehow the Rockies' Lyle Freeland outdueled Cubs ace Jon Lester, who walked the very first batter he faced and then gave up a double and an RBI sacrifice fly hit by Nolan Arenado. The score remained 1-0 until the eighth inning, when Javier Baez hit a clutch two-out RBI double to tie the game. And the crowd went wild! The game dragged on until after midnight (1:00 AM here in the east, past my bedtime), and with two outs in the top of the 13th inning the Rockies got three straight hits to retake the lead, 2-1. In the bottom of the 13th, all three Cubs batters struck out, and that is how their season ended, on a most abrupt and terribly disappointing note.
Editorial comment: The idea that a team with the best regular season record in their league (tied in this case) could get knocked out in a single postseason game is just one more reason why they really ought to get rid of the second wild card team and go back to the postseason format that existed prior to 2012.
So after playing in different cities (Denver, L.A., Chicago) for three consecutive days, the Rockies get a day of rest and will take on the Brewers in Milwaukee tomorrow night as the National League Divisional Series begin, while the Braves take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
Tonight the Oakland Athletics take on the heavily favored Yankees in New York, in the American League wild card game. Friendly reminder: In postseason baseball, absolutely anything can happen!
Stadium capacities, 2018
Just like last year (August 20, 2017), I have compiled the current-year seating capacity figures for each of the 30 MLB stadiums and calculated changes in capacity compared to 2017. Changes greater than 1,000 are highlighted in yellow. The fact that six stadiums had large increases without any apparent construction going on suggests that there was some kind of agreement among MLB franchises to include normally closed seating sections in the official numbers, to show the real effective capacity. Oakland Coliseum and Tropicana Field are the two most obvious examples of this. But the big puzzler is Yankee Stadium II, which had 53,345 seats when it first opened in 2009, but now has just 47,309, ranking a paltry seventh among MLB stadiums. This raises the question: Where did those 6,036 missing seats go???
|Stadium name||2018 |
|Globe Life Park *||49,115||1,001|
|Yankee Stadium II||47,309||-2,333|
|Oriole Park at Camden Yards||45,971||0|
|Busch Stadium III||45,538||1,563|
|Angel Stadium *||45,050||1,800|
|Citizens Bank Park||43,647||-4|
|Great American Ballpark||42,319||0|
|Minute Maid Park||41,168||-892|
|Guaranteed Rate Field *||40,615||0|
|Progressive Field *||35,225||174|
SOURCE: Box scores published in the Washington Post
* : Name has changed in recent years.
Along with my updated estimates of fair and foul territory (mentioned on Monday), the above data revisions will soon be incorporated into the Stadium statistics page.
October 12, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Divisional series are over in a flash
On both the American and National League sides, the divisional series came and went almost before you knew it. Whereas last year, two of the four such series went a full five games and only one involved a three-game sweep, this year no series went beyond four games, and two of them involved sweeps. Not good news for the TV networks that depend on advertising revenues from MLB postseason games: TBS and Fox Sports. The last time that only 14 games were played in the first round was 2014, and the last time that fewer games was played was in 2009: 13 games. Since my records begin (2002), the average number of games in divisional series is just a tad under four, i.e., 16 games total.
Another peculiarity of this year's divisional series (and also those of last year) is that in all four cases, the deciding game was won by the visiting team. Given the fact that they all ended after Game 3 or Game 4, that's just another way of saying that the team with the initial home field advantage ended up winning, as expected. Besides 2017 and 2018, the only other year in this century in which the visiting team's clubhouse was the one that got the ritual soaking in beer and champagne in all four cases was 2009. That happened three times in Nationals Park: 2012, 2016, and 2017.
Red Sox thrash the Yankees
Where were we? Oh yes, the Yankees forced David Price into an early exit in ALDS Game 2 last Saturday, thereby splitting the first two games in Boston. Two years ago I wrote "David Price['s] performances in recent postseasons (Detroit 2014 and Toronto 2015) have not exactly lived up to the expectations he set during his earlier years with the Tampa Bay Rays." Well, you cou can add Boston 2016 and 2018 to that list. Price was replaced during the second inning after giving up three runs (a home run by Aaron Judge and one by Gary Sanchez), and that was all the Yankees needed in a 6-2 win.
It seemed the Yankees had the momentum heading back to New York, but then the Red Sox came back with a vengeance, trouncing the Bronx Bombers on Sunday night by a score of 16-1. Amazingly, there was only one home run, by Brock Holt, but more importantly, Holt completed the very first cycle (single, double, triple, homer) in the history of MLB postseason games. That was the most runs scored by a team in any postseason game since the Cardinals beat the Rangers 16-7 in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Wanna guess the last time a team scored more than 16 in the postseason? ALCS Game 3 in 2004, when the Yankees beat the Red Sox 19-8! I think we all remember what happened next...
But anyway, the Red Sox took an early lead in ALDS Game 4, as Rick Porcello outdueled the Gentle Giant C.C. Sabathia, and were ahead 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. For some reason their closer Craig Kimbrel got all jittery, walking two batters, hitting another one, and giving up a hit to make it a 4-3 game. I expected Boston's rookie manager Alex Cora to take him out, but Kimbrel stayed and got the job done, barely. And so the Red Sox advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 2013, when they won the World Series.
Dodgers overcome the Braves
After the Dodgers shut out the Braves in the first two games of the NLDS, there wasn't much the Braves could hope for as the series shifted to Atlanta on Sunday. But the Dodgers' pitcher Walker Buehler gave up three walks (one intentional) and a single in the second inning, and then rookie phenom Ronald Acuñ hit a grand slam to give the Braves a sudden 5-0 lead. That changed the whole atmosphere of the series, and fans in Atlanta (or the suburbs thereof) could finally enjoy themselves. The Dodgers came back with two runs in the third and three in the fifth to tie the game, but then Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer in the sixth, and the score stayed 6-5 until the end of the game.
But the elation in Atlanta didn't last long. The Dodgers score a run in the first inning, and only a clutch pinch-hit two-run single by Kurt Suzuki (a former Washington National) kept the crowd animated, as the Braves briefly took a 2-1 lead. But the Dodgers scored two more in the sixth, and three more in the seventh (on a home run by former Oriole Manny Machado), and they held on to win, 6-2. Having won the National League West Division for the sixth year in a row, and making it to the the NL Championship series for the third year in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers are favored to win their second straight pennant as the next phase begins in Milwaukee tonight.
Brewers sweep the Rockies
Having lost to the L.A. Dodgers in the playoff game to decide the NL West championship, the Colorado Rockies bounced right back and paid the same "favor" to the dazed and confused Chicago Cubs, who expected to cruise through at least the early phase of the postseason. As the NL Divisional Series began in Milwaukee, the home team had a 2-0 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the Rockies staged a late rally to send it into extra innings. But in the tenth inning, a single by former Royal Mike Moustakas scored former Marlin Christian Yelich, as the Brew Crew triumphed 3-2. In Game 2 they won 4-0, and in a big embarrassment for fans at Coors Field in Denver, they beat the Rockies 6-0 on Sunday. Yet another quick exit for a team with high hopes and not much else.
FUN FACT: In both of their recent postseason appearances, the Brewers were eliminated by the eventual World Series champions: in the 2008 Divisional series, when the Philadelphia Phillies went on to beat the Dodgers and then the Rays, and in the 2011 League Championship series, when the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Texas Rangers.
Astros sweep the Indians
The Astros dominated the Indians in the first two games of the ALDS in Houston, and things only got worse as the series shifted to Cleveland for Game 3. George Springer hit two home runs in Progressive Field, with his team piling on with six more runs in the eighth inning and one in the ninth. Final score: 11-3. So the Astros are in a good position to defend their American League pennant, and perhaps their World Series title as well. Before last year, they were a wild card team in both 2005 and 2015. In the former year they made it all the way to the World Series, ultimately getting swept by the Chicago White Sox, and in the ALDS of the latter year they lost to the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.
NL & AL Championship Series begin
Tonight the National League Championship Series got underway in Miller Park, in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sheltered from the frigid air outside. Gio Gonzalez, who was pitching for the Nationals just two months ago, faced the Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw. Remarkably, neither pitcher lasted even four innings. The Brewers are ahead 5-1 in the top of the fifth... Gio's record in postseason games is spotty (see October 13, 2017, for example), but maybe with a new team he'll do better. I hope so!
Riverfront Stadium fix
I made a few more tweaks to the Riverfront Stadium diagrams (which had just been updated on August 17), most obvious of which is that the Ohio River is now shown in the upper right corner. The lower-deck diagram now has more detail in the concourse area, showing the inclination of the access ramps. In the 2001 diagram, the location of Great American Ballpark (under construction) is more accurate, the grandstand in right center field extends for one more section (about 20 feet), and the fence in front of the bullpens in right field now has a slight bend; previously, it was straight.
Finally, there is a new diagram, labeled "the site today," showing the street layout where Riverfront Stadium used to stand. Eventually, I plan to do likewise for all other MLB stadiums that have been demolished.
New Rays ballpark?
Courtesy of Mike Zurawski, here is an article about the possibility of a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in the Ybor City section of Tampa. (That would be across the bay from their current home in St. Petersburg.) One of the main concerns (aside from who's going to pay for it) is making sure that the roof is high enough to avoid awkward bounces by balls hit at a high trajectory. See tampabay.com.
October 19, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox win AL pennant, Brewers force Game 7
If nothing else, the postseason series thus far have validated the regular-season accomplishment of the teams that made it into October. The teams with initial home field advantages have won all five series: the Dodgers, the Brewers, and the Astros in the divisional series, and the Red Sox in both the divisional series and the AL championship series. The last time that five of the first six series have been won by the higher-seeded teams was in 2009; the Phillies beat the Dodgers in the NLCS, but then the Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series, so it ended up being six of the seven postseason series.
The Astros' 7-2 win in American League Championship Series Game 1 came as a shock to fans in Boston, but the Red Sox recovered quickly, winning Game 2 last Saturday by a score of 7-5. Starting pitcher David Pri[ce walked two batters in the fifth inning, but even with two outs, manager Alex Cora yanked him]. In a close game (5-4), Cora just felt he couldn't count on Price. As the series shifted to Houston for Game 3, the Astros had every reason to be confident, but their starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel was ambushed from the get-go. The first three Red Sox batters got hits, and two runs scored. It was a low-scoring game until the eighth inning, when Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a grand slam to put the game out of reach. Final score: 8-2.
ALCS Game 4 will be remembered (by fans in Houston, at least) for the questionable fan interference call in the first inning, taking away what would have been a game-tying two-run homer from Jose Altuve. I was watching the game in a bar and couldn't hear what was going on, so I was confused for a while. The fan in question (Houston's answer to Steve Bartman?) did make contact with the glove of right fielder Mookie Betts, but it looked to me like it was beyond the vertical plane of the outfield wall and therefore not subject to interference. I don't think it caused Betts to miss the ball in any case. So, those two runs never counted, and that ended up being the precise difference in the score in that game. Boston's closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel was sent to the mound in the eighth inning, and he proceeded to give up a run on a single, a hit by pitch, and a double. In the ninth inning he walked the bases loaded and was lucky to get out of that jam without giving up any more runs, and the Red Sox won, 8-6.
After repeated flubs in postseason games, David Price finally pitched a gem for the Red Sox in ALCS Game 5 last night. He was up against Houston's veteran ace Justin Verlander, who gave up a solo home run to J.D. Martinez in the third inning. Otherwise, Verlander pitched fine -- until Rafael Devers hit a pop fly home run to left center field, adding three runs to Boston's score. The ball barely traveled 350 feet. (It is interesting that the short distance and tall wall in left field at Minute Maid Park was modeled on the home field of the opposing team, Fenway Park.) Houston fans' hopes were lifted in the seventh inning when Marwin Gonzalez hit a solo homer, but the Astros just couldn't capitalize on the few run-scoring opportunities they had, and the Red Sox won, 4-1. And so, David Price redeemed himself in the deciding game of the series, and that's what people will remember.
Houston Astros fans were understandably distraught that their World Champion team could not make it to a second consecutive World Series, and could not even win any of their three games at home, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in losing to a team that is as talented as the Red Sox. George Springer emerged as the breakout slugging champ of Houston, hitting four home runs and getting a .400 batting average in the postseason. (He had 22 homers and batted .265 in the regular season.) Given the two teams' stratospheric regular-season records (Red Sox .667 and Astros .636), one could almost say that the ALCS was in effect this year's World Series.
The National League Championship Series has been a very even back-and-forth matchup, with three of the games being decided by a single run. Clayton Kershaw was pitching for the Dodgers in Game 1, and to the surprise of almost everyone, he was replaced in the fourth inning after giving up five runs (one unearned). The Brewers had a 6-1 lead going into the eighth inning, but then their vaunted bullpen flinched and barely got out of a jam as the Dodgers scored three runs and then one more in the ninth. Brewers 6, Dodgers 5. In Game 2, the Brewers were ahead 3-0 until the seventh inning, and once again the relief pitchers couldn't get the job done. The Dodgers rallied late and won, 4-3.
At Dodger Stadium in Game 3, Milwaukee's Jhoulys Chacin simply outpitched L.A.'s Walker Buehler, as the Brewers won 4-0. Game 4 went into extra innings in a 1-1 tie, and frankly I just couldn't stay awake after midnight. In the 13th inning, Cody Bellinger hit an RBI single as Manny Machado scored the winning run. In Game 5 on Wednesday night Clayton Kershaw bounced back from his rather ugly Game 1 outing and lived up to his superstar reputation, allowing just one run on three hits over seven innings. The Dodgers' 5-2 put the Brewers on the brink of elimination.
Back home in Miller Park tonight, the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Dodgers rather decisively. L.A.'s David Freese hit a solo homer in the first inning, momentarily quieting the boisterous crowd, but they got loud again in the bottom of the inning when the Brewers scored four runs on a remarkable string of singles and doubles. The Dodgers' starting pitcher Hyun-Hin Ryu was totally ineffective, and gave up another run in the second inning. Keeping him pitching through the third inning was obviously a strategic calculation that it was better to let him try to save the bullpen pitchers' arms for the deciding Game 7. The Brewers tacked on two more insurance runs in the latter innings, winning by a score of 7-2, thus forcing a Game 7 tomorrow night.
The 2018 World Series will begin in Boston on Tuesday October 23, and will continue (if necessary) through October 31 -- Halloween!
Miller Park tweaks
Just in time for the ninth inning of NLCS Game 6, about an hour ago, I made a few minor corrections and enhancements to the Miller Park diagrams. The biggest change is in the angles of the grandstand near the left field corner. I also fixed a few inconsistencies in the previous diagrams (2013), and made sure there were grandstand "crease lines" in all of the applicable diagrams. Also, as with Marlins Park, which I updated recently, the diagrams that show the retractable roof sections are generally opaque (looking more "natural"), with just a single "translucent" diagram showing details of the field through the roof.
Miller Park (built in 2001) has not yet hosted a World Series, but that would change if the Brewers manage to beat the Dodgers tomorrow night... The other [such current MLB stadiums] are (showing the older ones first):
- Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1992)
- Safeco Field (1999)
- PNC Park (2001)
- Great American Ballpark (2003)
- PETCO Park (2004)
- Nationals Park (2008)
- Target Field (2010)
- Marlins Park (2012)
- SunTrust Park (2017)
October 24, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox & Dodgers begin World Series 2018
For the first time since 1916, the Red Sox are playing the Dodgers in the World Series. But that was when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, and the Red Sox decided to play their "home" games in recently-built (two years old) Braves Field, which had about 6,000 more seats than Fenway Park, which was only four years old. Very strange. Game 2 of the 1916 World Series was perhaps the most notable one: George H. "Babe" Ruth pitched a full 14 innings as Boston won the marathon, 2-1, taking a 2-0 series lead. Such a feat is not even comprehensible by today's standards. "The Babe" only struck out four batters, and went 0 for 5 at the plate in the only game in which he played. Brooklyn won Game 3 at Ebbets Field, but Boston won Game 4 and then won the deciding Game 5 back "home" at Braves Field.
In Game 1 last night, it was a matchup of superstars -- well, kind of. The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, who was on the DL for several weeks last summer, is not the overpowering hardballer he used to be, and the Red Sox' Chris Sale is still not 100% after likewise injuring his arm earlier this year. Both starting pitchers finished four innings and were then pulled in the fifth inning without getting an out. The Red Sox drew first blood with two runs in the first inning, but the Dodgers kept bouncing back in a classic neck-and-neck struggle. And then in the bottom of the seventh inning, Eduardo Nuñez came in as a pinch hitter and smashed a three-run home that just barely cleared the Green Monster in left field. That gave the Red Sox an 8-4 lead, and they held on for the next two innings to win the game by that same score. I believe I heard that it was the first pinch-hit home run in a World Series game since Kirk Gibson did it for the Dodgers (!) in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A's.
Dodgers win NL pennant
In Milwaukee on Saturday night, Christian Yelich hit a solo homer in the first inning for the Brewers, sending fans into heights of elation. But the Dodgers answered with two runs in the second inning, thanks to a home run by Cody Bellinger. The score remained 2-1 in a tense pitchers' duel until the sixth inning, when Yasiel Puig hit a three-run homer to make the score 5-1, and that was the final result of the game. The Brewers' bats somehow went cold at just the wrong moment. Bellinger was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player, while Yelich is still a top contender for the 2018 NL MVP crown. We'll find out next month.
And thus, the visiting team won the final game in a postseason series once again. Will that streak continue unbroken through the World Series? If so, that might be a record; I'll have to check. Another factoid: the Los Angeles Dodgers have won back-to-back National League pennants for the first time since 1977-1978. That was when they lost to the New York Yankees in two straight World Series, the first of which is what made Reggie Jackson a superstar of historic proportions. The last World Series win by the Dodgers was in 1988, which is indeed a long wait for a team with such top-notch credentials. Of course, the Red Sox know all about waiting and waiting for a World Series win...
The Stadium milestones page has been updated to include Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium on the list of World Series game venues, and stadiums that never (or have not yet) hosted either World Series games or All Star games are now explicitly marked with "NONE."
World Series stadia
Just like last year, and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Also just like last year, the contrasts between the two stadiums -- Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium -- are very sharp. For you trivia buffs, the average age of the two stadiums is 81 years (106 + 56 = 162), which is by far the oldest ever. The next oldest was in the 1996 World Series: the average age (at the time) of Yankee Stadium and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was 52 years (73 + 31). Ever since Cleveland Stadium was replaced in 1994, and except for the 2005-2007 period when RFK Stadium was being used by the Washington Nationals, Dodger Stadium has been the third-oldest MLB stadium. If the Red Sox and Cubs ever play in a World Series ...
Just roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
Fenway Park update
Soon after my last update exactly three months ago, I noticed that there was a slight discrepancy between the lower deck diagram and the others. So I started doing a few tweaks to the Fenway Park diagrams, and as so often happens, I got carried away with my fanatical pursuit of accuracy and detail. I was hoping to have it done in time for this year's World Series, but was a day late -- and perhaps a dollar short?
To get those corrections as accurate as possible, I relied heavily on the photos I took during my visit there in September 2016, including this one:
Fenway Park grandstand, looking down the third base line.
As one example of the changes, I noticed in on photo that a line drawn from the first grandstand crease to the right of the bullpens toward the infield should pass about ten feet in front of third base, but in my previous diagram, it passed in back of third base. I knew that the front side of the crease was accurate, which implies that the back side was off. So, I moved the support beam about five feet to the left and then made the other corresponding changes of the grandstand (about a one degree angle) and other structures in that area.
As I was pondering the weird angle at which the center-field seats are oriented (pointing toward first base rather than home plate), something occurred to me. The new bleachers, and the grandstand that wraps around the right field corner, were built in 1934, one year after the Boston Braves football team moved out of Braves Field and into Fenway Park, becoming the Boston Redskins. (!) Is it possible that the center field seats were designed specifically to optimize sightlines for football games? Hmmm...
October 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
"Innings" and outings in October
In contrast to September, the weather this month has mostly been very nice, providing several opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Baseball consumes a great deal of my attention this time of year (hence "innings" in the title above), but I also make a point to enrich our lives by visiting various nearby places of special interest.
On October 4, Jacqueline expressed interest in a day trip, but wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to see. The weather was perfect, and we just had to go somewhere! After doing a Google (or Yahoo?) search, I came across the White Oak Lavender Farm, which sounded interesting, and it turned out to be exactly the kind of thing that she enjoys. It is located near the village of Cross Keys in Rockingham County, a few miles east of Mount Crawford, home of the famous Green Valley Book Fair. On our way there, we stopped at Leonard's Pond, a noted local birding hot spot; it was unusually full that day, due to the recent heavy rains. Upon arriving at our destination, we were immediately enchanted by the purple buildings, the big willow tree, and the gazebo out front. You can stroll through the scent-filled gardens and see the horse stables, and sample wine at an adjacent pavilion. Inside the gift shop are an assortment of soaps, lotions, and other products made with lavender oil. Jacqueline just loved it. I hit a home run!
On our way back to Staunton, we bought vegetables at a farm north of Weyer's Cave, and I stopped to take a photo of the famous "Turkey Monument" at the Rockingham County line.
The main building of the White Oak Lavender Farm. (October 4, 2018)
Maury River canoe trip
On October 6 I went along on a canoe trip along the Maury River that was organized by Stan Heatwole, and it was quite an adventure! It was the first such outing in the Augusta Bird Club, but the weather forecast was uncertain, and only two other members attended: Ann Cline and Caroline [Ford]. I wasn't even sure I was up for it, since I have been having pain in my right heel since the latter part of the summer, but I was told it wouldn't be strenuous. Aware of the risks, I couldn't decide whether to bring my Canon PowerShot camera, and ended up flipping a coin, which yielded a positive choice. Ann lent me a special waterproof bag to keep my camera sealed, which turned out to be extremely lucky! As I found out, it's not easy to hold a camera steady while floating along in a canoe, and I only got a few mediocre photos [of birds] while on the river. But the weather turned out to be just fine, and I got several nice scenic shots along the way.
At about 11:25 we "put in" about six miles upstream from Lexington, where one of the vehicles had been left. I shared a canoe with Stan, while Ann and Caroline (who are more experienced) each had a kayak. I learned (or re-learned) how to navigate rapids, which for the most part were fairly mild. But about shortly after noon, at the end of a set of rapids, our canoe suddenly collided with a boulder and instantly capsized! After recovering my bearings (and getting my glasses back on straight) I had to rescue Stan's dog (a very small breed), and then retrieved the various boxes and bags that were floating away. My cell phone was inside my pants pocket, sealed with a sandwich baggie, and thank goodness, that was enough waterproofing! We were both thoroughly drenched, of course, but aside from a few scrapes there were no injuries. We gathered our things to get semi-dry for about 20 minutes, and then resumed the trip. To my immense relief, my camera, my iPhone, and my binoculars all survived without any damage. Later on I realized that I had lost my Augusta Bird Club hat, but it was kind of beat up anyway, so no big loss.
The scenery was spectacular, with steep forested banks on one or both sides for most of the trip. It reminded me of John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, when he and his group made it through the rapids of the Grand Canyon. On the botanical side, we found some Paw Paw trees, and I retrieved one of the fruits that was floating in the river. It has a creamy color and consistency, like a mashed banana or custard. I don't think I had ever seen one before. We passed under the I-64 twin-span bridge just before 2:00 and reached the end in Lexington at about 3:15. It was exhilarating to have made the trip successfully with no damage. The club will probably have another trip like this one next year.
The Maury River, under the I-64 bridge north span. (October 6, 2018)
Blue Ridge day trip
For the next two weeks, there wasn't much travel activity other than a couple visits to the Swoope area, where I was focused mainly on birding. But last Sunday, October 21, it was bright and sunny, so Jacqueline and I took a leisurely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were hoping for a fall foliage display, but the leaves had barely begun to turn color, so the sights weren't as spectacular as we had hoped. I was likewise disappointed that hardly any birds were to be seen; it was probably due to the windy conditions, when birds tend to hunker down in the underbrush. We came across a Box Turtle crossing the road, and did a U-turn, but never found it, so it must have gotten to the other side safely. After spending a while soaking in the beauty at Twenty Minute Cliff, we turned back north on the parkway. We stopped in the village of Love, intrigued by a sign advertising Brunswick stew, but they were closed until 3:00 and we were too hungry to wait. So, we kept going and ended up having a sumptious late lunch / early dinner at one of my favorite places: the Blue Mountain Brewery on Route 151 in Afton. I even bought a six pack of their signature IPA, "Full Nelson." Delicious!
Twenty Minute Cliff, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (October 21, 2018)
Other recent photos can be seen on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.
October 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in early-to-mid October
Well, another month is quickly speeding toward a conclusion, and it's about time I wrote a few lines about my birding ventures since the beginning of October. On October 3 I went to Betsy Bell Hill, and saw for the first time some new trail signs and a map kiosk that the city Parks and Recreation Department has put up. That's very nice, and I'm glad they are devoting resources to that often-overlooked bit of natural heritage inside the city limits. I didn't see any warblers, to my surprise and disappointment, but I did get a good view of a Wood Thrush and a so-so view of a female Scarlet Tanager. Two Pileated Woodpeckers landed on a nearby log to look for food, but my camera just couldn't focus on them for some reason, and I wasted a great photo opportunity. Then I paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane and caught a glimpse of a Green Heron only about 25 feet away, in a small stream behind some bushes. This time I was luckier with the focusing and quickly snapped a (semi-obstructed) photo of the bird, in perfect sunlight.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Green Heron (J). (October 3, 2018)
On October 5 I went birding in Waynesboro for the first time in a few weeks, partly out of curiousity over whether they had been getting more migrants than us folks in Staunton are. I had some nice views in various spots along the South River, but nothing spectacular. The highlights were a Scarlet Tanager (F) in North Park (not photographed), Cedar Waxwings in various places, and a Magnolia Warbler and a Swainson's Thrush in Ridgeview Park. The Broad-winged Hawk was here in Staunton, or above it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swainson's Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cedar Waxwing, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), and Magnolia Warbler. (October 5, 2018)
Maury River canoe trip
As described in a separate blog post, on October 6 I went along on a canoe trip along the Maury River, the first such outing under the auspices of the Augusta Bird Club. It was organized by Stan Heatwole, and two other members attended: Ann Cline and Caroline Ford. Almost as soon as we started, Stan sighted a Bald Eagle downstream, and I just caught a glimpse of it as it was flying away. For the most part, however, there weren't that many birds to be seen that day, and it proved very difficult for me to photograph the ones we did see from a canoe in motion. Aside from the birds in the photo below, we also saw Cedar Waxwings, Belted Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, a Raven, and a few others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mallards, Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebe, and Canada Geese. (October 6, 2018)
Back to normal birding
The very next day, October 7, I drove around the Swoope in the afternoon, scouting in advance of the field trip there next Saturday. (To my dismay, I learned that Livick Road was closed because of damage to a small bridge after a recent flood.) I found Indigo Buntings and Palm Warblers in multiple locations, and a variety of sparrows all around. I expected to see Savannah Sparrows, but the Vesper Sparrow was a nice surprise. Finally, I saw a Belted Kingfisher at the Boy Scout Camp lake, along with a Great Blue Heron.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Indigo Bunting (F/J), Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), Palm Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, and Savannah Sparrow. (October 7, 2018)
Early on October 9, I glimpsed some kind of warbler out back, and was lucky to get a fairly good photo of what turned out to be a female Cape May Warbler. There was also a hawk flying high overhead, and from the pale spots near the end of each wing, there's no doubt that it was a Red-shouldered Hawk. Later I paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane, and saw both kinds of herons (Green and Great Blue), and a few other birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cape May Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Killdeer, Wood Duck (M), Green Heron (J), and in center, Belted Kingfisher. (October 9, 2018)
October 10 was an unusually good morning at Montgomery Hall Park. I was hoping to see some early White-throated Sparrows, but none were present. In any event, I was more than satisfied by what I did see. Several Eastern Bluebirds were at the park entrance, and an Eastern Wood Pewee, Black & White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler were in a wooded area uphill from the Christmas tree dumping area. Later on I had excellent looks at Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and at the top of the hill, a Merlin! There were also lots of American Robins, Northern Flickers, and other woodpeckers. I even heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Merlin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Bluebird (M), Cedar Waxwings (J), Black & White Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Tennessee Warbler. (October 10, 2018)
Finally, on October 13 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Swoope and Augusta Springs, and it was a big success. Nine people attended, including some new members, and lots of interesting birds were found all over the place. Allen Larner usually leads that trip every fall, but he wasn't sure if he'd be available, so when he showed up that morning, I gladly acceded to his leadership role. We saw a mixed flock of Grasshopper Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows along Livick Road (where a washed-out bridge was repaired just in time for us), as well as three Northern Harriers (two adult males) and a Cooper's Hawk! There was nothing at Smith's Pond, so we went straight to Augusta Springs, where we saw Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches (as well as the common White-breasted ones), Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Towhees, and a Hermit Thrush! Some of us then went back to Swoope, and at or near the Boy Scout camp we saw Palm Warblers, a Swamp Sparrow, a Magnolia Warbler, some Eastern Phoebes, and a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. It was a wonderful trip indeed.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Phoebe, Cooper's Hawk (J), Pine Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, and in center, Cedar Waxwing. (October 13, 2018)
I have made a few bird trips since then, but I'll wait until the end of the month to report on them. Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.