Nationals almost sweep the Padres
It's looking more and more like the Washington Nationals have turned the corner and put the first two disappointing months behind them. In San Diego, they trounced the Padres by a total score of 15-4, and they would have swept the series, were it not for [game-tying solo] home run by Yonder Alonso with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning [on Saturday]. It was only the second blown save of the year for Nats' closer Rafael Soriano, so I guess I shouldn't be too hard on him for letting that happen. In the eleventh inning, the Padres put together three hits to score the winning run, and reliever Craig Stammen was charged with the loss. It was a shame, because the Nats had come back with a three-run rally in the seventh inning thanks largely to a monster (430+ foot) home run by Ian Desmond to center field, but that feat ended up not mattering. Rookie pitcher Blake Treinen (who went to South Dakota State!) was in line for his first career win until the Alonso homer, but instead his record remains 0-2.
But in the other two games, the Nats totally dominated. On Friday night, Tanner Roark allowed only three hits over eight innings, while striking out 11 batters. Roark's record is an OK 4-4, but he shows great future promise, possessing great command of the ball. At the plate, almost all the Nats got hits, and six of them scored one run each. [Anthony Rendon got things started off right in the first inning with a two-run blast to the upper level of seats in deep left center field. In the fifth inning of that game, however, Rendon hurt his thumb while field a hard ground ball, and had to leave the game. X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.] On Sunday afternoon, Jordan Zimmerman had a perfect game going into the sixth inning, and finished eight innings allowing just two hits while getting 12 strikeouts. Just like on Friday, nearly all Nats batters got hits, and six of them scored one run each. [Another final score of 6-0:] Deja vu all over again!
As a result of winning seven of their last ten games, the Nationals are now tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves (who have been slumping for two weeks or more) and the Miami Marlins (who briefly surged ahead of the Nationals). The middle of the 2014 season will be very interesting to watch...
Here's an interesting factoid I got from MASN-TV tonight: The last five Nationals starting pitchers have struck out 45 batters and have not walked any!
The Nats then headed north to San Francisco for a four-game series against the Giants, who not only lead the NL West (by nine games ahead of the Dodgers) but have the best record in all of baseball right now: 42-21. They have most of their star players from their championship 2012 season, with the notable exception of black-bearded closing pitcher Brian Wilson, who is now a Dodger. One key addition for this year: former National slugger Michael Morse, who spent most of last year with the Seattle Mariners. He has hit 13 home runs this year, and is thriving on a team that seems headed for the postseason.
The second best team in the majors right now happens to reside on the other side of San Francisco Bay: The Oakland Athletics are 39-24 (.619), 4 1/2 games ahead of the Angels. We could be facing a repeat of the 1989 Bay Area World Series, when that big earthquake shook Candlestick Park and forced a delay of over a week.
Nationals sweep the Phillies
For the first time in nearly two months (since April 8-10, to be exact), the Washington Nationals swept a three-game series last week, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 under clear blue skies and cool breezy conditions. And I was there! My wife and I had pretty good seats, in the very first row of the upper deck ("Infield Gallery"), right behind home plate.
I recently noticed the construction crane while watching a game on MASN, and discovered there is a lot of such activity in the Navy Yard neighborhood. (There is also some destruction going on, not far behind the center field scoreboard!)
The game got off to a shaky start as the first Phillies batter (Ben Revere) hit a double, and soon scored a run, but then Ryan Zimmerman [playing in left field while his thumb continues to heal] batted in a run in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. Not much happened until the fifth inning, when Denard Span led off with a double and Jayson Werth batted him in to put the Nats on top 2-1. Then Adam LaRoche hit a home run into the Nats' (right field) bullpen, adding two valuable insurance runs.
In the seventh inning, John Mayberry closed the gap to 4-2 with a solo homer. There was a close play at first base in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Jose Lobaton hit a ball that bounced over the pitcher and was grabbed by the second baseman who threw it to first. The ummpire called him out, but it looked like a tie, so Manager Matt Williams challenged it. The replay clearly showed that Lobaton's foot touched the base first, and he was awarded a hit. It didn't really matter, though, as the Nats had a two-run lead and pinch-hitter Scott Hairston lined out to second to end the inning. The Phillies couldn't do anything more after that, and the Nats won the game. Surprisingly, closing pitcher Alfonso Soriano got a 1-2-3 inning for once!
Once again, I was impressed by the quality of the "Nats Live" postgame concert. I was unfamiliar with the name of the band ("Plain White T's"), but I was very familiar with two of their hit songs, "Delilah" and "Rhythm of Love." In the past, I have seen three postgame concerts at Nationals Park: Third Eye Blind (Aug. 2012), Dierks Bentley (Sept. 2012), and Blues Traveler (June 2013).
(Almost) No parking
I was a bit perturbed to find that the budget-priced parking lot "W" has become a construction zone, and only half of the parking places in it are left, and those must be paid for in advance. WTF??? So, we had to drive a couple blocks even further away from Nationals Park, paying $15 and walking over a mile to get to the game. What a ripoff! One side benefit was walking past an interesting old brick building, with fortress-like turrets and painted blue. From the photo I took I discovered it is the Richard Wright Public Charter School, right across the street from the Navy Yards.
[NOTE: A few edits were made and additional details were added after the initial blog post.]