August 1, 2019
The Washington Nationals had a golden opportunity to gain at least some ground on the Atlanta Braves in the race for the National League division title this week, but they just couldn't "get 'er done." In Monday's game, the Nats' #3 pitcher, Patrick Corbin, was up against Dallas Keuchel, the mega-star recently acquired as a free agent by the Braves. The Nats took an early 2-0 lead, but the Braves came back and tied it in the sixth inning. In the bottom of the inning, with the bases loaded and on a 2-0 count, Anthony Rendon calmly smashed the ball way up into the left field seats for his third career grand slam. He is simply amazing with his methodical approach at the plate, smacking balls every which way. That gave the Nats a 6-2 lead, and the only additional score was when Charlie Culberson hit a solo homer off Sean Doolittle in the ninth inning. Otherwise, the bullpen did their job efficiently and without angst, for a change.
On Tuesday the Nats were in a bind, since Max Scherzer went back on the Injured List, so Erick Fedde was given starting pitching duties. He did OK at first, and got out of a jam in the second inning (giving up just one run), but things fell to pieces in the third inning when the Braves scored four more. Since the manager Dave Martinez was determined to give his bullpen a rest, he kept Fedde in for another inning, and the Braves scored four more runs. Javy Guerra then came in as a reliever, remaining through the seventh inning, when the Braves scored two more runs. That made the score 11-1, but then the Nationals staged a comeback with seven runs in the last three innings, yielding a more respectable final score: 11-8.
That left the outcome of the series up to the series finale on Wednesday, and with Anibal Sanchez on the mound, the Nats seemed to stand a very good chance of prevailing. He got out of a jam in the second inning, only allowing one run, and when Juan Soto tied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning, the Nats' prospects seemed bright. But the Braves kept chipping away, and had a 4-1 lead after six innings. [Perhaps the decisive play in the game was in the bottom of the sixth, when Trea Turner doubled to the left-center gap. Howie Kenrick, who had just walked, was waved home by the third base coach Bob Henley, and was tagged out by at least five feet. With nobody out, that seems like a dumb move by the coach. Turner never scored either. In the eighth inning Matt Adams (who had rested two days after getting hit in the foot by a pitch on Sunday) hit a solo homer to right field, which was a big psychological lift.] In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with no outs, and Kurt Suzuki came through with a clutch single to make it a one-run game. Gerardo Parra then grounded into a double play, tying the game, and Brian Dozier struck out, sending it into extras. In the top of the tenth Nats' closer Sean Doolittle gave up a home run to Josh Donaldson, a crushing blow. The Nats got two runners on base with one out in the bottom of the tenth, but neither Adam Eaton nor Anthony Rendon could get them home, so the Braves won it, 5-4.
That put the Nationals 6 1/2 games behind the Braves, and only 1/2 game ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. [The Nats went 15-10 for the month of July (see the Washington Nationals page), losing five of the last seven games, so their win-loss record is now 57-51 (.528) as they head to Arizona and then San Francisco.]
On the final day of the summer trading season, the Nationals acquired three pitchers: Hunter Strickland (Mariners, 8.10 ERA), Roenis Elias (Mariners, 4.40 ERA), and Daniel Hudson (Blue Jays, 3.00 ERA). Strickland's numbers aren't impressive, but he is remembered in Washington as the guy who "beaned" Bryce Harper in 2017, starting a big brawl between the Nats and the Giants. In October 2014, also with the Giants, he became the first MLB reliever in history to give up six home runs in a single postseason. It seems to me that those modest acquisitions will do little (!) to change the Nats' bullpen situation. Overall, there weren't many big transactions this week, the main exception being the Houston Astros getting ace pitcher Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Here are some more photos from the game on Sunday that might be of interest.
I noticed in some of the photos a tribute to recently-deceased Dodger Don Newcombe (see February 25) on the team's uniforms: the nickname "Newk" and the number 36 on their right sleeves.
With more and more accidents involving stray foul balls striking spectators in the lower decks of other stadiums, Nationals Park was one of the first ones to extend the protective netting most of the way down to the left and right field corners. It affects visibility only a little, and is on balance a positive development.
From the position I was in, I couldn't get a good photo of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, the TV announcers for Nationals games, but I had better luck with the radio announcers: