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Nats' magic number: 0

September 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals win National League East Division

It took a few days longer than expected, and the waiting last night was further prolonged by the Mets' amazin' comeback effort against the Phillies (see below), but the champagne was finally uncorked. For the third time in the last five years, the Washington Nationals are the champions of the National League East Division. Read all about it at MLB.com.

On Friday, I expressed hope that "the current leads [would] hold up in tonight's Nats-Pirates and Phillies-Mets games," which would have clinched the NL East title. Not quite! The Mets staged a big late-inning rally to beat the Phillies, while the Pirates tied the game with the Nats in the bottom of the ninth, on a home run off of former Pirate Mark Melancon. (He probably felt weird pitching in his old home ballpark for the first time since being traded in late July.) Two innings later, the Pirates loaded the bases as Nats pitcher Yusmeiro Petit was typically ineffective, and then scored the winning run on a single. Final score: 6-5. That loss really stung for the Nats, as it wasted heroic, clutch home runs by Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos.

So would that misfortune get the Nats' spirits down? Not at all. They charged out of the gates in the first inning on Saturday night, and a two-run single by Steven Drew (making the score 3-0) turned out to be all the runs the Nats needed. Oddly, starting pitcher Joe Ross was replaced after giving up a run during the third inning, and Reynaldo Lopez took charge, pitching into the ninth inning without giving up a run. Final score: Nats 6, Pirates 1.

But the Nationals had to hold off on celebrating until they could be sure that the Phillies had beaten the Mets. As F.P. Santangelo said on MASN, it was like when you were a kid getting up early on Christmas morning, but you can't open the presents until your parents wake up. And as Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) sang, "The wa-aiting is the hardest part!" With a 10-0 lead by the middle of the game, you would think a win by the Phillies would be a sure thing. And you would be wrong! The never-give-up Mets started racking up runs, and by the end of the eighth inning they had closed the gap to just three runs. A homer in the ninth made it a 10-8 game, and the Mets had two runners on base with just one out. But the Phillies managed to get the last two outs, at which point champagne corks started unpopping in the visitors' clubhouse in PNC Park. YES-S-S-S!!!! smile (Perhaps wanting to make a point, today the Mets unleashed their full fury on the Phillies, winning by a rather lopsided score of 17-0.)

In this afternoon's game, once again the Nationals scored three runs in the top of the first, but this time the Pirates matched them in the bottom of the first, as the Nats starting pitcher A.J. Cole kept walking batters and giving up hits. He only lasted 2 2/3 innings, just like Joe Ross the day before, but for a different reason. Cole threw a retaliatory ball right at (or behind) Jung Ho Kang, who had pretended to reach for a thrown ball as Bryce Harper was reaching third base on a triple to the right field corner the inning before. That nasty little trick forced Harper to suddenly dive toward the bag, jamming his thumb in the process; he left the game after that. Cole did what he had to do, and he was of course ejected, [after which] a benches-clearing confrontation was unleashed. Kang later hit a homer that gave the Pirates a two run lead, raising tensions further. The climax came in the top of the eighth, when Jayson Werth (the point man in that confrontation) hit a two-run homer to center field, tying the game at 7-7. That was the start of what ended up as a five-run rally that gave the Nats the victory, 10-7. This time Mark Melancon got the save.

Comparing championship runs

The Nationals' inexorable march to a divisional championship bears interesting similarities to the corresponding races in 2012 and 2014, as well as some differences. In all three years, the Nats quickly reduced their magic number until September 12, after which the three years' paths diverge considerably. In 2012, the Nationals remained near or above the .600 mark for most of the season, but the Atlanta Braves were close on their heels until the final week of the season. Not until September 30 did they clinch the title. That was one hell of division race! In 2014, in contrast, the Nationals clinched the title on September 16 in the midst of a hot streak, while the Braves crumbled, ending up 17 games behind in the NL East standings. This year the Nats were on virtually the same trajectory as in 2014, but hit an unexpected "speed bump" in Atlanta (and Miami), delaying their triumph by nearly a week.

Washington Nationals magic number

NOTE: I only keep track of magic numbers on days when the Nationals played games, hence the gaps in the data lines above.

Thus far this month, the Nationals have a 13-9 (.591) record, which is better than in September 2012, when they went 17-13 (.567), but nowhere near September 2014, when they went 19-8 (.704); see the Washington Nationals annual history pages. Tomorrow the Nats begin a four-game series at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by a three game series against the Miami Marlins to end the regular season. What happens this week will determine whether the Nationals or the Dodgers host the first two games of the NLDS.

As the postseason approaches, there are three big health-related questions for the Nationals. First, Is Bryce Harper's thumb hurt that badly? If he can't grip the bat firmly, it could seriously affect his slugging power. Second, Is Stephen Strasburg going to heal in time to serve as a starting pitcher in the NLDS? Right now it seems doubtful. Third, Is Daniel Murphy's muscle strain [in the buttocks!] going to affect his hitting success? He has not played for the last five games, wisely getting rested in preparation for October, while David LeMahieu of the Colorado Rockies has taken a slim lead in the National League batting average race: .349 vs. .347.

R.I.P Jose Fernandez

Baseball fans were stunned to learn that the young ace pitcher for the Miami Marlins, Jose Fernandez, had passed away in a boating accident last night. Something as awful as that was just too much for his team mates to endure, so it was decided that the final game of the Braves-Marlins series in Miami would be canceled, and not made up. The Cuban-born pitcher defected to the United States in 2008, when he was just 16. In his first year with the Marlins, 2013, he was named National League Rookie of the Year. For the next two years, he was plagued by injuries, but this year he was near the top in several measures of pitching performance. He was considered a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award, along with Jake Arrieta and Max Scherzer. At MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince writes about what a great impact his positive spirit had on the Marlins. It is sobering to consider how much he could have accomplished in his career had that tragic accident not happened.

History will record that the last game he ever pitched, on September 20, was a championship-caliber pitchers' duel against Tanner Roark of the Washington Nationals, and that he came away the victor, 1-0.

Vin Scully says goodbye

Legendary Dodgers TV commentator Vin Scully bid farewell to Los Angeles fans in this afternoon's game, retiring after a career that began in Brooklyn, way back in 1950. That's just too far back in time to comprehend. His voice may be fading, but he still has the same gusto and sharpness as always. It was fitting that the L.A. Dodgers clinched the NL West Division in the final game he broadcast from Dodger Stadium.

Nats' magic number: 2

September 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals get back to winning

After a four-game losing streak in which they came up short against also-ran teams (the Braves and the Marlins), the Nationals bounced back on Wednesday night, thanks primarily to the pitching of Max Scherzer and clutch hitting of Ryan Zimmerman, who hit a three-run homer. An inning later, Trea Turner hit a solo home run that just stayed fair down the left field line -- his 12th homer of the year! Max was replaced during the seventh inning after giving up two home runs, but Blake Treinen got the third out, and there was no further damage after that. Final score: Nats 8, Marlins 3.

The night before was an epic pitchers' duel in which the Nats' Tanner Roark did superbly but not superbly enough. One swing by Giancarlo Stanton was all it took to give the Marlins the winning margin, as he blasted a solo homer way up into the upper deck in right-center field. Miami's starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was just too much for the Nationals hitters that night.

I previously anticipated that the Nats would clinch the division title while in Miami. Not quite, but they're getting close! The magic number is now just 2. With ten games left to play in the 2016 regular season, the Nationals (currently 89-63) should aim to finish 95-67 or better, to ensure that they stay ahead of the L.A. Dodgers for the second seed (NLDS home field advantage) in the postseason series. If the current leads hold up in tonight's Nats-Pirates and Phillies-Mets games, what F.P. Santangelo said about what "PNC" stands for in PNC Park may come about: the Place where the Nationals Clinch!

Mets get swept, rebound

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves showed surprising spunk by sweeping the Mets in a three-game series on the road. Thanks to the Braves, playing spoiler, the Nats' magic number shrank by three. But the Mets aren't giving up just yet. Last night at Citi Field, the Philadelphia Phillies were on the verge of beating the Mets twice, and both times the Mets foiled them. With the score 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Reyes hit a two-run homer to send it into extra innings, and with the score 8-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Asdrubal Cabrera (a former Nat) hit a three-run walk-off homer to end it. Like Casey Stengel said, those Mets are amazin'! Otherwise, the Nats' magic number would have been 1. Oh well, it's just a matter of time.

Red Sox sweep Orioles

The Boston Red Sox inflicted pain and suffering upon the Baltimore Orioles, sweeping them in four game series just like they did to the Yankees over the weekend. The difference was that this time the series was away from home. That's eight in a row for Boston, whose magic number is now just five.

Rams return to Los Angeles

The newly-minted L.A. Rams won their first game in their "new" (yet also old) home on Sunday afternoon, giving the 91,046 fans in attendance much to cheer about. Oddly, the Rams failed to score a touchdown, as they beat the Seattle Seahawks, 9-3. Mike Zurawski sent a link to the game recap at espn.com, and recommended an article at forbes.com in which it is estimated that the Rams franchise may soon be worth 4 billion (with a b) dollars.

(L.A.)* Memorial Coliseum update

L.A. Memorial Coliseum

In recognition of the return of professional football to Los Angeles, I made some revisions to the Memorial Coliseum diagrams. It's an awkward case, because there needs to be a horizontal rendering optimized for football as well as a "diagonal" rendering optimized for baseball, with center field at the top. I paid particular attention to the placement of the entry portals as benchmarks, and realized that the left foul pole was not where it should be. Eventually, I figured out that the baseball diamond was angled almost two degrees off of where it should have been.

* I have heard from sports fans in the Los Angeles area who say that everyone there calls it "Los Angeles Coliseum," but in all the books and maps I have the primary designation is "Memorial Coliseum."

Coincidentally, Turner Classic Movies showed a movie featuring L.A. Memorial Coliseum late last week, The Split, starring NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Ernest Borgnine, and Steve McQueen. It was shown during the wee hours of the morning, so I recorded it and then played back the stadium scenes frame by frame to get all the details in my diagram just right. It was from that movie that I realized that the Coliseum was reconfigured during the 1960s, with the gridiron being shifted toward the west. At about the same time, the old bench seats were replaced by individual seats in most of the stadium.

The Rams' odyssey from city to city, and stadium to stadium, must be one for the record books:

As a consolation to St. Louis Rams fans, here is a photographic tribute to the home of their team for over 20 years:

Edward Jones Dome pan

Edward Jones Dome, August 2015. Click on it to see it full size, or else go to the Football stadiums photo gallery page.

Nats' magic number: 5

September 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nats hit a speed bump in Atlanta

Well, you can't win 'em all, even if you do have the second-best record in the National League right now. The Washington Nationals' vulnerabilities were on full display in Atlanta this weekend, as they lost the final two games they will ever play in Turner Field. The Atlanta Braves showed commendable spunk, meanwhile. On Saturday afternoon, Gio Gonzalez slipped back into his funk of mediocrity, giving up six earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings on the mound. Remarkably, Nats rookie Trea Turner hit two more one home runs on Saturday, after hitting one on Friday, for a total of 11 this year! Just think if he had played the whole season... It was a shame that his team mates couldn't follow his offensive lead. Final score: Braves 7, Nats 3.

Just that morning, the Washington Post had an upbeat article by Barry Svrluga about how much Gio Gonzalez has (or had) improved lately, and how much the Nationals will depend on him in the postseason now that Stephen Strasburg is injured again. "Never mind!" This puts manager Dusty Baker in an awkward spot: He has two first-rate starting pitchers (Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark) and a bunch of question marks. It will be hard to prevail over the Dodgers (their likely NLDS opponent) unless one of the younger guys steps up to the ... pitching rubber.

In the Sunday game, Joe Ross took the mound for the first time in over two months, and did OK, giving up one run over three innings. Reynaldo Lopez took his place, and the Braves scored two more runs when Dansbury Swanson hit a double over Bryce Harper's head in right field. That was a killer. MASN commentator Ray Knight questioned why Bryce was playing so close in during that series, as the same thing happened more than once. In the sixth inning, Trea Turner hit a two-out triple, and then Jayson Werth hit an RBI double as the drizzle turned to heavy rain. The grounds crews quickly rolled out the tarp, and after a delay of over an hour, Bryce Harper hit a bloop RBI single, making it a 3-2 game. Then Clint Robinson was hit by a pitch, giving Wilson Ramos an excellent opportunity to tie the game or better. But he struck out. In the bottom of the sixth, Mark Rzepczynski gave up three hits and walk as the Braves tacked on three more runs. With a four-run lead, there wasn't much point to waiting for the weather to improve after the second rain delay in the bottom of the seventh, and the umpires declared the game over. Braves 6, Nats 2.

This evening in Miami, the Nats' troubles continued. The young A.J. Cole once again had an acceptable outing as the Nats' starting pitcher, giving up two runs over four innings. Giancarlo Stanton was back in the lineup after a month on the DL with a groin pull. He made his presence felt, bashing a 448-foot home run into the bar area in the upper-level plaza beyond left field. It was simply amazing. The Nats took the lead in the fifth inning on a three-run homer by Danny Espinosa, but the Marlins came back with two more runs in the seventh, and won it, 4-3.

I was surprised to learn that Trea Turner is (almost) the same age as Bryce Harper: 23. Actually, Bryce was born eight months earlier: October 16, 1992.

Mets sweep the Twins

The Twins came close to beating the New York Mets in Citi Field on Saturday night, but the Mets kept evening the score. They got a run in the bottom of the eighth to make it 1-1, and it went into extra innings. A solo home run by Curtis Granderson in the bottom of the tenth tied the game 2-2, and another one in the twelfth inning won it in walk-off fashion. Two homers in one game!? Who does he think he is, Trea Turner?? smile. The Twins played a good, tough game again on Sunday, but the Mets did what they needed to do, winning 3-2 again, their third consecutive win.

But in Citi Field again tonight, the Mets fell flat against the suddenly-upbeat Atlanta Braves, who won their third game in a row, 7-3. That reduced the Nationals' magic number to just five.

Citi Field ext night pan

Citi Field, after the Nats-Mets game on September 4 -- one of many photos soon to be added to that page. Click on the image to see it full size.

Red Sox sweep the Yankees

After yet another improbable come-from-behind win by the Red Sox on Sunday night, the New York Yankees are hanging on for their dear lives in the AL wild card race. You could almost see it coming as Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, making it a 4-3 game all of a sudden. The Red Sox scored one each in the next two innings, and completed the four-game sweep of the Yankees by a score of 5-4.

Nats' magic number: 7

September 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nats edge the Mets, and vice versa

After the series in Washington this week, the New York Mets are no longer a contender for the NL East Division, and are focused entirely on the wild card race against the Cardinals and the Giants. On Tuesday night the Nats scored first in the bottom of the second, and the score was 1-1 until the fifth inning, as rookie pitcher A.J. Cole had another solid outing. But the Mets took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning, and he was done. It looked bleak in the bottom of the ninth, but the Nats staged a heroic rally to tie the game, 3-3. With runners on first and second with nobody out, and Ryan Zimmerman up to bat, it seemed all but certain. But alas, Ryan struck out and Danny Espinosa grounded into a double play, sending the game into extras. Mark Melancon pitched for the Nats in the top of the tenth, whereupon T. Rivera hit a solo homer, and that decided the ball game. Final score: Mets 4, Nats 3.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tanner Roark took the mound, and quickly got himself into hot water: bases loaded and only one out! But he kept his cool, and escaped any damage by getting a strikeout and a [long foul] out. After that, the Mets failed to get any hits off him for the next few innings, as the score remained tie, 0-0. Then in the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos crushed a solo home run way up into the Red Porch seats at Nationals Park, and that ended up being the only score of the game. Mark Melancon got three consecutive outs in the ninth inning to get the save.

That put the Nationals back to a ten-game lead over the Mets in the NL East, reducing their magic number to just seven. The Nats will probably clinch the division title in Miami next week, on the road just like two years ago. (That was in Atlanta.) The weekend series that is about to get underway in Atlanta will be the Nationals' final visit to Turner Field, which will be replaced next year by SunTrust Park. (Construction is nearing completion.)

Stunning walk-off homer in Boston

In the [first] game of the Yankees-Red Sox series in Boston last night, David Ortiz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth, the 537th homer of his career, thereby going ahead of Mickey Mantle. But the Yankees still had a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, and seemed assured of closing the gap in the ultra-tight four-team race for the American League East. But then one of those miraculous comebacks transpired, as the Yanks' vaunted closing pitcher Dellin Betances gave up two walks, and then with two outs, David Ortiz and Mookie Betts hit consecutive RBI singles to make a 5-4 game. It was almost like October 2004 all over again. And then Hanley Ramirez came to the plate, and belted a home run into the center field stands, to win it 7-5, sending Bostonians into ecastic jubilation. For all the details, see MLB.com.

Fenway Park - Thank You Big Papi sign

Closeup of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, with the "Thank You Big Papi" sign on the other side of Lansdowne Street. (September 5, 2016)

Stunning walk-off homer in Chicago

This afternoon in Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs came back from a 4-2 deficit with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Losing two in a row to the Brewers would have been an embarrassment. In the tenth inning, the Cubs' Miguel Montero hit a dramatic walk-off home run to give the Cubbies their 94th win of the year. They had already clinched the NL Central Division title the night before after the St. Louis Cardinals lost.

Braves Field tweak

Much like with Baker Bowl and Shibe Park a few days ago, I realized that the directional compasses on the Braves Field diagrams were off by about ten degrees, because the street grid in that part of Boston is slightly "tilted," so I tweaked those diagrams ever-so-slightly. The only other thing that changed were the office building, which now shows the roof creases, and the football gridirons, which are rendered with solid lines rather than dotted lines. I also added another photo I took earlier this month, a closeup of Nickerson Field.

New stadium in K.C.?

That's what my brother Dan is hoping for: a retro-design ballpark in historic downtown Kansas City, which has been enjoying a renaissance over the past decade or so. Read his letter to the editor in the Kansas City Star. You heard it here first!

Nats' magic number: 9

September 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals wallop the Mets

The Washington Nationals came out slugging against the New York Mets last night, taking advantage of walks with a series of clutch RBIs. Recently-acquired Mat Latos was the Nats' emergency starter, and he did just fine, giving up just one run over 4 1/3 innings. (He evidently suffered a cramp of some sort.) Not only that, he hit a home run to start the bottom of the third inning, the fourth of his career. That sparked a rally that culminated in a three-run homer by Anthony Rendon. The Nats scored twice more after that, and thanks to a solid bullpen, they won it, 8-1. Daniel Murphy again tormented his former team mates, getting three hits in five at-bats. Rookie Reynaldo Lopez, in his first relief appearance, pitched the final three innings and got the win. The Nats' lead in the NL East thereby climbed to 10 games, and their magic number thereby fell to just 9. The next two games could signify the effective end of the 2016 race in their division...

Shibe Park "photos" & tweak

I added three photos I took two Sundays ago to the Shibe Park page, each showing the historical sign marking that long-gone ballpark's former location. The latter two photos primarily show Deliverance Evangelistic Church, which now occupies the site. (With a seating capacity of about 5,000, it may merit a diagram of its own some day! smile) I also tweaked the directional compasses on each of the diagrams, and did likewise for the Baker Bowl diagrams. Nothing else changed in any of those diagrams, so these are not counted as actual revisions. (I revised the diagrams on both those pages earlier this year, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 20, respectively.) As I first noted on June 9, 2012, the main street grid in Philadelphia is tilted about ten degrees east of due north.

Shibe Park AND Baker Bowl

In addition, I updated the Stadium proximity page, adding a new thumbnail diagram showing the relative positions of Shibe Park and Baker Bowl, as you can see above. Based on city maps and aerial photos I have seen, I estimate that they were about 2,300 feet apart.

Are you ready for some football?

Well, apparently the Washington Redskins aren't: They lost to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on the first of two Monday Night Football games last night, 38-16. Good thing I was watching the Mets-Nationals game! The newly-relocated Los Angeles Rams fared even worse in the second MNF game, losing to the host San Francisco 49ers, 28-0. Anyway, I have added three photos to the Football stadium photos page: Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles since 2003), Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots since 2002), and Franklin Field (home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers since 1895). That the very same year that Baker Bowl was built! Franklin Field was rebuilt with a second deck in 1922, and has been upgraded over the years, much like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. Too bad more universities don't follow that example. (See pennathletics.com.)

Franklin Field 2016

Franklin Field, as seen from a commuter train; photo retouched to remove window glare. (Sept. 2, 2016)

August 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Scherzer assures a Nats victory

One of the few bright spots in the Nationals pitching staff right now is Max Scherzer, who had an uneven first half of the 2016 season, but has been returning to form since the All-Star break. Last night in Philadelphia he had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, when Freddy Galvez hit a double. In the seventh inning, Ryan Howard hit a two-run homer, but Scherzer stayed in for another inning and ended up with 11 strikeouts. The two runs scored by the Nats in the first inning gave him a small but vital comfort zone, and ironically, it was an RBI sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning by Scherzer himself that ended up being the deciding run in the game. Mark Melancon got the save in spite of walking the first batter in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Nats 3, Phillies 2. See MLB.com.

So who is this Gary Sanchez?

In the Bronx section of New York, some rookie named Gary Sanchez has been setting all sorts of records, including two consecutive American League Player of the Week awards. He has hit 11 home runs over the last 30 games, which is just insane for a rookie. Well, the Yankees are desperate for a new generation of heroes of the Ruth-Gehrig-DiMaggio-Mantle-Jackson-Jeter caliber. Maybe Sanchez is it. And maybe I'll get to see him in a few days! (See note below, and MLB.com.) The Yankees are not out of the AL Wild Card picture, and a lot can change in the standings as the final month of the 2016 season gets underway. If it weren't for Sanchez, the Nationals' red-hot rookie Trea Turner would have been getting such honors.

On the road again

I will be away from home for the next week or so, attending a political science convention in Philadelphia, and hopefully seeing a few baseball games along the east coast. With any luck I will get to see:

Those include two Nationals games, visiting (respectively) the Phillies tonight and the Mets on Sunday evening. The Red Sox will be out of town, so I'll have to content myself with a mere tour of their home. It's too bad, as I was hoping to see David Ortiz in his final MLB year. Stay tuned for lots of great new photos!

From October through December, a table of all Postseason game scores is shown here.

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Baseball books:

See Sources for a brief description of the above books. Also see more specialized books on the Ebbets Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium pages.

Coming Attractions

(Includes major revisions, minor revisions, pages with additional diagrams, and future stadiums that are under construction. This is only a rough guide; the sequence is subject to change.)

Stadium construction

Between March 2012, when Marlins Park was completed, and September 2014, there were no major league baseball stadiums under construction. It was the first time since September 1986 that this situation existed. But in light of the recent groundbreaking on the future home of the Braves, the table that had been removed from this space is being restored.

Stadium construction

Franchise /
Opens % done
Atlanta Braves
Sun Trust Field
2017 40%
Oakland (San Jose?) Athletics
Cisco Field (?)
2020? 0%
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Stadium (?)
2020? 0%
NOTES: This table includes stadiums that are currently under construction or are being contemplated.

Research department: