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July 6, 2015 [LINK / comment]

Star-spangled winning weekend in Washington!

After dropping the second two games in Atlanta, the Washington Nationals returned home somewhat chastened, to face the world champion San Francisco Giants. On Friday night, Gio Gonzalez had a shutout going until Buster Posey hit a solo home run in the seventh inning. But in the bottom of the inning, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer, and Gio got the win after all. It was his second straight winning performance, after his start on the preceding Saturday had been wasted in a postponed game. Nats 2, Giants 1.

On the Fourth of July, just after 11:00 in the morning, the fearsome Madison Bumgarner took the mound, and on the very first pitch rookie Michael Taylor lined a home run into the left field seats. Pow! Then Yunel Escobar stepped up to the plate and crushed a ball to the corner in center field, ricocheting off the wall to the right for a double. Bam! Then Bryce Harper came to the plate, and he smashed the ball into the right field bullpen for a two-run homer. Ka-boom! Talk about July 4 fireworks! (Gratuitous cliché.) After throwing only five pitches, Bumgarner had already given up three runs. The cleanup hitter, Wilson Ramos, then singled, making Nats fans giddy in hopes of scoring even more runs, but the next three batters were out. For his part, Stephen Strasburg had a much better outing on the mound, but he developed another muscle strain in the fourth inning, and had to come out of the game. (He was placed on the 15-day disabled list yet again.) Tanner Roark replaced him on the mound, and gave up two runs over the next four and one-third innings, while the Nats piled on more runs. Nats 9, Giants 3.

The Sunday game was pushed back to 8:00 PM because it was on ESPN. It resembled the Friday game with very few runs scored. Jordan Zimmermann went seven strong innings, and Wilson Ramos provided the decisive batting with a line drive home run over the high scoreboard in right field in the sixth inning. He has amazing opposite-field power. Nats 3, Giants 1. And that is how the Nationals got a bit of revenge for last year's NLDS loss to the team that went on to become the world champions.

Half way through the season

For the Nationals, Sunday night's game marked the half way point in the 2015 season, which has been satisfactory overall, though a bit below expectations. I have summarized the year so far with data on the newly-updated Washington Nationals page. Note that two of the first-string players (Yunel Escobar and Max Scherzer) are new this year, meaning that I don't have a photo for them yet. Well, that's going to change tomorrow, when I finally see a Nats game in D.C.! And guess who's pitching?! smile

The loss of Stephen Strasburg to the DL, the uncertain status of Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Jayson Werth, as well as repeated missed games by Denard Span, all raise questions about whether the Nationals can go the distance. After the Nats loss to the Cincinnati Reds tonight, the New York Mets are only 3 1/2 games behind the Nats, and pose a potential threat to the Nats' postseason hopes.

In the other National League divisions (which I seldom have time to cover adequately), the St. Louis Cardinals are dominating the NL Central as usual, but their rivals Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs are both well over .500, and have to be considered serious prospects for the two wild card slots. Young Cubs sluggers Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo offer high hopes for years to come. In tonight's game against the Cardinals, superstar ace pitcher Jon Lester had a no-hitter going until the seventh inning, but the Cubs ended up losing (again), 6-0. In the NL West, meanwhile, the L.A. Dodgers have maintained a comfortable lead over the S.F. Giants, who have lost six in a row.

In the American League, the Kansas City Royals have achieved the highest winning percentage for the last few weeks, after the Minnesota Twins briefly surpassed them in the AL Central race. It's a real shock to me that the Detroit Tigers are in third place, barely above .500. Another huge surprise is in the AL West, where the Houston Astros (formerly of the National League) have been playing solid baseball all year. The L.A. Angels and Texas Rangers have both improved lately, narrowing the gap somewhat. The most competitive division of all is the AL East, in which four of the five teams were momentarily within a half game of each other. The Tampa Bay Rays had the division lead for the first ten weeks or so, but they have slumped recently, while the New York Yankees have surged into first place. And who is leading their offense? None other than bad boy A-Rod Rodriguez. Other young Yankee stars are emgerging, and the team may become a contender for the World Series again in another year or two -- but probably not this year.

All-Star Game rosters are set

To the surprise of no one, two Washington Nationals players were selected to the 2015 National League All-Star team: Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. Perhaps some Nats fans were surprised that neither Yunel Escobar nor Denard Span made it as reserve players, despite their superb accomplishments at bat (.315 and .304 batting averages) and on defense (only 1 and 3 respective errors) this year. Scherzer was named NL Pitcher of the Month for the second month in a row, but the other Nats pitchers have not been consistent enough on the mound this year. There was a lot of controversy over a flood of online ballots for Kansas City Royals players. Four K.C. players were chosen for the starting lineup, which is more than all of them put together for the last 20 years, if I heard correctly. Hm-m-m-m. Too much "democracy"? I suppose there will be changes to the voting procedures next year. Here are my picks, and the actual selections for the 2015 ASG:

2015 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
Position National League American League
My pick Actual My pick Actual
C Wilson Ramos
Buster Posey
Stephen Vogt
Salvador Perez
1B Anthony Rizzo
Paul Goldschmidt
Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera
2B Yunel Escobar
Dee Gordon
Jason Kipnis
Jose Altuve
3B Kris Bryant
Todd Frazier
Manny Machado
Josh Donaldson
SS Troy Tulowitzki
Jhonny Peralta
Alcides Escobar
Alcides Escobar
OF Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper
Mike Trout
Mike Trout
OF Andrew McCutchen
Giancarlo Stanton
Brett Gardner
Lorenzo Cain
OF Denard Span
Matt Holliday
Jacoby Ellsbury
Alex Gordon
DH -- -- Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz

Given the mismatch between my picks and the actual teams, my biases are pretty obvious. The complete rosters were released today. For all the details, see All that's left now is the final vote, but no Nationals are among them, so I have no strong preference. The All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday next week, on the banks of the Ohio River. Unfortunately, Bryce Harper will not be participating in the Home Run Derby because his father is suffering ill health and cannot attend. (He pitched to Bryce in the Home Run Derby two years ago.)

Wrigley Field (L.A.)

Wrigley Field (L.A.) update

Speaking of former minor league ballparks in California (I recently redid San Francisco's Seals Stadium) that served briefly in the major leagues, I learned last month (while watching Turner Classic Movies) that Wrigley Field (L.A.) was the setting for a football-themed movie, Easy Living, in addition to the many baseball movies filmed there over the years. So you know what that means: a new diagram! (Boy, was that a tight squeeze!) I also included a lower-deck diagram, and made a few very small corrections.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 07 Jul 2015, 1: 03 AM

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