July 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Padres get the best of the Nats
It's one thing to lose a series with the Dodgers, but losing a series with the fourth-place Padres -- especially during a crucial home stand -- is just not tolerable. There is little doubt that the Washington Nationals are in a slump. The question is, how bad is it?
In the Friday night game, Matt Kemp hit a solo homer in the first inning, but then Jayson Werth did likewise in the bottom of the inning. Wilson Ramos quickly gave the Nats a 2-1 lead by batting in Bryce Harper, who had walked and then stolen second base. But in the fifth inning, Kemp hit another home run, this time with two runners on base, and the Padres took the lead. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark was just not as sharp as he had been against the Pirates on July 16. Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, but the Nats still lost the game, 5-3.
On Saturday, Max Scherzer pitched seven full innings and struck out ten batters, a splendid performance marred only when he gave up a two-run homer to rookie Ryan Schmipf in the second inning. The stakes were high in a game that the Nationals absolutely had to win, and the score remained tied 2-2 until the bottom of the ninth inning. Steven Drew came in as a pinch-hitter, and launched a line drive off the wall to the right of center field, allowing Anthony Rendon to score the winning run in dramatic walk-off fashion. That was a HUGE relief for Nats fans.
On Sunday afternoon, it was a tense back-and-forth affair. Leadoff batter Trea Turner started things on a good note by hitting a triple to the right field corner, later scoring on a sac fly. It was the youngster's third triple of the year, and he may end up being called "Triple" Turner as a nickname. In the third inning, the Padres loaded the bases and then scored three runs on a single, because of center fielder Michael Taylor's poorly-judged throw toward home that was mishandled. He should have thrown it to third base and gotten an easy out. The Nats came right back with a four-run rally in the bottom of the third, sparked by starting pitcher Lucas Giolito. But Giolito failed to get outs and was relieved in the top of the fourth. After that, things settled down until the Padres hit two solo homers off Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning, thus tying the game. In the top of the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon took the mound and got two outs. But then he proceeded to give up three consecutive singles and then a double, a meltdown of epic proportions. He was booed off the mound by the home crowd, and Yusmeiro Petit came in to get the final out. Apparently, Papelbon was tired after pitching the previous two nights. The Nats went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the ninth, a most disheartening conclusion to the game, and to the home stand. Final score: Padres 10, Nats 6. For the first time this year, an opposing team scored in the double digits against the Nationals.
That was the Nationals' final home game of the month, and they really haven't made much of home field advantage lately. Of the 15 home games in July, the Nats only won seven. Now they embark on a brutal road trip through [Cleveland], San Francisco, and Phoenix. With both the Marlins and the Mets only five games behind , the Nats will need a bit of luck to hang on to sole possession of first place through the end of July.
In sum, the Nats show plenty of positive signs, and they clearly have the right combination of spirit, talent, and desire to win. What they lack is consistency. The slump is only a passing thing, I think, but they still have much to prove if they expect to get far into October. As the trade deadline approaches, much depends on the front office; see below. Tonight Ryan Zimmerman returns from the DL, as the Nats begin a long road trip playing the first of two games against the first-place Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland. I guess that means I'd better hurry with a diagram update...
Cubs get Chapman
Hopes that the Nationals might make a deal to get Aroldis Chapman as a closing pitcher were dashed yesterday when it was announced that the Chicago Cubs acquired the Cuban superstar in a mega-trade with the New York Yankees. See MLB.com. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell recently urged the Nats to go all-out in pursuit of Chapman, and you have to wonder how hard the team's General Manager Mike Rizzo tried.
Talk about stadium proximity!
One of my old friends from South Dakota, Greg Merrigan, has been visiting the Great Northwest, and posted on Facebook a fantastic photo that was taken from a high-rise building, showing both Seattle stadiums: Century Link Field, home of the Seahawks, and Safeco Field, home of the Mariners.
Of course, I added that photo to the Safeco Field page. I may eventually add another thumbnail diagram depicting an outline Century Link Field along with Safeco Field, as I have done with other football stadiums adjacent to MLB stadiums. (The one below merely shows Safeco Field with the Kingdome, in 1999 or early 2000. I have already updated some of the new thumbnail diagrams on the Stadium proximity page.
While browsing my collection of baseball books recently, looking for photos of Cleveland Stadium, I came across an interesting photo in the book Fantography, by Andy Strasberg, of a spring training game in the late 1940s being played right next to the Orange Bowl. So I did some research, and learned all about Miami Field (which predated Miami Stadium, built in 1949 ) at the Baseball Researcher blog. It's so obscure that it doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page! So I added a crude preliminary rendering of Miami Field to the thumbnail diagram showing how the Orange Bowl overlapped Marlins Park.
It may be worth recalling (at least from my biased point of view) that on, in the University of Miami's final game at the Orange Bowl nearly nine years ago, the University of Virginia Cavaliers trounced the Hurricanes 48-0. That's gotta hurt! See my November 11, 2007
brag blog post.
Speaking of Miami, I learned a few more details about the recent changes to the outfield walls at Marlins Park from Mike Zurawski. We already knew that a new fence was built in center field, reducing the distance there by as much as 11 feet, and that parts of the outfield fences were reduced in height. In particular, it will henceforth be 7 feet tall between the digital display in the left field corner and the out-of-town scoreboard, and 8.5 feet tall between the Home Run Sculpture and the Marlins bullpen in right field. Portions of the outfield wall with a scoreboard or digital display will remain at 11.5 feet tall. (I round up to the nearest foot.) Previously the walls were 11.5 feet across the outfield, except for center field, where it gradually tapered up to about 15 feet. (The article does not mention that, however.) For photos and a video, see the On Cloud Conine blog.