Nats win series vs. Arizona
The Washington Nationals absolutely had to win today's "rubber match" game against the Arizona Diamondbacks if they were going to maintain enough self-respect to remain competitive heading into the final quarter of the 2010 season. Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and no one knew if he would be shaky like his last outing (on Tuesday, when the Marlins clobbered him) or dominant like nearly all of his outings before that. He got started on the right foot, striking out two of the first three batters he faced. In the second inning, however, Adam LaRoche hit a lead-off home run, and an errant throw by Strasburg over first baseman Adam Dunn's head resulted in two more runs. Fortunately, Josh Willingham hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the fourth inning; it was his 16th of the year and his first one since July 2. The Nats took the lead on a clutch single by Ian Desmond in the seventh inning, and added an insurance run when Ryan Zimmerman smashed a huge home run several rows beyond the bullpen in left field. Tyler Clippard pitched two solid innings in relief and got credit for the win, his ninth of the year. He was superb early in the season but lost his command in June and July; I'm glad he's back on track. The victory was an all-around team effort, with hits by almost everyone in the lineup. See MLB.com finish the season on a positive note. And so, the Nationals can enjoy their day off tomorrow, as they prepare to visit Atlanta and then Philadelphia -- two very daunting opponents.
The game was marred by a political stunt right after Stephen Strasburg batted in the [fifth] inning. It was evidently well-planned, because the security guards were drawn away by a diversion in left field while a couple others entered from the right field side and tried to hold up a banner protesting the controversial Arizona immigration law. See ESPN. Back in May, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney proposed a boycott of the games against Arizona, which I called "Dumb, dumb, dumb." IMHO, baseball and politics mix about as well as religion and politics, which is to say, NOT. On a lighter note, this series put the recent federal government lawsuit against Arizona in an interesting light. Don't mess with the Feds -- or with the Nationals!
With six weeks to go in the 2010 season, the Nationals stand at 51-67, or .432. There are 44 games left to play, which means that if they want to reach the .500 mark (81-81) they will have to win 30 of those games, or 68%. Given the stiff divisional competition they face, that seems like a highly improbable outcome. Bummer. As a more realistic goal to shoot for, I would say they should narrow the gap between wins and losses to no more than ten. That is, finishing at 76-86 (.469) would be satisfactory. That would mean they would have to win 25 of their final 44 games, or 57%. That is doable ... as long as the front office is smart enough to hold on to Adam Dunn, and hopefully sign him to a multi-year contract before the season ends and he becomes a free agent.
Happy fans in Minnesota
It was two weeks ago that I saw the Twins play against the Mariners in brand-new Target Field, and I'm still buzzed by the good vibes there. That series marked an upturn in the Twins' fortunes, and they now hold sole possession of first place in the AL Central Division. Those of us with a passionate interest in the architectural history of baseball stadiums should remember that what really counts are the people who pay good money to get inside them. And so, I present some of the friendly folks from the land of Garrison Keillor, Hubert Humphrey, and Jesse Ventura: