October 1, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Wild & crazy end of the 2018 regular season
There were some big surprises toward the end of the 2018 regular season, such as the late charge by the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers into a tie for first place. The L.A. Dodgers had seemed almost unstoppable since August, with the acquisition of Manny Machado (from the Baltimore Orioles) and some of their other stars back from the disabled list. But the Rockies (which had held first place for much of the summer) weren't daunted and forced their back to the top. Likewise, the Milwaukee Brewers somehow caught up to the Chicago Cubs, winning the last seven games of the regular season (not including today). For a while it seemed possible that the Oakland A's could overtake the Yankees in the quest for home field advantage in the wild card game, but the Yankees pulled out of a September slump and almost swept the Red Sox in Fenway Park during the final weekend of regular play.
As befitting the extremely tense final day of the season, all four teams that were contending for a division title (Rockies, Dodgers, Brewers, and Cubs) not only won their games on Sunday, but racked up double-digit run totals. (See the paragraph on the Nats' 12-0 loss to the Rockies below.)
And, as usual, I have prepared a table that will show all the scores of the postseason games, displayed at the bottom of my Baseball blog page. Note that it only appears in full when viewed in normal "desktop" display mode, not in "mobile" display mode, suitable for cell phones. You can also see that table, along with similar ones for the years going back to 2002 (when I started doing this), on the Postseason scores page.
Playoff games in NL West & Central
The upshot of the division races was that both the National League West and Central divisions were tied, requiring playoff games to decide the division champions: the Rockies facing the Dodgers, and the Brewers facing the Cubs.
Today was the first time that two playoff games had to be played to decided who would win the divisions, and it so happened that in both cases the loser automatically gained a postseason berth as a wild card team. The stakes were perhaps low, since the losers would later get another chance, and the play seemed to reflect that. In the early afternoon game, the Brewers and Cubs were tied 1-1 until the eighth inning, when the Brewers rallied for two more, and that proved to be the difference in their 3-1 win. After that, the Rockies played the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and the visitors just couldn't get their bats to connect. The Dodgers took a 5-0 lead into the ninth inning, whereupon their closer Kenley Jansen gave up home runs to the first two batters he faced. But then he got things under control and finished the game (not a save situation) in the 5-0 victory. (Jansen has missed a number of games since August due to a strange heart condition, and did not even travel with his team to Denver when the played the Rockies last month.) So tomorrow, the Rockies and the Cubs will play each other in a genuine elimination game, on the north side of Chicago in beautiful Wrigley Field.
I noticed that former National Daniel Murphy had one hit in four at bats for the Cubs, ending the season with a .299 batting average. Just one more hit and he would reached the .300 mark -- sort of like Max Scherzer did! It was such a tragedy that his knee took so long to heal this year, so that he didn't even start to play with the Nationals until June, and even then he was taking it easy to prevent a re-injury. Who will he sign with next year? What team needs an aging (and expensive) top-notch veteran slugger with perhaps three high-quality years left in him?
The playoff games are considered regular-season games, so each team could use the expanded 40-man roster, whereas once the actual postseason games begin, their rosters will have to go back down to the normal 25 players.
Nats rock the Rockies, then exit quietly
The Washington Nationals headed west for their final series of the 2018 season, landing in the Mile High City of Denver to face the Colorado Rockies. Joe Ross pitched on Friday night, and he lasted five innings, but the four runs he gave up were too much. In the sixth inning, Dave Martinez took a chance on the often shaky pitcher Sammy Solis, who promptly gave up a home run to the only batter he faced, David Dahl. Next! In a disgusting display of wasted chances that was sadly typical of this year as a whole, the Nationals only scored two runs even though they got 12 hits; a two-run triple by Trea Turner accounted for all the Nats' scoring. So would the Nats end this disappointing season with a lame whimper?
Absolutely not! On Saturday they came out blazing, as Juan Soto hit a two-run double in the first inning and Trea Turner hit a two-run homer after Adam Eaton singled in a run in the second inning, giving the Nats a nice 5-0 lead. Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and he was his old masterful self, giving up just two runs over six innings, while striking out seven. He finished the year with 156 strikeouts, and a 10-7 record thanks to this game. The Nats kept piling on more runs in the late innings (they seem to hit better when they don't really need to), and won by a lopsided score of 12-2. That was their 82nd win of the 2018 season, assuring them of a record over .500 for the year.
Having clinched a winning record for the season on Saturday, there really wasn't much left to play for on Sunday. That being the case, Max Scherzer sat it out, contrary to my supposition that he would seize the opportunity try to beat Walter Johnson's record of 305 strikeouts in a season. Instead, the 25-year old Erick Fedde took the mound, and once again was battered and bruised. He impressed me in some games during the summer, but lately he's just not getting it done. The Rockies hit home runs in every odd-numbered inning, five altogether since Nolan Arenado hit two four-baggers. Well, it was Coors Field... So why couldn't Bryce Harper get at least one home run while in Denver?? Before the series began, he had 34 homers, only two behind the league leader -- Nolan Arenado. To Bryce's credit, he did hit two doubles, including one in his last at-bat of the game, which may just be the final time he plays in a Nationals uniform. Anyway, the final score was Rockies 12, Nationals 0 -- the biggest margin of defeat they have suffered this whole painful year! Going from a 10-run victory one day to a 12-run defeat the next day just makes your head spin.
Coming out on top in four of their last six games gave the Nationals a record of 15-12 for September, their first winning month since May, when they went 19-7. Their 2018 record of 82-80 (.506) is the lowest they have achieved since 2011, when they went 80-81 (.497). But on the bright side, finishing with winning records in seven consecutive years is nothing to sneeze at. See the Washington Nationals page, which now has Nationals' head-to-head matchups, best batting and pitching records, and batting averages for their regular starting position players and ERAs for their starting pitchers. Lest you think that 2018 was all about Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, please note that Anthony Rendon had a team-best batting average of .308, tied with the Brewers' Lorenzo Cain for fourth place in the National League. Not bad at all! Juan Soto faltered a little toward the end of September, but he still had a batting average of .292, with 22 home runs (third among the Nats) and 70 RBIs (fourth). Pretty darned good for a rookie who didn't even start to play until May 15! FUN FACT: Soto wears the number 22 jersey, matching his home run total! We'll just have to wait until November to see whether the experts pick him or Ronald Acuña for Rookie of the Year.
Marlins Park MAJOR update
Some time after returning from Miami (and Latin America) last year, I realized that the soil in Miami was unsuitable for excavating below-ground playing fields, obliging me to do a quick fix of the profiles in my Marlins Park diagrams. But as so often happens, "one thing led to another," and before you knew it I was ripping out huge portions of the old diagrams and reorienting everything outside the playing field. Accordingly, this update to the Marlins Park diagrams is a fairly big deal.
Among the new details depicted in those diagrams are the retractable windows that provide fans with a view of the downtown Miami skyline, a few miles to the east-southeast. (Note that center field is oriented toward the southeast, a characteristic that is (I believe) shared only by Guaranteed Rate Field (as U.S. Cellular Field is now called) and Great American Ballpark. The windows are open in the 2012 diagram (among others), and closed in the 2016 diagram. (That is when they shorted some of the fences and reduced the distance to center field.) Other details are the long escalator at the end of the grandstand near the left field foul pole, the huge pillars that support the fixed-position roof that hangs slightly over left field, and the concourse area in the lower deck diagram.
To see exactly what changed since the last diagram update in 2016, just click on the diagram image. One of the changes resulted in my estimate of foul territory being reduced from 21,000 square feet to just 19,100 square feet. That and other such data revisions will soon be incorporated into the Stadium statistics page.
On September 17, the other promising rookie with the Nationals this year, Victor Robles, hit a monster home run to left field in Marlins Park. Amazingly, it was his very first home run in the big leagues! The ball sailed over "The Clevelander" club area and into a long balcony in front of a large bar in front of the huge retractable windows, landing right where there is a marker that reads "427." But is it really that far? After considerable effort, I think the distance to that spot is more like 420 feet. But since it is at least 20 feet above the field level, a ball on a normal home run trajectory would probably go another 15-20 feet, so a fair estimate would be 435 feet.
Sadly, attendance at Marlins games plummeted this year, as the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and others left fans with little to hope for. When the Nationals played two games there two weeks ago, fewer than 10,000 people showed up. After all the money spent by taxpayers to bring Marlins fans a long-awaited first class home, it would be a shame if the new ownership group (fronted by Derek Jeter) couldn't invest enough money to build a competitive roster.
One thing you will notice on the Marlins Park page is that all of the photos are high-resolution, showing many intricate details barely hinted at before. During the offseason, I plan to incorporate many more high-res photos on stadium pages...