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September 2022
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September 6, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Corbin out-pitches Scherzer!?

The pitching matchup in the Saturday game between the Nationals and the Mets could not have seemed more lopsided: Patrick Corbin, then with a 5-17 win-loss record, faced the eminent future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer, then with a 9-4 record and eagerly looking for his 200th career win. But Corbin was coming off a stirring win against the Reds the previous Sunday (which I saw), whereas Scherzer had lost his last two games, against the Yankees and the Rockies. In the top of the first inning, Luis Garcia surprised everyone by hitting a solo home run off Scherzer, who is known for giving up homers as well as getting strikeouts. In the third inning, the Mets tied the game with a solo home run by Eduardo Escobar, and the game remained tied 1-1 until [after Max Scherzer was relieved in ths sixth inning. No decision for Max. (He apparently pulled a muscle or something.)] Then in the eighth inning, Lane Turner put the Nationals ahead with yet another solo home run, his 15th four-bagger of the year. Then in the ninth inning, the Nats piled on five more runs in a succession of clutch hits and one weird play in which CJ Abrams (not "C.J." apparently) was caught stealing but then second baseman Jeff McNeil committed a throwing error. Final score: Nats 7, Mets 1. [It was another triumph and moment of redemption for Patrick Corbin, who has been harshly maligned for much of this season.]

Patrick Corbin, on his way to his sixth victory of the season, and his first since June 28, on August 28.

On Sunday, the Nats took a 5-1 lead on a four-run rally in the top of the third inning, and added two more runs in the fifth inning as Cesar Hernandez hit his very first home run of the year. (In 2021 he hit 21 homers, and when the Nats signed him, they presumably expected a similar performance this year.) He got the "silent treatment" by his team mates in the dugouts, and then relished congratulations. Hernandez has more hits (124) than any other Nationals player this year, which is surprising given that he seldom gets much recognition. He's just very modest and low-key, but he puts in a full day's "work" almost every day, and does fairly well, with a .248 average. He has 501 at-bats this year, much more than the next Nats player in that category, Nelson Cruz, who has 429. Anyway, Erick Fedde got his first win since June 21, giving up only one run over six full innings. Just like the day before, the final score was Nats 7, Mets 1.

[And thus, the Nationals confounded almost everyone's expectations by beating the Mets in two out of three games, their second consecutive series victory. Having won five out of their last six games (excluding tonight), the Nats now have a reasonable chance to emerge from the "dungeon" of Major League Baseball, where they have languished since July; the Oakland A's and Cincinnati Reds are in their sights. Now with a 48-88 record, they might even reach the 60-game win threshold, possibly replacing the Miami Marlins in fourth place of the NL East. At least the last four weeks of the 2022 season should offer some excitement and encouragement for us long-suffering Nats fans.]

Meneses out-hits Soto!?

Numbers don't lie, right? Well, if that's true, then Joey Meneses has been a better player than Juan Soto since the latter was traded to the San Diego Padres on August 2. After putting up truly spectacular numbers in his first month in major league baseball, he began the month of September in the most jaw-dropping fashion that you can imagine: hitting three singles in his first five at-bats and then smashing a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth inning to beat the Oakland A's 7-5. The Nats thereby took two of three games in that series, their first such victory since doing likewise against the Dodgers in Los Angeles in late July. So of course, since that was the Nationals' very first walk-off home run this year, I had to update the Washington Nationals BIG moments page. Notably absent from either the walk-off home run list or the grand slam list on that page: former National star (and likely future Hall-of-Famer) Juan Soto!

Since that big triumph, for which he was given a ceremonial Gatorade shower, Meneses has gotten seven more hits over 23 at-bats, keeping his batting average well above the .300 level. He led the way in the Nats' upset 6-0 shutout of the Cardinals in St. Louis on Labor Day afternoon, going 3 for 5 at the plate. In that game, another unlikely starting pitcher (Anibal Sanchez) got the win, his second of the year. In tonight's game the Nats took an early 1-0 lead, but starting pitcher Paolo Espino gave up three runs in the fourth inning and took the loss; he now has an 0-7 record for the year. And thus, the Nats' bid for their first four-game winning streak of the season was thwarted as the Cardinals won it, 4-1. Nevertheless, Joey Meneses once again did his part for the Nationals, hitting two doubles, even though he did not score or bat in a run either time.

Batting performance since August 2
Statistic Joey Meneses Juan Soto
(as a Padre)
At Bats 122 94
Batting average .344 .245
Home Runs 7 3
Runs Batted In 16 6
On-base Plus Slugging .957 .802

Includes the Sept. 6 game for Meneses but not for Soto.

Chances are somewhere between 90 and 95 percent that Soto will bounce back and do better than Meneses next year, but at least Nats fans have good reason to hope that their team will become competitive once again sooner rather than later.

Joey Meneses takes a lead from first base after hitting a single in the fifth inning, on August 28.

Braves chase the Mets

In Pittsburgh earlier this evening, the Pirates beat the New York Mets, 8-2, and in Oakland the Braves took an early 3-0 lead over the Athletics, but have struggled to stay ahead since then. If they manage to win, the Braves will have tied the Mets atop the National League East Division.

Judge homer watch

Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge has hit two more home runs this week, and now has 54 for the year. That ties Mickey Mantle's career high, which he reached in 1961, the same year that Roger Maris set the modern-era record with 61 home runs. With four weeks left to play, he is on course to reach 64 or so home runs for the regular season as a whole.

September 23, 2022 [LINK / comment]

60!!! Aaron Judge ties Babe Ruth

With two weeks left to play in the regular season, it was almost inevitable that Aaron Judge was going to reach the fabled 60-home run plateau. The fact that he did so at home in (New) Yankee Stadium and as part of such a dramatic comeback win on Tuesday night was icing on the proverbial cake. As the first batter in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the Yankees behind the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4, there didn't seem to be much risk in pitching to Judge. Well, on a 3-1 pitch he crushed that ball, which sailed over the inner section of seats in left field, landing several rows into the bleachers beyond. BOOM!!! He thus tied Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs, which he hit in 1927. We can expect Judge to tie Roger Maris's record of 61 any day now, and probably surpass it by the end of the month. Right now Judge leads the American League in batting average (.316) and RBIs (128) as well as home runs, and has an excellent chance to win the AL Triple Crown.

Perhaps more importantly, that homer by Judge sparked an incredible rally that culminated with a walk-off grand slam hit by Giancarlo Stanton. Final score: Yankees 9, Pirates 8. Does this mean that old Bronx Bombers' magic is back? The Yankees have bounced back from an awful August (10-18, virtually the same as the Washington Nationals), and are 12-6 so far in September. They are several games behind the Houston Astros in the race for the best American League record, and several games ahead of the Cleveland Guardians, so there is little doubt that they will end up as the #2 seed in the AL.

After a slump in August, the Phillies' Kyle Schwarber has improved lately, and just reached the 40-home run mark for the first time in his career. His team mate Bryce Harper has returned to the lineup after missing several weeks due to a broken thumb, but this year has been pretty much a washout for him -- relatively speaking. Paul Goldschmidt (with 35) is tied for fourth place in the National League home run race, and his chances of winning the NL Triple Crown are dwindling fast.

The Nationals struggle to matter

As the first MLB team to be officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Washington Nationals have been challenged by the lack of any clear motivation other than salvaging pride. The Nats 6-5 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis on September 7th was one of those ugly meltdowns that you would just as soon forget about. Having shaken off the 4-1 loss on Tuesday, they were enjoying a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. But for whatever reason, closing pitcher Kyle Finnegan just couldn't get outs, and the home team scored five times to win the game. It wasn't even a closing situation, and Finnegan may not have been used to being used in that role. He had not pitched for several days, and apparently just needed some practice. It didn't work. But no matter, the Nats bounced back with an 11-6 win on Thursday afternoon, as the young left fielder Alex Call went 4 for 5 at the plate, hitting a home run and getting 5 RBIs.

The Nats' "warm streak" came to an abrupt end in Philadelphia over the weekend of September 9th-11th, as they were swept by the Phillies. Patrick Corbin went nearly seven innings on the mound but took the loss in the 5-3 Friday game. On Saturday, Joey Meneses homered to give the Nats an early 2-0 lead, but Erick Fedde was replaced in the fifth inning after giving up four runs (including a homer by Bryce Harper), and the home team won the game, 8-5. Sunday's game featured an agonizing rain delay of more than three and a half hours, setting a record for Citizens Bank Park. The game resumed in the third inning, and the Nats quickly took a 4-1 lead, but then Erasmo Ramirez and other relief pitchers gave up multiple runs, as the Nats lost, 7-5.

The Nationals then hosted the Baltimore Orioles in a two-game series in Washington, and the visitors won both of those games. On Tuesday the Nats took the lead on a two-run rally in the third inning, but then fell behind after starting pitcher Cory Abbott was replaced by Hunter Harvey. Final score: Orioles 4, Nats 3. In the Wednesday game, the Nats once again took an early lead (this time 2-1) thanks to solo homers by Riley Adams and Luke Voit (as well as fine pitching by Patrick Corbin), but then Mason Thompson gave up four runs in the seventh inning, as the Orioles won it, 6-2. That one hurt.

Friday the 16th marked a big turnaround for the Nationals, as the Miami Marlins came to town. Josiah Gray gave up four runs in the second inning, while the Nats failed to score at all until the seventh inning. That's when the amazing Joey Meneses smashed a ball that bounced off the top of the center field wall and was deflected by the center fielder, rolling over 100 feet along the warning track in right-center field. Meneses (age 30) is not the fastest runner, but he managed to circle the bases and score an inside-the-park home run, the first by a Nationals player since Michael A. Taylor did so in September, 2017. (That was actually an inside-the-park grand slam!) Anyway, the Nats scored four runs in that inning and one more in the eighth inning (on an RBI double by Ildemaro Vargas), and held on to win it, 5-4. On Saturday afternoon, the Nats scored exactly one run in each of the first five innings, four of them on home runs -- by Lane Thomas, Luke Voit, Victor Robles, and Alex Call. Closing pitcher Kyle Finnegan kept his cool and got the save for the second day in a row. On Sunday the Nats just couldn't overcome the Marlins' pitching ace Sandy Alcantara, losing by a score of 3-1.

On Monday the Nats flew down to Atlanta, and starting pitcher Cory Abbott was simply outmatched by the Braves' Kyle Wright. Joey Meneses broke out of the minor slump by hitting 4 for 4, but it wasn't enough as the Nats fell, 5-2. On Tuesday the much-improved Patrick Corbin took the mound, but he had to leave due to back spasms before the first inning was over. The Nats bullpen did a fine job covering for him, but the Braves still won it, 3-2. On Wednesday afternoon Paolo Espino went four innings, giving up two runs, and the bullpen came through once again, not allowing any more runs by the Braves. The Nats were behind 2-1 in the top of the seventh when Joey Meneses hit yet another clutch home run with a man on base, putting the Nats ahead. That 3-2 victory was a big shot in the arm for the beleaguered Nationals.

Throughout September, the Nationals have benefited greatly by amazing defensive plays at shotstop by CJ Abrams, as well as by Joey Meneses and some of their other outfielders. Those players are clearly motivated to land a starting role on the team next spring. After resting on Thursday, the Nats begin a weekend series in Miami against the Marlins.

Spoiler alert!

As the NL East Division race heats up, the other five MLB division races are pretty much decided already, with leads of at least seven games over the second-place teams in all cases. The Atlanta Braves briefly took sole possession of first place ahead of the New York Mets in the NL East, only to drop back again. The Nats play three more games against the Braves (next week), followed by a four-game series against the Phillies, and then wrapping up the season with three games against the Mets in New York. Given that only one and a half games separate the Mets and Braves right now, it is safe to say that the Nationals will have a decisive role in determining the divisional championship this year.

September 30, 2022 [LINK / comment]

61!!! Aaron Judge ties Roger Maris

At the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night, Aaron Judge hit his 61st homer of the year, thus tying Roger Maris for the all-time lead in the American League. Just like his 60th homer the week before, it played a key role in the Yankees' victory, breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh inning. (Toronto had just erased a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning.) With a .314 batting average right now, Judge is in a neck-and-neck race with Luis Arraez (of the Minnesota Twins) for the American League batting title, and if he ends up on top he will be assured of winning the AL Triple Crown.

Nats avoid being swept again

Among the minor accomplishments of the Washington Nationals at the tail end of this bleak season is that they have avoided being swept on a fairly consistent basis. In the final game of the series in Miami on Sunday afternoon they finally unleashed some offensive firepower. For the third game in a row, they scored on a home run in the first inning, and in fact Joey Meneses was the one who did so in the second and third games. The Sunday home run (the 12th of his brief two-month season) was with Lane Thomas on base, and those two runs were all the Nats really needed to win that game. [Starting pitcher] Anibal Sanchez gave up only two hits over five innings and got the win -- only his third of the year.

On Monday the Nats welcomed the World Champion Atlanta Braves to town, and the first game was just plain ugly: an 8-0 defeat for which the young starting pitcher Cory Abbott took responsibility. It was the Nats' first shutout defeat since the Padres beat them 6-0 on August 14. On Tuesday, the Nats took an early 2-0 lead thanks in part to a rare home run by Victor Robles, but starting pitcher Paolo Espino just couldn't contain the Braves, who won it, 8-2. On Wednesday it was a back-and-forth pitchers' duel, and only an unlucky miscue took the potential win away from starting pitcher Josiah Gray. Shortstop CJ Abrams tried to make a heroic throw to first for the third out, but it was too hard for Joey Meneses to handle, and the runner scored the tying run from second. Abrams has made some spectacular defensive plays, but he has also committed a couple errors since he too over that crucial position. The game went into extra innings, and Kyle Finnegan pitched two solid innings to get the win after CJ Abrams hit an RBI single in the bottom of the tenth. It was his first career walk-off hit, and he clearly enjoyed the Gatorade shower even though the air was chilly.

The Nationals rested on Thursday, and this afternoon were defeated by the Phillies 5-1, as Erick Fedde gave up a home run to Rhys Hoskins in the first inning. Joey Meneses singled and later doubled, but his team mates struggled at the plate. Luis Garcia hit an RBI single in the seventh inning, putting the Nats on the board. They had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, but Cesar Hernandez grounded out on a low pitch that would have been ball four. Game over. Lane Thomas was on deck, and the possibility of a walk-off grand slam was surely in everyone's mind, but he never got the chance to do it.

Is Joey Meneses for real?

In today's Washington Post, semi-retired sports columnist Thomas Boswell speculates on the possibility that Joey Meneses may prove to be a top-notch slugger for years to come, even though he has already passed his 30th birthday. He lists several MLB players of past decades who blossomed late in their careers, most notably Lefty O'Doul. Most baseball fans have heard of O'Doul (partly since they named a beer after him), but I was not aware that he had to switch career paths from pitcher (1919-1923) because of an injury. After taking four years to get rehabilitated, he resumed major league play in 1928, and ended his career in 1933 with 113 home runs and a .349 batting average. Meneses signed a minor league contract with the Braves a decade ago, but he never attracted their notice, so he languished in the obscurity of Mexican League play. Since joining the Nats at the beginning of August, Meneses has hit 12 homers, batted in 29 runs, and has a .323 batting average. I heard on the radio that he ranks number six among all major leaguers in [total number of hits since August 1]. That's amazing for a rookie, even a 30-year old one. Boswell rightly lauded General Manager Mike Rizzo for signing Meneses, who will certainly deserve a multi-million dollar contract when he returns with the Nationals next year.

Hurricane wreaks havoc

Hurricane Ian is now just a tropical storm as it barrels northward, but the tremendous amount of rain it has unleashed in the mid-Atlantic region has put the final regular-season weekend of baseball in total chaos. The evening game in Washington had to be postponed, after one of the games from tomorrow's scheduled double-header was moved to Friday afternoon. Supposedly they are going to play two games tomorrow, but that seems very unlikely, given the rainy forecast. If they can't play at all until Sunday, they might have to force a rescheduling of the Nats-Mets series at Citi Field next week. The Phillies are currently a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the race to become the third wild card team, so (unlike the Nationals) they are obliged to play all their scheduled games. The Tampa Bay Rays are fortunate not to have any more regular season home games, as central Florida has been devastated by the rain and wind. The Rays locked up one of the AL wild card spots today, and the Seattle Mariners just nailed down the third spot thanks to a walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Cal Raleigh. It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth, with three balls, two strikes, and two outs -- every young boy's fantasy. (I was watching on MLB.TV: wow!!!)

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