September 23, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Final week of the regular season
Most teams have just seven games left to play this year, as summer officially comes to a close. Five teams are already making plans for October, while another eight teams are vying for the five remaining playoff berths. Some of those teams have very little realistic hope of making it, however. You can see the most likely pairings for the wild card and divisional series on the Postseason scores page -- mere projections, subject to change, of course.
Nationals sweep the Marlins
After pausing one day to give the starting players a rest after clinching the divisional title in Atlanta last week, the Washington Nationals got back to business in a four-game series in Miami. In the game on Thursday, the Marlins took a 1-0 lead as Gio Gonzalez looked a little shaky on the mound, but he kept getting out of jams. Then in the fourth inning, the Nats exploded with a five-run rally led by the lower half of their batting order. The Nats held on to win, 6-2, as Gonzalez raised his win-loss record to 9-10.
On Friday, Adam LaRoche put the Nats on the board in the first inning with a blast to the upper deck in right field. Miami rookie Justin Bour hit one even farther in the fourth inning, but that was the last run scored in the game, and the Nats won, 3-2. Doug Fister got win #15 of the year, and Drew Storen got the save.
The best news for Nats fans was the return of Ryan Zimmerman to the lineup on Saturday, after two months on the disabled list. In his very first at-bat, he swung at the first pitch and got a single to right field. In the seventh, he hit an RBI triple that began a three-run rally by which the Nats came back and won the game, 3-2. (Yes, the same score as Friday.) Jordan Zimmermann (no relation, of course) got his 13th win of the year, and Drew Storen got his ninth save.
One bright spot for the Nats is that Stephen Strasburg is finally pitching like the top-notch ace he is supposed to be. In the final game of the series in Miami, he went seven innings without giving up a run, and got his his 13th win of the year as well. Unfortunately, Rafael Soriano was entrusted with responsibility for closing the game, even though the Nats only had a 2-0 lead. Matt Williams is really giving him a lot of second chances. Sure enough, the first batter he faced doubled to left field, nearly getting a home run. The next three batters all made solid contact that could easily have tied the game, but fortune smiled on the visiting team, and all three were outs. Nats 2, Marlins 1. Whew! And that's how Washington swept Miami, keeping itself in good position to maintain the best record in the National League, which would give them home field advantage.
October baseball in L.A.
Both the Angels and the Dodgers secured postseason berths last week, as did the Cardinals, but the latter two teams (NL) are still fending off challenges for the divisional titles from (respectively) the Giants and the Pirates. The Giants are hoping to get revenge on the Dodgers as the two rivals begin a climactic series in L.A. this week. It's an extra-inning nail-biter right now, 2-2 in the 11th. Stay tuned...
[UPDATE: The Giants staged a three-run rally in the top of the 13th and won the game, 5-2, thereby narrowing the gap behind the Dodgers to 3.5 games. It's a lot to overcome with so little time left, but at least they still have a chance to repeat as division champs.]
AL Central showdown
Playing at home in Kansas City last week, the Royals had an excellent opportunity to retake first place from the Detroit Tigers. But all they could manage was one win out of three, so the Tigers widened their lead to 1.5 games.
[ Fenway Park fixup ]
[ Thanks (again) to Zach LaFleur for pointing out a broken link on the Fenway Park page, a first-deck diagram which is still a "work in progress." Actually, all of those diagrams need to be corrected slightly, as far as the length of the grandstand in the right field corner and the position of the gap between that portion of grandstand and the bleachers. ]