August 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Keep hope on artificial life support!
As the Nationals' slim hopes for making it to the postseason steadily decline, it's important for fans to keep the rational and emotional components in balance. There's a vast space between the cheerleading "fan boys" who veer between euphoria and despondency on one hand, versus the clinical sabermetric analyst who relies on numbers to derive some kind of "objective" probability via the scientific method. I think the commentators on MASN TV manage to strike a pretty good balance, especially the MLB veterans F.P. Santangelo (Expos, etc.) and Ray Knight (Reds, Mets, etc.). "F.P." stands for "Frank Paul," I just found out from my Baseball Encyclopedia. F.P. has been away this week, but before that he struck a guardedly upbeat tone, explaining what the Nationals needed to do to get back on track. He is realistic without being pessimistic.
I mention this as a background to an opinion column by Barry Svrluga that appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post, after the Nats lost two consecutive games via a walk-off home run. Just before midnight "was convinced the Washington Nationals were going to make the playoffs, and be dangerous once they got there." And then came that utterly improbable game-winning grand slam by David Bote, and Svrluga's hopes instantly collapsed. But even after the loss in St. Louis on the following night, he still thought the Nats could pull off a late-season comeback and make it into the postseason. But after the Nats lost a second and then a third game to the Cardinals (the final score was 4-2 on Wednesday), is there any reason to hold out hope? Yes, but such hopes have to be weighed against the overwhelming unlikelihood of a successful outcome.
For what it's worth, the Nationals ended their latest losing streak and won two in a row. In the finale of the four-game set, Tanner Roark came through big time once again, going six innings and earning the win in a 5-4 victory. Justin Miller pitched the seventh and eighth innings without a hitch, and then Koda Glover (!) came in as closing pitcher. There was some drama and two Cardinals reached base, but he kept his cool and got the third out -- and his first save of this season. Bryce Harper continued his hot streak, getting three hits in five at-bats, with three RBIs. Thus, the Nats barely averted being swept in four games, and raised their win-loss record back up to 61-61.
After a late night plane ride home to D.C. and very little rest, the Nats welcomed the Miami Marlins to town this evening. Ryan Zimmerman hit a solo homer in the second inning, and Bryce Harper got three more hits and two more RBIs, raising his total to 79. The puts him in sixth place in the National League, which is not bad for a guy who was in a slump for the first half of the year! Max Scherzer got his 16th win of the year as the Nats cruised to an 8-2 victory. Since the Braves lost again, that brings the Nats up to "just" seven games behind in the NL East race. You never know...
NL Rookie of the Year race
Until last week, I was convinced that the Nationals' 19-year old phenom Juan Soto had a clear path to winning the Rookie of the Year award for the National League. But then I started hearing about the Braves' Ronaldo Acuña, and the unbelievable five-game home run streak he just achieved. Obviously, it's going to be a tight race between those guys for the next six weeks. See MLB.com Soto has hit 15 home runs, is batting .293 (after a mini-slump this week), and has amassed 44 RBIs in only 78 games. Acuña's numbers are very similar: 19 homers, .288 average, and 43 RBIs.
On Wednesday in Miami, Acuña was intentionally hit by a pitch thrown by the Marlins' Jose Urena, who rightly received a suspension for it. Such MLB "hazing" traditions for keeping rookie hotshots humble are just stupid, and should not be tolerated.
Riverfront Stadium update
Continuing with the recent focus on Cincinnati, I have updated the Riverfront Stadium diagrams. (It was fairly high in my "to-do" list anyway, so it was a logical choice.) One obvious enhancement is the more precise rendering of the horizontal beams that protrude a few feet beyond the rim of the roof. That is also a characteristic of RFK Stadium, Angel (Anaheim) Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Veterans Stadium, and Olympic Stadium (in Montreal). But the main change involved shifting the entire field relative to the stadium surrounding it. It wasn't easy, but there was a very good reason for it.
I have long been skeptical about the supposed 51 foot distance to the backstop in Riverfront Stadium reported by Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals. My own estimate based on photographs was 60 feet, which is the old "standard" backstop distance. (Nowadays, 50-52 feet is the "new normal.") I learned from one of the news items published by the Cincinnati Enquirer about the conversion of "Cinergy Field" into an compacted, all-grass ballpark in 2001 that the diamond was moved back ten feet, and the new backstop distance was 49 feet. That implies that it had been 59 feet previously, so that is what I'm going with. Modifying the diagrams thusly raised my estimate of foul territory from 22,500 square feet to 23,300 square feet. That relieves a nagging doubt I had had about that stadium.
Finally, I should have explained some of the changes that I made to the Great American Ballpark diagrams (other than the adding the "Budweiser Bow Tie" party deck beyond the right field corner) when I did that a few days ago, so here goes. I also made corrections to the tapered "bleacher" section in right field, and to the "riverboat" observation deck beyond center field. I also added a bit of detail to the first-deck diagram, showing where the open areas are in the main concourse. That is based partly on my photos, and partly on my imperfect memory, so I may need to make further corrections to that after I visit "GABP" again...