May 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Four-way race in the National League East!
My last baseball blog post (May 5) was in the middle of the Washington Nationals' daunting road trip through the midwest, on which they won five of the first six games. We all know how the rest of that road trip turned out; see below. The Nats are still in first place, just as they were on May 5, but the race in the National League East Division now involves four teams, not just two. The Mets finally turned cold after an amazing, prolonged hot streak, while the Phillies and the Marlins have surged ahead, and were briefly tied for second place. Whereas last month some people said that the Nationals' success was merely a reflection of the weakness of their division, right now the NL East has more teams above .500 (four) than any other division in baseball.
Tonight the Mets and Nationals began a three-game series in Washington, and once again the Nats took an early lead with three hits in the first inning. But somehow the usually-sloppy Bartolo Colon outpitched the usually-razor sharp Gio Gonzalez, who gave up three home runs. Mets 7, Nats 1. With a 27-16 record (.600), the Nationals' lead in the NL East is now just a half game.
The Nats had beaten the Mets in two out of three games in New York last week, scoring 16 total runs to just 4 for the Mets. Daniel Murphy was briefly welcomed back to Citi Field by Mets fans, but the warm feelings quickly dissipated as he made New Yorkers regret not having kept him there. He continued his unbelievable hitting, flirting with a .400 batting average and hitting a home run. Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon showed a big improvement in the batter's box, getting multiple hits and RBIs.
That road trip concluded in Miami over the weekend, and again the Nats won two of three games. On Friday both Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Taylor slugged impressive home runs way over the deep left field fence, as the Nats won 4-1. On Saturday evening, broadcast by FOX (rather than MASN), pitcher Joe Ross committed an error that gave the Marlins the opportunity to take a lead. The Nats staged a rally in the top of the ninth inning, scoring a run and loading the bases with nobody out. It should have been a cinch to at least tie the game 3-3 or even take the lead, but Jayson Werth grounded into a double play (force at third, tag at home). The umpire had already called at least one very low pitch a strike, or else the tying run would have walked in; that's why Werth had to swing at that low pitch. Final score: Marlins 3, Nats 2. On Sunday, the Nationals wrought revenge, winning 8-2, as Ben Revere finally got into the hitting groove, going 3 for 5. Revere was injured on the very first game of the season, and did not return to the active roster until early May.
Earlier this month in Washington, the Nationals beat the Tigers two out of three games (May 9-11) and split a four-game series with the Marlins (May 13-15). The May 9 game ended on a walk-off home run by Clint Robinson, the first such game by the Nationals this year. On Wednesday May 11, Max Scherzer tied a major league record by throwing 20 strikeouts in a 3-2 victory. It was an unusual situation because Dusty Baker let him pitch the ninth inning, even though Max was tired and the Nats only had a one-run lead. Ordinarily, the closing pitcher (Jonathan Papelbon) would have come into the game. When two batters reached base, Nats fans got nervous, but Max's 20th strikeout and then a ground ball out ended the game (and the series) on a euphoric note. In the first game of the series against the Marlins (Friday the 13th!), three Nats had three home runs to win it, 5-3. The next day there was a double-header, making up for the rained-out game that was scheduled for April 8. The early game on May 14 was plagued by light rain, and they just barely finished it before the field conditions became unplayable. On Sunday May 15, the Nats lost 5-1, with their only run coming on an inside-the-park home run by Ryan Zimmerman. It would have been a double, bouncing off the wall in right-center field, but Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton collided with each other while chasing the ball. They were shaken up, but continued playing.
The big showdown between the Cubs and the Nationals at Wrigley Field in Chicago (May 5-8) ended in a resounding triumph for the home team, as the Cubs swept the Nats. All four game were fairly competitive, however, so it wasn't really a disgrace for the Nationals. On May 5, the Nats were on the verge of being shut out, but Jayson Werth hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to make the final score [5-2]. Joe Ross pitched well for the Nats, but Kyle Hendricks was better. The Friday game was a slugfest, as Max Scherzer got pounded, and the Cubs won, 8-6. Saturday May 7 marked Ben Revere's first big day with the Nats, as he doubled and tripled, but the Nats still lost, 8-5. On Sunday Bryce Harper tied a major league record by being walked six times, as the Cubs chose prudence over valor and it paid off in the end. After 13 grueling innings, the Cubs emerged victorious again, 4-3.
All those walks in Chicago seem to have hurt Bryce Harper's batting. Since then he has only had one home run, and only a few hits here and there.
Target Field update
My brother Chris saw a game in Minneapolis yesterday, enjoying beautiful blue skies, but it wasn't a great day for the home town fans, as the Twins lost to the Blue Jays. He sent me a nice panoramic photo of Target Field from behind home plate, clearly showing the new restaurant seating area in center field. While I was comparing that photo to the photos I took there in 2010, I noticed a few small discrepancies in my Target Field diagrams, and decided to revise them. The most notable change is that the upper portion of the upper deck in left field has been "pushed back" 8-10 feet, no longer overhanging the lower portion as was previously depicted. I last revised the Target Field diagrams in March 2015
Old ballpark stuff
On Facebook a couple months ago I saw a youtube.com video of a Philadelphia Phillies game at the Baker Bowl, some time in the 1930s. I was utterly mesmerized. It confirms most of the details that I added when I updated the Baker Bowl diagrams in February.
Bruce Orser brought to my attention a photo of Sportsman's Park on baseball-fever.com which shows the pavilion that went from near first base toward the right field corner. Just as described by Ron Selter in Ballparks of the Deadball Era, and as depicted by my Sportsman's Park diagrams which were updated in April, the roof hung about ten feet in front of the front row of seats, and the structure intersected with the foul line, creating an unusually short right field dimension: an estimated 270 feet!
There's a bunch of new ballpark stuff to get to in the next few days, so stay tuned...