July 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Mets, widen NL East lead
I couldn't have picked a better day to see the Nats play! (Well, maybe I could have.) As my friend Dave Givens and I walked through the plaza behind left field, I heard a bunch of fans from New York chanting "Let's go Mets! Let's go Mets!" I thought it would be fitting to reply with a chant of my own: "We got Murphy! We got Murphy!" One of them told me just wait until Murphy starts making errors on defense (referring to the 2015 World Series), but what transpired in the game would seem to validate my position.
It was "College Rivalry Day" at Nationals Park, as the faithful boosters of the University of Virginia Cavaliers and the Virginia Tech Hokies got special seating and souvenir cups with the respective school colors. Guess which side I was on?
In the top of the second inning, fans got nervous when the Mets got a hit and then a base on balls, but Max Scherzer struck out the next two batters and that was that. In the bottom of the inning, Daniel Murphy hit a lead-off home run into the middle deck in right field. I was sure it was "outta here" as soon as the ball left the bat, whereas I often have a hard time judging ball trajectories when I am sitting in the upper deck.
In the bottom of the third inning, Danny Espinosa hit a lead-off double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Werth. Then the Nats' bats cooled off, and their only hit for the next four innings was a single by Ben Revere. We had a nice view of the action at Nationals Park from Section 134 in the lower deck, but I was disappointed that there was only one foul ball that came remotely close to us. Every time left-handed batters Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy were at bat, we got ready just in case.
Max Scherzer was at his best, which was a great relief to us, since he has been inconsistent at times this year. From the third through the seventh inning, not a single Mets batter reached base: 15 consecutive outs!
Scherzer received a standing ovation from the fans as he walked to the dugout. The next pitcher, Oliver Perez, inherited one base-runner and quickly gave up a single to pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson. So, he was immediately replaced by Blake Treinen, who in turn was replaced right after pinch-hitter Travis D'Arnaud grounded out to second. That allowed the runners to advance to second and third, putting the 2-0 lead in jeopardy. Dusty Baker wanted his best pitcher in that situation, so in came Shawn Kelley, who has been the closing pitcher since Jonathan Papelbon went on the DL. Fortunately, Kelley struck out De Aza to end the inning. The Nats dodged a bullet there, and in the bottom of the inning Bryce Harper smartly took a walk, putting the resurgent Daniel Murphy in excellent position to do more damage, which in fact he did:
"We got Murphy! We got Murphy!"
The two "insurance runs" from Murphy's second homer proved to be decisive. In the top of the ninth, Kelley struck out the first batter, but gave up a single to Yoenis Cespedes (who had struck out in his previous three at-bats) and then a home run to James Loney. All of a sudden, it was a 4-2 ball game, and it really got to be too close for comfort when he gave up a double to Johnson. But Kelley hung in there and got a called third strike on Brandon Nimmo to end the game. Whew! That was a little more excitement than I had been expecting, but all's well that ends well.
During the first seven innings he pitched, Max Scherzer struck out ten batters altogether, while giving up only one walk and one hit. But thanks to their back-to-back hits in the eighth inning and their rally in the ninth inning, the Mets ended up with more hits (6) than the Nationals (5). Amazin'! The box score, etc. can be seen at MLB.com.
Nats clobber the Reds
As shaky starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez took the mound to begin the series against the Cincinnati Reds last night, the fans were as nervous as he was. It could hardly have started worse, as he loaded the bases with no outs, on one hit and two walks. He was lucky the Reds only got one runner across the plate, and he was even luckier that his team mates picked up the slack for him, staging a four-run rally in the bottom of the first, capped by Ryan Zimmerman's three-run homer. (That was gratifying, as Ryan has been in a prolonged slump.) In the third inning, Danny Espinosa hit a grand slam, as the ball sailed over the visitors' bullpen in left field. It was Danny's second career grand slam, the first being on Sept. 6, 2010. Coincidently, the score of that was almost identical: 13-3. That was against the Mets, however. Only one inning later, Danny came up to bat with two runners on base, and hit another home run, making it a 13-1 ball game. Seven RBIs by a guy batting in the #8 position? Unheard of. Danny leads all NL shortstops in most offensive categories (other than batting average), and with his defensive prowess he really deserves a spot on the All Star roster. All that run support helped Gio Gonzalez to settle down, and he made it into the sixth inning before giving up another run. He barely managed to finish the inning, as the Reds got three runs, and the score remained 13-4 until the end of the game.
Tonight Tanner Roark went seven innings, but only got a no-decision as the game remained tied 2-2 until the bottom of the 14th inning. That's when Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch, and with two outs, Ben Revere hit a double off the wall in right field to bat in the winning run. That extends Washington's winning streak to six games. Roark's last three outings have been top-notch, but he only got credit for a win in the June 26 game against Milwaukee.
That was the sixth extra-inning game played by the Nationals this year, and they won four of them, including all three at home.
Speaking of extra-inning games, the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 in 19 innings this afternoon, thanks to a home run by Carlos Santana. (Not the rock star.) It wasn't a very happy Canada Day for our friends up north. That was the 14th consecutive victory for the Indians, who have not lost a single game since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship.
And so, the Nats finish the first half of the 2016 season with a 49-32 (.605) record. That is one game better than their first-half record in 2012 (48-33), and one game under their first-half record in 2005 (50-31) -- Believe it or not! Interestingly, only 37 of those 81 games this year have been at home, the lowest percentage in the majors. So, with 44 of their second-half games at home, the Nats will have an added advantage in the race to October.
Since we're at the half-way mark, I have updated my Washington Nationals page. Aside from statistics (almost all of which are based on my own compiled records), it now includes miniature photos of three new Nationals (Murphy, Revere, and Ross), as well as improved photos of others such as Roark.
No divisional races?
With a five-game winning streak, the Nationals now enjoy a six-game lead in the National League East Division, but they are not the only team with a comfortable lead in their division. In fact, for the first time [...] since separate divisions within the two leagues were formed in 1969, all of the division leaders are ahead of the second place teams by at least five games [on July 1]. The above-mentioned Cleveland Indians are 7 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, while the Baltimore Orioles are 5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, and the unbelievable Texas Rangers are 8.5 games ahead of the Houston Astros in the AL West. On the National League side, the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants are 6 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers, who were swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates last weekend, after they swept the Nationals. In the NL Central Division, the Chicago Cubs remain 10.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals, even though they have slumped recently. On the surface, the six divisional races seem to be no race at all, but much can still change over the next three months...