September 10, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Nationals clinch NL East Division, again!
The Washington Nationals held on to beat the visiting Philadelphia Phillies this afternoon, 3-2, thus taking three games out of four in that series. In all four games, the margin of victory was exactly one run, which seems like a surprisingly even matchup but probably reflected the fact that they Nats were making heavy use of players recently called up from the minor leagues. Today's big hero was Stephen Strasburg, who struck out ten batters and only allowed two hits (and no runs) over eight innings. It's the first time in Expos/Nationals franchise history that a pitcher has pitched at least six innings without giving up a run in four consecutive games. Michael A. Taylor hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, providing an insurance run that ended up being decisive when the Phillies scored twice in the top of the ninth.
That win brought the Nats' magic number down to one, pending the outcome of the Marlins-Braves game in Atlanta. The visitors had a 8-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and it seemed almost certain that the Nats would have to wait until at least another day to celebrate. But the Braves staged a three-run rally to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, and two innings later a relative unknown named Lane Adams hit a two-run walkoff homer (only his second career home run) that snuffed out the Marlins' final scant hopes of winning the division. (It was all but a mathematical impossibility.) As a result, for the second year in a row, and for the fourth time in the last six years, the Nationals are champions of the National League East Division! As you can see in this chart, they were getting closer to their goal every day so far this month, either through their own wins and/or losses by the current second-place team, the Miami Marlins.
NOTE: I only keep track of magic numbers on days when the Nationals played games, hence the gaps in the data lines above. There are no gaps in 2017, since the Nationals played every day from September 1 to 10.
[ The Nationals' lead over the Marlins is an astounding 20 games, with just 19 games left to play. According to ESPN, this is the earliest date on which a team has clinched a division title since 2008, when the Angels easily won the AL West. (Their regular season record was 100-62, but they lost to Boston in the ALDS.) ]
[ Several hundred fans stayed in Nationals Park to watch the Marlins-Braves game on the video board. Until the bottom of the ninth inning, it seemed like a waste of time, so hats off to the ones who stayed until the end! They were rewarded with hats, shirts, and other souvenirs tossed to them from Nats players who returned to the field after waiting for the Marlins-Braves game to end. Then they got back to the "serious" business of spraying champagne all around the locker room. ]
The Nats will have an off-day tomorrow, perfectly timed. It was not until September 24 last year (when I made such a chart) that the Nats clinched their division.
In the first game of the series with the Phillies, on Thursday, Tanner Roark gave up three runs over six innings, and the Nats were behind by two runs when he left the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Matt Wieters hit an RBI double to begin a magnificent comeback. Soon the bases were loaded, and on a 3-2 count, Trea Turner smashed a single up the middle that got two runs across the plate, retaking the lead, just barely. In the top of the seventh, the Phillies' Andres Blanco hit a ball to deep center field, and Michael A. Taylor sprinted and made a perfectly-timed leap to grab the ball about a foot above the wall. It was one of the best, and most pivotal, defensive plays by the Nationals all year. The Nats' standard late-inning relief crew (Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle) all did their job flawlessly, and the Nats won it, 4-3. Tanner Roark even got credit for the win!
Friday was a real slug-fest, as the Phillies scored three runs in the top of the first, embarrassing the Nats' ace Max Scherzer. But the Nats regained some momentum when Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first. They scored another in the second, and in the third inning Michael A. Taylor hit an inside-the-park grand slam! The center fielder misjudged how hard the line drive had been hit (not ruled an error), and speedy Michael circled the bases. The Nats led 10-4 after six innings, and it seemed as though they had things well under control. But then Oliver Perez gave up three runs without getting an out in the seventh inning, and Shawn Kelley did the very same thing in the top of the ninth. His ERA has risen to 7.99, pretty much ruling him out of postseason roster consideration. Fortunately, Sean Doolittle came in and threw three strikeouts to end the game. The deciding run was scored in the eighth inning, when Michael A. Taylor hit an RBI triple. Nats 11, Phillies 10.
In Saturday's game, Howie Kendrick hit a solo homer in the first inning to give the Nats an early lead. Edwin Jackson had a rough outing, however, and only lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs. The Nats gradually narrowed the gap, thanks to a two-run homer and RBI single by Michael A. Taylor, but their attempted rally in the ninth inning fell short, and they lost, 5-4.
Michael Taylor: Wow!
The Nationals' young center fielder, Michael A. Taylor, has really been on a tear lately, with three home runs over the past week (including that inside-the-park grand slam on Friday), plus another game-saving catch at the center field wall on Thursday night. (He did the same thing in Milwaukee last week.) He was on the disabled list from early July until mid-August, and since he returned he has gradually regained his hitting prowess. True, he swings at bad pitches too often (as does Ryan Zimmerman), but he has proven himself to be an invaluable part of the Nats' lineup, and can be expected to play a decisive part in postseason games next month.
Indians' winning streak: 18!!!
The Cleveland Indians continue to surpass expectations, and are making history with 18 consecutive wins. The Tribe just swept the visiting Baltimore Orioles, who had been pretty hot lately, fighting for the second wild card spot. The Indians' pitchers have been outstanding this year, while Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall lead a powerful offensive lineup. Younger players such as Francisco Lindor (in his third year) and Giovanny Urshela (second year) have been a key part of the Indians' success. See MLB.com.
Dodgers' losing streak: 10!!!
And almost as amazingly, the L.A. Dodgers were swept by the visiting Colorado Rockies this weekend, losing today by a score of 8-1. They have now lost ten games in a row, and since August 25, they have only won one out of sixteen games! That's just hard to fathom. Clayton Kershaw missed a few weeks due to injury, and when he pitched against the Rockies on Thursday, he only lasted 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs. If the Dodgers can't count on him to win a game, their postseason prospects are shaky indeed. Their lead in the NL West has shrunk to just nine games, which is fairly secure, but they are only four games ahead of the Nationals in the race for the best win-loss record in the National League, and that is not secure at all.
Are you ready for some football?
While the Nationals were clinching their division title this afternoon, several miles to the east in Landover, Maryland, the Washington Redskins lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. I wasn't watching, of course, but it seems that Kirk Cousins kept getting sacked and coughing up the ball. It's another disheartening start of the Redskins's season, and you wonder if attendance will continue to slide given the squabbles between the front office and Kirk Cousins, etc.
Ever since they moved into FedEx Field (originally Jack Kent Cook Stadium), the Redskins seem to have been jinxed, and in response to declining fan interest, they have been hacking out more and more sections from the upper deck. I've been meaning to post the seating capacity numbers in "the Incredible Shrinking Stadium," and here is what I found:
SOURCE: Washington Post
Some sources (e.g., wikipedia) give the current capacity as 82,000, but that is based on a 2015 Redskins Media Guide which may not have been updated to reflect the reductions which took place that year. It's hard to say. According to ESPN, the capacity of FedEx Field is 85,000 and "the stadium is the largest in the NFL." Well, maybe I shouldn't feel so bad about some pages on my website that are out of date!
And finally, that was quite an upset when the Kansas City Chiefs stunned the host New England Patriots with a come-from-behind [42-27] victory on Thursday night! (That was the official first NFL game of the season.)