September 1, 2014 [LINK / comment]
August 2014: Oh, what a month!
The Washington Nationals amassed 19 victories and only 10 losses (.655) in August, their best month since last September, when they were 18-9 (.667). They could have done even better, had they not lost four of the last six games. Overall, you have to give more credit to the pitching side, as the Nats averaged only 4.7 runs during the month, and in fact seven of their victories during the wild ten-game winning streak were by a single run margin. Just think how they would do if Ryan Zimmerman were back in the lineup! Ryan is starting to do limited running and batting exercises, but his return is probably at least a week or two away.
Of course, the Washington Nationals page has been updated.
Home run derby in Seattle
In Seattle on Friday night, the Washington Nationals unleashed a veritable barrage of six home runs, including two by Wilson Ramos, beating the Mariners, 8-3. The home team ace, Felix Hernandez, has a whole section of devoted fans who wear yellow T-shirts and hold up "K" (strikeout) signs, but the the crowd was silenced as he gave up a career-high four home runs, and only got one strikeout. He is still considered a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young award. It reminds me of when the Nationals got so many runs against the Reds' ace Johnny Cueto back in May. The last time they managed six home runs was in September 5, 2012, and the time before that was one night earlier -- yes, six home runs two nights in a row! The scores in those two games were (respectively) 11-5 and 9-1. One more way in which this year is looking more and more like the Nats' superb 2012 divisional championship. (Don't remind me about the NLDS.)
On Saturday, Jayson Werth got an early home run that gave a margin of safety to pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who went 7 2/3 innings, and got the win. Nats 3, Mariners 1. Nothin' fancy, just a solid victory against a solid oppositing team.
On Sunday, the Nats took an early lead again, with two home runs by Bryce Harper and one by Nate Schierholtz, the latest addition to the team's roster. All three were solo shots. But Tanner Roark allowed two batters to reach base and gave up a home run that gave the lead to the Mariners. They won the game 5-3, thus avoiding being swept at home.
So, for the three games in Seattle, the Nats racked up ten home runs altogether. Unfortunately, most of them were solo shots. But at least that display of offensive power helped them put that dreadful series in Philadelphia behind them. Regaining momentum will help a lot as they take on the NL West-leading Dodgers tonight. It could be a preview of a series in October...
UPDATE: The Nationals took the first game of the series in Los Angeles, beating the Dodgers 6-4, with four more home runs, two of which were hit by Denard Span. He has been a very good at the plate this year, leading the team in batting average, but he is not what most people would consider a slugger.
Poultry output forecast*
September means the beginning of football season, but more importantly, it's the climax of the divisional races in baseball. The Nationals now enjoy a 6 1/2-game lead over the Braves, pending the outcome of tonight's game in L.A. against the Dodgers. The MLB standings page at ESPN gives the Nationals a 99.4% probability of making it to the playoffs, second only to the L.A. Angels. I noticed that the coolstandings.com Web site has not been updated since the 2013 season. (And I thought my Web site had been lagging behind!) So even though things are looking great for the Nats right now, I'm not taking anything for granted.
With that in mind, each blog post this month will show the Nationals' magic number, just like I did in September 2012. The magic number is the combined number of leading team (in this case, Washington) wins and challenging team (in this case, Atlanta) losses needed to clinch a given title. The Nats have 27 more games to play, and the Braves have 24 more games to play. The Nats' magic number was 21 this morning, but today in Atlanta, the Phillies pitched a four-pitcher combined no-hitter (!), beating the Braves, 7-0. Cole Hamels had already reached a pitch count of 108, and the hot weather was getting to him, apparently. So now Nats' magic number is down to
20 [make that 19, after beating the Dodgers tonight]!
* As in, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch!"
Angel Stadium update
Speaking of the "LAnaheim" Angels, they have bulldozed their way to the top of the AL West, soundly thrashing the Oakland A's last week. And with the prospects of another postseason in Anaheim in mind, I finished revisions on the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams, which now show the altered distance markers that were put up this year, to more accurately reflect the distance at the precise spot where the markers are placed. (Note that I am shifting to current stadium names as a general rule.) I mentioned [that issue] in June, and the fact that the bullpens were too small. I increased my estimate (by about five feet) of the size of the upper deck, which has 24 rows of seats plus a lateral aisle. Meanwhile, the lower deck is slightly smaller than I thought, only 33 rows. Also, as usual, I needed to depict the profile more accurately, including the entry portals for the first time.
Cubs sweep the Orioles
Did I mention that already? Well, I figured it was unusual enough to bring up a second time, and possibly a third time. This weekend, they got off to a good start against the Cardinals, taking the first two games of a four-game series, but the Cards bounced back and earned a series tie.