July 25, 2023
Yes, sports fans, you read that headline right. Believe it or not, the Washington Nationals have won a series sweep, and it happened to be against a team that was recently leading the National League West Division: the San Francisco Giants! It was the fourth time this year that the Nats have won the first two games of a series, but in the first three cases (against the Twins, Mets, and Royals) they lost by one- or two-run margins in the third game. On Friday rookie pitcher Jake Irvin pitched into the seventh inning, and the relievers held the line to preserve a 5-3 win for the home team. Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams both homered. On Saturday, the Nats scored 6 runs in the second inning, stunning Giants pitcher Logan Webb, who was relieved very early. CJ Abrams homered again. (He was named National League Player of the Week recently!) Final score: 10-1. On Sunday a homer by Riley Adams and a 3-for-4 day at the plate all but guaranteed another Nats win; this time it was 6-1.
It so happens that this was the first series sweep won by the Nationals since June 14-16, 2021, when they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2, 8-1, and 3-1. And I was there (for the last game)! The Nationals' infamous streak of 103 straight series (of 3 or 4 games) without a sweep is now over. The Kansas City Royals now hold the dubious distinction of the longest such streak in the MLB: 34 series without a sweep.
So how did the Nationals follow up on their big weekend triumph [as they began a series with] the visiting Colorado Rockies last night? By repeatedly wasting run-scoring opportunities and letting the Rockies keep adding more runs in the late innings, making any comeback almost impossible. Rockies 10, Nats 6.
[UPDATE: Perhaps I griped too soon. After falling behind the Rockies 4-1 in tonight's game, whose starting pitch was delayed by nearly an hour and a half due to the mere threat of rain, and after a second delay of nearly an hour after actual rain started to fall in the 7th inning, the Nationals fought back with a 4-run rally in the bottom of the 8th inning, and held on to win it, 6-5. That makes three straight games in which the Nats have scored exactly six runs. The heroes tonight were Stone Garrett, who hit a solo homer in the 7th inning, and Joey Meneses, who hit a 3-run homer in the 8th inning. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox beat the team that used to play in Boston (the Braves), so the Nationals have pulled to within 23 games of first place! Hey, in times like these you gotta think positive.]
The Baltimore Orioles rose to the challenge in the weekend series, winning three games out of four [against the Rays in Tampa Bay], and now have a two-game lead in the American League East Division. [Tonight they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies on a dramatic walk-off RBI single by Alec Bohm. I really need to pay more attention to the O's, who have some great rising stars such as such as their catcher Adley Rutschman and first baseman Ryan O'Hearn. The last time the Orioles made it to the postseason was in 2016, as a wild card, which they also did in 2012. The Orioles won the AL East in 2014, and advanced to the ALCS, but were then swept by the Kansas City Royals.]
[My apologies for posting the above paragraph prematurely earlier today. I had intended to include the additional details.]
The big question on everybody's mind is, Which team will get Shohei Ohtani? He is well on his way to surpassing Aaron Judge's (legit) record of 62 home runs, with 36 four-baggers so far. Plus, he can pitch! Last month it was almost unthinkable that the L.A. Angels would find themselves in a position where they would want to trade away their best player, but with Mike Trout on the injured list, the team's postseason prospects are very meager. The San Francisco Giants are among the leading contenders for this big prize. They lost their [sixth game in a row yesterday, falling to the Detroit Tigers in a makeup game, but edged the Oakland A's 2-1 earlier tonight. That victory keeps them tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3 1/2 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.]
And what about the teams at the very bottom of the standings? It's all but certain that the Oakland A's, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago White Sox will be letting some of their more marketable players go, and of course the Washington Nationals belong on that list as well. Unlike the last two years, when the Nats traded away their top stars such as Max Scherzer and Juan Soto, this year Washington fans have been mentally prepared for a loss of talent. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario has proved very useful both offensively and defensively for the Nats, and the fact that he's on a one-year contract (see the Washington Nationals page) means that he will be of much greater use to a team vying for the postseason. The same goes for relief pitchers Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey. What about blossoming slugger Lane Thomas? The Nats could probably get a huge deal for him, but he is just entering his prime years, and I hope General Manager has been negotiating with him for a contract extension similar to what catcher Keibert Ruiz got prior to the beginning of this season. Don't trade Lane!
As I scrutinize the hundreds of photos of the various stadiums I saw out west last month, I am astonished at all the revelations from my first-hand looks. For example, with regard to Minute Maid Park in Houston, I now have a much clearer idea of the complicated layout of the multi-level party decks [built] in center field in 2017, after the Astros got rid of "Tal's Hill." Also, it is now clear to me that the "Crawford Boxes" in left field do not extend nearly as far toward center field as I previously thought. Likewise for that balcony near the corner in deep left-center field. It's a difference of over 15 feet, maybe as much as 20! Horrors!!! Also, I noticed that the distance markers in left-center field and right-center field have changed, even though there were no alterations to those parts of the ballpark. For left-center field, it is now 366 feet rather than 362 feet, and in deep left-center field (underneath that balcony), it is now 399 feet rather than 404 feet. I think that the difference reflects the overhang. [At the bend in front of the bullpen in right-center field, the marker now says "370" rather than "373." I'm not sure what caused that change.]
But that's not all! I have also been learning a great deal about Dodger Stadium and other stadiums that I recently visited, and my insights will be incorporated into diagram updates for them in the next few months...