May Day: Nats pull out of nosedive
The "merry, merry" month of May has been anything but merry for the Washington Nationals this year. Until this past weekend, hosting the Colorado Rockies at home in Washington, the Nats had lost two out of every three games they played. Remarkably, they avoided being swept in any of the seven previous series: they won exactly one game in each of those series. Thus, they hovered around the .333 mark for the entire month. As Barry Svrluga noted in the Washington Post on May 20, the "brain-dead sloppiness" (bad base-running and inexcusable errors on defense) made Nationals games "comically unwatchable." Perhaps such expressions of disgust were the motivation they needed to turn things around.
The Nationals' dreary litany of mediocrity this month has been punctuated by a few bursts of excellence, offering hope for a brighter tomorrow. (Or next year.) On May 14 the Nats beat the visiting Astros 13-6 thanks in large part to home runs by Yadiel Hernandez and Maikel Franco. On May 25 the Nats became the first team to shut out the L.A. Dodgers this season, as Erick Fedde pitched six solid innings and Cesar Hernandez provided the essential hitting power with an RBI single in the sixth inning. Nats 1, Dodgers 0!
One of the most pleasant surprises in this disappointing season is the emergence of Victor Robles as a consistent hitter and (usually) good base-runner. In the first inning of the first game on Saturday, he put the Nationals ahead with a two-run single, and later knocked in four more runs on a single and a home run -- his first of the year. He stole two bases in the game against the Rockies on Sunday, playing a key role in the Nats' narrow 6-5 victory. Catcher Keibert Ruiz is also getting plenty of clutch hits as well. Meanwhile, Josh Bell's average has gone downhill since the early part of the month, while Juan Soto has been in the worst slump of his young career. He is now batting just .236, which is lower than that of Victor Robles. That seems almost impossible. Has his motivation gone down because of the rumors of the Nats being sold, and the possibility that he might get traded? I certainly hope not. Soto did at least get a two-run homer in Sunday's game, his ninth of the year.
As for pitching, both the starters and the relievers have been quite inconsistent. Aaron Sanchez got the win against the Brewers in Milwaukee on May 22, thanks to a six-run Nats rally in the fourth inning, but he was taken out of the early May 29 game in the fourth inning after giving up seven runs to the Rockies. Later that same day he was "designated for assignment." Ouch! That is probably to make room on the roster for Stephen Strasburg, who has begun playing in minor league games after an extended recovery from thoracic surgery last summer. He can't return soon enough! Partly due to bad luck, Patrick Corbin lost his first seven games of the season but finally got the win in the opening game of the series against the Rockies, on May 26. Erick Fedde and Josiah Gray (former Dodger) seem to be the Nats' top two starting pitchers for the moment, but Fedde couldn't even finish two innings against the Mets in today's embarrassing 13-5 loss. The Nats scored three times in the top of the first, but the Dodgers kept putting up crooked numbers until it became pretty much hopeless by the end of the fourth inning. Kyle Finnegan played a key role in cementing Nats' victories but after giving up two runs and getting only one out in the top of the eighth inning, he had to be replaced by the usual closer Tanner Rainey, who not only put out the fire but went on to get three quick outs in the ninth inning to save the game, giving the Nats their first series win at home (3 games to 1) this season.
Memorial Coliseum update
Since today was Memorial Day, I thought it would be appropriate to make a few minor corrections and enhancements to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum diagrams, including a new version with a track (asphalt) that was installed for NASCAR races. Much like what was done in September 2016 when Tennessee played a football game against Virginia Tech at Bristol raceway -- except in reverse -- a huge oval football stadium was refitted to accommodate race cars. The "Clash at the Coliseum" consisted of several rounds, since there just wasn't enough room for a full slate of stock cars. It would have made a little more sense before the 1993 renovations added new rows of seats closer to the football field, but in the current configuration of Memorial Coliseum, the turns at each end were extremely tight.
Actually, the new diagrams do include a rather significant new finding: thanks to a tip from Mark London, I learned that in the Dodgers' first year in Los Angeles (1958), the bullpens were located beyond the fence in center and right field. After that they were moved to foul territory: very spacious on the visiting team's side (by third base), and extremely tight on the Dodgers' side. As usual, you can see what changed since my previous rendition of this stadium in 2016 by clicking on the diagram and then moving your mouse away.