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October 13, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nats suffer another NLDS heartbreaker

When the Washington Nationals won Game 4 on Wednesday night to bring the National League Division Series back home, it seemed like they had the Chicago Cubs on the ropes. Stephen Strasburg pitched one of the very best games of his career, striking out twelve batters without allowing any runs (and only three hits) over seven utterly dominant innings at Wrigley Field. After years of doubts as to whether the decision to keep him off the roster in the 2012 postseason (when he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery) would ever really pay off, Strasburg vindicated himself in true superstar fashion. A cosmic convergence of opportunity and a burning desire to win had the Nationals poised for their very first postseason series triumph since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005!

Stephen Strasburg

The heroic Stephen Strasburg at Nationals Park on September 29, when he won his 15th game of the season pitching against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But just like last year, "something (or things plural) utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 5 on Thursday evening, as the {Cubs} came back from a {4-1} deficit in the top of the {fifth} inning and held on to defeat the Washington Nationals, {9-8}." If that sounds familiar, it's because I copied the text from my October 14 blog post last year and put the appropriate modifications in {brackets}. Four years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals likewise came back from a deep deficit to stun the Nationals in the top of the ninth inning. (In the 2014 NLDS, the Nats were eliminated by the Giants on the road in Game 4, under relatively "normal" circumstances.) I shun superstitious talk of jinxes and curses, but the repeated pattern of "Nightmares on South Capitol Street" does kind of make you wonder what keeps going wrong.

The game got off to a disturbing start when Jon Jay hit a leadoff double, and later scored. Gio Gonzalez was obviously nervous, throwing the ball wildly several times. He finally got out of a bases-loaded jam when Jason Heyward grounded out to first base. In the bottom of the first, Trea Turner hit a leadoff infield single, stole second, and made it to third on a sac fly by Jayson Werth, but was then thrown out at the plate on a ground ball to second base hit by Bryce Harper.

Gio settled down in the second inning, getting three quick outs. Then Daniel Murphy stepped up to the plate and quickly smashed a home run into the right field seats, and the crowd was thrilled. Anthony Rendon then singled, Wieters laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line, and Michael A. Taylor swung at a pitch that was at least at neck level. Sometimes he lacks discipline, but this time he managed to put enough wood on that ball to send it into the left field bullpen. A three-run homer! And the crowd went wild!! After the next two batters struck out, Jayson Werth hit a double to the right-center field gap, and Bryce Harper was intentionally walked. It was a big opportunity for Ryan Zimmerman to get some more runs in, but he struck out.

In the third inning, Gio started having problems again. Kris Bryant hit a leadoff double, and after two more walks, the bases were loaded. Bryant scored on a ground ball hit by Addison Russell, and then a wild pitch by Gio allowed Contreras to score, making it a 4-3 game. Gio has a reputation for not being able to maintain leads, and Dusty Baker rightly decided that was enough pitching for Gio that day. In the fourth inning, Matt Albers got three quick outs.

Fifth inning nightmare

"What's the worst that could happen?" We may have found out in the fifth inning, as Max Scherzer took the mound. I knew that Max was available for emergency relief duty, but this situation just didn't seem to warrant resorting to such extreme measures. (See my Facebook comment below.) As expected, Max Scherzer quickly got two outs, but then he had to battle Willson Contreras to a full count, ultimately giving up an infield single. That's when all hell broke loose. So, just as I did in 2012 (for the ninth inning of NLDS Game 5), here is the complete play-by-play sequence for the Cubs in the bizarre, "stranger-than-fiction" fifth inning:

  1. Kris Bryant grounds out to shortstop.
  2. Anthony Rizzo flies out to center field.
  3. Willson Contreras hits a single to shortstop.
  4. Ben Zobrist hits bloop single to left field.
  5. Addison Russell doubles to left field corner, Contreras and Zobrist score.
  6. Jason Heyward is intentionally walked.
  7. Javier Baez strikes out but reaches base on passed ball*; throw from catcher to 1st base goes into right field, and Russell scores while others advance to 2nd and 3rd.
  8. Tommy La Stella is awarded first base on catcher interference, loading the bases.
  9. Jon Jay is hit by a pitch, Heyward scores, and others advance.
  10. Kris Bryant pops out to shortstop.

* = controversial play; see below.

I simply could not believe what was unfolding before my eyes on TV. Highly-paid professional players were panicking and blundering like Little Leagers. Russell's double gave the Cubs the lead which they would not relinquish, putting the Nats' ace pitcher Max Scherzer in line to become the losing pitcher. Just like in 2012 and 2016, the Nats went from having a comfortable lead to finding themselves in a desperate hole in a virtual blink of an eye.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters at Nationals Park on September 29.

Back & forth slugfest

The Cubs added a run in the sixth inning, as Brandon Kintzler gave up a walk and then another RBI double by Addison Russell. After that point, the Nationals finally regained their wits and started displaying their renowned offensive prowess. With two outs, Jayson Werth drew a walk and Bryce Harper doubled. Then Ryan Zimmerman walked, with ball four being a wild pitch, allowing Werth to sprint home to score. The next batter, Daniel Murphy hit a high fly ball that landed right at the left field wall. Harper scored but Zimmerman was held up at third. I wondered why he wasn't waved home, and after watching the MLB TV abbreviated rebroadcast today, I could see it was a combination of Zimmerman's short lead at first and a well-played carom off the wall by Ben Zobrist. With the score now 8-6, Anthony Rendon was intentionally walked, and Matt Wieters came up to bat. Wieters has had a disappointing year since the Nationals signed him last spring, but he did get two hits in the early innings, including that bunt along the third base line. This time he punched a fly ball to the right field corner, and Jason Heyward was just able to get there in time for the third out. It could have been two or three runs for the Nationals...

The Cubs scored again in the seventh inning, as Sammy Solis gave up two consecutive hits -- just like he did in Game 3. Next! Dusty Baker challenged the call on the run-scoring play, arguing that Jon Jay made an illegal slide into second base, but was denied. (See below.) When the Nats came up to bat, Michael A. Taylor drew a leadoff walk and soon the bases were loaded for Bryce Harper. What a moment of suspense that was! Bryce connected on a ball toward the right-center gap, but he didn't get all of it, and he was very disappointed to settle for an RBI sacrifice fly. Ryan Zimmerman then struck out on a bad pitch, as he seems to do too often, unfortunately. That left the score 9-7.

Relief pitcher Ryan Madson (who had come in to finish the seventh inning) had a nice 1-2-3 eighth inning for the Nats. In the bottom of the inning, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon drew walks, and Adam Lind came in to pinch hit for Matt Wieters. Once again, fans in Nationals Park stirred with excitement. Lind has proven an invaluable bench player and all-around utility man for the Nats this year, with several clutch homers and RBIs. This time, however, he grounded into a double play, dousing the flame of fan passion. But then Michael A. Taylor came up and smashed an RBI single into center field, and hopes rose once again. Michael thus became the very first player in MLB history to get four (or more) RBI's in two consecutive postseason games. He is simply amazing! That brought the Nats back to within one run of the Cubs, and Jose Lobaton singled as well. But what could have become a game-changing rally ended when Lobaton was picked off first base by the catcher in yet another controversial play discussed below.

Michael A. Taylor

The hero of Game 4, and would-be hero of Game 5, Michael A. Taylor, at Nationals Park on September 29.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Nats' great new closing pitcher, Sean Doolittle, did his job, getting three quick outs. In the bottom of the ninth, Trea Turner swung at a bad pitch on a 3-1 count and then flew out, wasting a walk opportunity. (That was indeed just awful, as MLB-TV's "High Heat" host Christopher Russo practically screamed his derision this afternoon.) Next came Jayson Werth, who already had a run, two hits, and two walks that day. But in his probable final at-bat as a Washington National, he swung at a high fastball for strike three. That left it up to Bryce Harper, who likewise struck out; see my Facebook comment below. And that was that. Cubs 9, Nationals 8. frown

Most of the Nationals players rose to the occasion at one point or another, and there was some genuinely good baseball mixed in with all the sloppy play. Until the late innings, most of the pitchers did poorly. I was disappointed that Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 4 plus one walk, striking out three times and leaving seven (7) batters on base. Ouch! The Nats out-hit the Cubs 14 to 9, but just couldn't get enough hits in clutch situations. The game was ridiculously slow, taking 4:37 to complete just nine innings. (The stroke of midnight came somewhere around the seventh inning, so superstitious fans could blame the Nats' misfortunes on Friday the 13th.) Attendance was 43,849, almost the same as in NLDS Games 1 and 2.

Dubious umpire calls

Only sore losers blame defeat on unfair officiating, so I hope I'm not doing that. But in three critical situations, questionable rulings had a huge effect on the course of the game, adverse from the Nationals' point of view.

In the wild and crazy fifth inning, when catcher Matt Wieters was charged with a passed ball on strike three, he ran to the backstop and unwisely threw the ball to try to get Javier Baez out at first. I didn't realized it at the time, but Baez's bat struck Wieters' mask, possibly leaving him a bit dazed. Wieters promptly told the umpire that happened, but was told that it didn't matter. frown But according to the Official Baseball Rules:

Rule 6.03 (comment): If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire's judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.

There is no question that the bat struck the catcher, and that it should have been a dead ball. But in such a case (with a passed ball), the batter could not attempt to reach first base, so it would have been the third out, with the score remaining 5-4. Has this situation never occurred before at all? MLB will have to clarify the rules for next year.

Two innings later (the seventh), Jon Jay made an apparent illegal slide into second base, raising his leg and clearly going after Daniel Murphy, to the left of the bag. Such a violation of the "Chase Utley rule" would have have made the batter (Kris Bryant) out at first on a would-be double play, and the run scored by Kyle Schwarber would not have counted. But for some reason, the umps didn't see it that way, and that run ended up deciding the game. frown

Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the catcher, Willson Contreras tried to pick off Jose Lobaton at first base, and the umpire ruled he was safe. But Joe Maddon challenged the call, and although the video replay did show that Lobaton's foot briefly came off the bag when he slid back in, there was no clear proof that Anthony Rizzo had his glove on him at that precise moment. When the evidence is inconclusive, the original call is supposed to stand, so I was shocked when the review overturned the call. If you want to blame Lobaton for taking too big of a lead for no reason (as Christopher Russo did), go ahead, but changing an umpire's call in such a critical situation with such inconclusive video evidence is very bad. frown

Werth's sad farewell

This was almost certainly Jayson Werth's last game as a National (his seven-year contract has expired), and it was painful to watch the postgame interview with him in such a sad and bewildered state. He couldn't believe what had happened, and neither could we the fans. To his immense credit, he spoke openly and honestly about what that game and that series meant to him, and it was obvious how much he craved winning that series and helping take the Nats all the way to the World Series. Even though his batting and fielding performance was gradually declining over the past couple years, no one could ever doubt his passionate commitment to the team. As he (most likely) bids farewell to Washington in the next few months, let's not forget what he meant for helping turn this franchise from an also-ran motley crew to a championship-caliber "band of brothers." heart

Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth at second base after hitting a single in the sixth inning, at Nationals Park on September 29.

My Facebook reflections

Here are some of my initial observations on Facebook, during and immediately after the game:

(On the "Washington D.C. Baseball - Yesterday & Today" page at the top of the fifth inning:) Shouldn't they be holding Scherzer in reserve until the later innings? He'll only last two or three, right? It seems almost desperate.
(In response to a downcast Nats fan on that same page after the sixth inning:) We're being tested just like the players are, Damien. Down two runs with three innings to go is not that bad.
(On my own timeline, after the final out:) "Don't swing, Bryce," I was thinking. "Take the walk and let Zim have another chance." But swing he did, at an awful inside pitch no less, and that's how the 2017 season ends. There's plenty of blame to go around, but I'm not going to mope around. The Nats are still a great team, overall, and have much to be proud of. We can fix the problems and do better next year!

Comparing four NLDS's

Whereas each of the four times the Nats have made it to the NLDS have been marked by a sudden, crushing, hideous twist of fate (to a greater or lesser extent), each one is unique in terms of the sequence of wins and losses. All four times the Nationals enjoyed home field advantage, but in the 2012 series, the format was changed from 2-2-1 to 2-3 because of the addition of a second wild card team that year. The Nats have faced four different opponents, and went all the way to Game 5 in all years except 2014. They lost the first game in three of the four years, and only had a series lead after Game 1 of 2012 and Game 3 of 2016.

Year Opponent Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5
2012 Cardinals W
2014 Giants L
2016 Dodgers L
2017 Cubs L

@ = away game

ALCS Game 1: Astros beat Yanks

In Houston tonight, the Astros edged the Yankees 2-1 in a tense pitchers' duel between Dallas Keuchel and Masahiro Tanaka. (I keep wondering, shouldn't a guy named "Dallas" be playing for the Rangers?) The Astros put together three hits to scrounge out two runs in the fourth inning, sparked as usual by Jose Altuve, while the Yankees failed to score until the ninth inning. The Yankees' stunning series comeback victory against the Indians in the ALDS Game 5 was at least as disheartening to Cleveland fans as the NLDS Game 5 defeat was to fans in Washington.

Tomorrow the Cubs will begin playing the NLCS against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and I think most readers of this blog know where the Clem family sympathies lie. But I'm also intrigued by the possibility of a rematch of one of the classic rivalries in World Series history: the L.A. Dodgers won in 1963 and 1981, while the Yankees won in 1977 and 1978.

October 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Harper & Zimmerman save the Nats' season:
But can they do it again?

After the crushing disappointment of Friday night's game (see below), and falling behind once again in Saturday night's game, the Washington Nationals just about had their backs against the wall. Anthony Rendon hit a solo homer in the first inning, but the Cubs' Wilson Contreras did likewise to tie in the second. But the Cubs took a 3-1 lead from a home run by Anthony Rizzo, perhaps with a little help from a Cubs fan sitting in the front row in right field, but an official review confirmed it. So, by the eighth inning it was a virtual do-or-die situation, as coming back from a 2-0 series deficit in Wrigley Field would be an immensely daunting task. But Bryce Harper finally hit a long ball to tie the game 3-3, and the crowd went wild!!! The next two batters reached base, and Ryan Zimmerman came up to bat. He knocked a high fly ball that carried just beyond the reach of the left fielder, giving the Nats a 6-3 lead, thus saving the Nats' season, for all intents and purposes.

Bryce Harper

The heroic Bryce Harper, in right field on September 30.

As I noted on Friday (midway through NLDS Game 1), a dominant theme of the Nationals' 2017 season has been their "consistent inconsistency." Game 1 and Game 3 were perfect examples of how the Nats' vaunted sluggers just couldn't come through when they needed to. In both games, outstanding performances by the Nats' top two pitchers were utterly wasted. In Game 1, Stephen Strasburg pitched into the sixth inning before he gave up his first hit, and thanks to a weird play at third base in which Anthony Rendon was charged with an error, the Cubs scored two unearned runs. Two innings later the Cubs tacked on another run, with another RBI single by Anthony Rizzo, and the final score was 3-0.

Max Scherzer

Good ol' Blue-eye (and Brown-eye) Max Scherzer, on September 30.

On Monday, [the Nats had a 1-0 lead thanks to an error in the sixth inning by left fielder Kyle Schwarber Anthony Rizzo that got Daniel Murphy to third base, and a clutch RBI double by Ryan Zimmerman.] Max Scherzer pitched into the seventh inning before he gave up his first hit, a double to the left-center gap by Ben Zobrist. Then came one of the most fateful (and argued) managerial decisions in Nationals history: Dusty Baker took Max off the mound and brought in the young Sammy Solis. Why him?? If you're going to replace Scherzer in a clutch situation, why not bring in one of your best relievers??? So the very next batter, Albert Almora, hit an RBI single to tie the game, and the next batter Justin Heyward) singled as well, so that was it for Solis. In came Brandon Kintzler, and the Nats were lucky to get out of that inning alive, as Michael A. Taylor made a great catch of a fly ball in right center field, throwing it in to get a double play at first base. But in the very next inning, the Cubs [got a lead-off walk courtesy of Kintzler and later scored a run on a bloop single by] none other than [Anthony Rizzo. It fell into "no man's land" in short left-center field, and Michael A. Taylor flinched rather than trying to make a diving catch. Cubs 2, Nats 1.] MLB.com

Brandon Kintzler

Brandon Kintzler, on September 30.

I'm no authority when it comes to baseball strategy and tactics, so I hesitate to second-guess Dusty Baker as others have done. But whether he returns as manager of the Nats next year depends on whether they beat the Cubs in this series.


Yesterday's conference at the pitching mound between Dusty Baker and Max Scherzer was a lot like the one I saw on September 30. Except for Anthony Rendon instead of Wilmer Difo at third base, the cast of characters was the same.

Game 4: rain delay!

The weather may have intervened in favor of the Nats, much like it did for the Cubs in Game 7 of last year's World Series. Tanner Roark was slated to start for the Nats, and after the heavy rains forced a postponement, everyone assumed that Stephen Strasburg would start, having had four full days of rest. But Dusty Baker surprised everyone by saying that was "under the weather" (an ironic phrase, given the rain!), and that Roark would pitch as originally planned. But today he changed his mind, and so far, it's working out very well. Strasburg pitched seven full innings without giving up a run -- earned or unearned. Right now it's the eighth inning of NLDS Game 4 in Chicago, and the Nats are clinging to a 1-0 lead. Can they hang on and bring the series back to Our Nation's Capital? I say YES!!!!

[UPDATE: Thanks to a grand salami by Michael A. Taylor in the eighth inning, the Nats padded their lead with four insurance runs, and won it, 5-0. Now it's back to D.C. for Game 5, tomorrow. No travel day due to the rain-postponed Game 4. Can they get over the hump this time? Yes, they can! smile]

Ballpark eye candy

Here's one of the prettiest sights you'll ever see in southwest Washington, D.C.:

Nationals Park SW plaza

The southwest plaza at Nationals Park in the late afternoon, on September 30.

I found out about those new below-ground seats near the home dugout at Nationals Park, which I mentioned previously: they are called the "MGM National Harbor Dugout Club," and I must have missed the announcement that came out last March. There are eight (or perhaps nine) cushioned seats, and I noticed in my photo that each seat is labeled "MGM," which made it easier to Google. See washingtonpost.com The new seating area occupies the space where the tarpaulin roll used to be, so the tarp has been moved to the third base side.

Nationals Park MGM National Harbor Dugout Club seats

The new seating area at Nats Park, sponsored by MGM.

RFK Stadium touchups

I finished the lower-deck football diagram for RFK Stadium, and after a few finishing touches to the other diagrams on that page, will hopefull have most of the new photos posted on it by tomorrow. Here's one of them:

RFK Stadium lower deck, catwalks

The lower deck of RFK Stadium on the south (first base) side, showing the long catwalks that fans must traverse in order to reach the mezzanine and upper deck.

Dodgers sweep D-backs

If the other NLDS is any indication, the L.A. Dodgers that dominated everybody until late July is back again. In Phoenix on Monday night, they neutralized the Diamondbacks' potent offense and won it, 3-1, thereby sweeping the series. It was Arizona's first postseason series since 2011, when they won the NL West Division title but lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS. Whoever wins the ongoing NLDS will have their hands full in coping with the renewed (and well-rested) Dodgers on Saturday.

Astros oust Red Sox

When Justin Verlander came in for the Houston Astros in his very first relief appearance and promptly gave up a two-run homer (to Andrew Benintendi), it seemed like a huge managerial miscalculation. The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the late innings, but usual starting pitcher Chris Sale (a 2017 All-Star) likewise gave up a home run and was charged was two earned runs as usual closer Craig Kimbrel gave up an RBI single, as Houston regained the lead. Both teams scored once in the ninth inning, and the leadoff inside-the-park-home run by Rafael Devers was one of those magical baseball moments that momentarily lifted the hopes of Boston faithful. But that was all there was and the Astros won it 5-4, taking the series 3 games to 1.

Yanks force ALDS Game 5

When the Indians came back from an 8-3 deficit to win ALDS Game 2 in extra innings on Friday(9-8), it seemed like they had all the momentum they needed to wrap up the series in New York. But those pesky Yankees had some tricks of their own up their sleeve, including a semi-rookie named Greg Bird. In Game 3 on Sunday, his solo home run in the seventh inning was the only score made by either team. Game 4 on Monday was a bit more of a slug-fest, with the Yankees taking a 4-0 lead in the second inning, and holding on to win it, [7-3]. So fans attending Game 5 in Cleveland tonight will have the dubious pleasure of watching their team advance to the ALCS for the second year in a row -- or maybe not.

[UPDATE: Not. Didi Gregorius homered twice in the early innings for the Yanks, who added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth to seal the deal, beating the forlorn Indians, 5-2. The Yankees thereby advance to the ALCS, heading to Houston on Friday.]

October 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Wild! Yankees & D-backs advance

This year's wild card games lived up to their name, in ultra-high-pressure conditions. In New Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, the Minnesota Twins scored three times in the top of the first inning, and everybody started thinking upset. But the Yankees did the same in the bottom of the inning, and later took the lead while the Twins could only get one more run. Final score: Yanks 8, Twins 4.

In Chase Field on the next day, the Diamondbacks' star Paul Goldschmidt hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and after three innings his team had a 6-0 lead against the Rockies. The outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the Rockies scored four times in the fourth to make it a real game. Both teams scored multiple runs in the latter innings in what ended up as a slugfest, but the lead did not change. D-Backs 11, Rockies 8.

Divisional series begin

Yesterday (Thursday), the Cleveland Indians shut down the visiting Yankees, as Trevor Bauer had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. His team was already ahead 4-0 by then, thanks in large measure to a two-run homer and a sac fly RBI by Jay Bruce, and neither team scored after that.

In Houston later that evening, Jose Altuve led the Astros to a lopsided win over the Red Sox, with three (3) home runs! I read that it was the ninth time a player has homered that many times in a postseason game, but chances are that he (standing 5' 6" tall) is the shortest of all of them! Former Tiger Justin Verlander got the win for his new team, going six innings. Final score: 8-2.

This afternoon it was a different pitcher on the mound (Dallas Keuchel), but the same result. Astros 8, Red Sox 2. As the series returns to Boston, the Red Sox are in dire straits. But they have come back to win postseason series before (e.g., 2004), and as we know, anything can happen in the postseason.

[In the late-afternoon / early evening ALDS game, the Yankees forced the Indians' ace pitcher Corey Kluber out of the game before he finished three innings. It was a devastating blow, and the Yanks had an 8-3 lead before the Indians began a big comeback thanks to a grand slam by Francisco Lindor. In the bottom of the ninth, it's 8-8.]

And this evening the Nationals welcomed the World Champion Chicago Cubs to Our Nation's Capital for the NLDS, and thus far (fourth inning) the game is tied, 0-0. Stephen Strasburg has already tied a franchise record by striking out seven opponents in a postseason game. I'm pretty confident that the Nats will prevail in this series, and I think they have at least a 50-50 chance to beat the Dodgers (presumable opponents) in the NLCS.

Go Nats!!!

Later this evening, the Dodgers welcome the D-Backs to Los Angeles. Anything can happen...

Consistent inconsistency?

In a way, the Nationals' lackluster finale was par for the course this year: Even though they have played very well, they never sustain winning streaks for very long (seven is their maximum this year), and likewise for losing streaks (maximum of four). Both as a team, and individually, they seem to be "consistently inconsistent." I tabulated their series records and their home stand and road trip records for the 2017 season, and as you see, they prevailed consistenly even though they occasionally slipped up badly. Nobody's perfect!

Series end date Home stands Road trips
Opponents Win - Loss Opponents Win - Loss
Apr 6, 2017MIA2 - 1
Apr 9, 2017PHI1 - 2
Apr 16, 2017STL, PHI4 - 2
Apr 27, 2017ATL, NYM, COL9 - 1
May 4, 2017NYM, ARI3 - 3
May 7, 2017PHI, BAL2 - 3
May 14, 2017BAL, PHI3 - 1
May 21, 2017PIT, ATL2 - 4
May 28, 2017SEA, SD4 - 2
Jun 7, 2017SF, OAK, LAD7 - 2
Jun 14, 2017BAL*, TEX, ATL3 - 4
Jun 21, 2017NYM, MIA4 - 3
Jun 29, 2017CIN, CHC4 - 3
Jul 2, 2017STL1 - 2
Jul 9, 2017NYM, ATL4 - 2
Jul 23, 2017CIN, LAA, ARI7 - 2
Jul 30, 2017MIL, COL3 - 3
Aug 6, 2017MIA, CHC3 - 3
Aug 16, 2017MIA, SF, LAA6 - 3
Aug 24, 2017SD, HOU5 - 2
Aug 30, 2017NYM, MIA5 - 2
Sep 6, 2017MIL, MIA4 - 3
Sep 17, 2017PHI, ATL, LAD5 - 5
Sep 27, 2017ATL, NYM, PHI5 - 4
Oct 1, 2017PIT2 - 2

* = Rescheduled game due to bad weather.

RFK Stadium

RFK Stadium mini-update

Based on my inspection of RFK Stadium on Saturday, I made several small changes to the diagrams for RFK Stadium, former home of the Washington Nationals and Redskins. It mostly involves details that are visible only in the lower-deck and upper-deck diagrams. I wanted to get that done before the Cubs-Nats game started, and since it is already underway, I will leave an explanation of these changes until later. [NOTE: To let people know what exactly changed, I left the old (2013) football lower-deck diagram intact for the time being.] Several dazzling new photos taken during my visit there will be posted on that page soon, such as this one:

RFK Stadium east pan

Extreme panoramic interior view of RFK Stadium from the upper deck on the southeast side. (Sept. 30, 2017)

October 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals' great regular season ends on a low note

It was the best of games, and then it was one of the worst of games. My old pal Dave Givens and I arrived at Nationals Park during the first inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night, just in time to see Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI double that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead. (Unfortunately, however, we were too late for the Budweiser Oktoberfest beer steins being given away before the game. frown) Ryan hit another double in the fourth inning, but didn't score, and two innings later, he smacked a two-run homer into the Red Porch seats in left-center field! Two innings later, he did it again: home runs #35 and #36! But it got even better, as the very next batter, Jayson Werth, homered as well!! That was his tenth four-bagger of the year, thus becoming the tenth National to reach double digits in that category. Steven Strasburg had another stellar pitching performance, and almost finished the eighth inning, giving up just two hits and two walks. In the ninth inning, the Pirates scored a run after the first two batters hit safely, but Matt Grace managed to get the next three batters out to end the game. Final score: 6-1. It just doesn't get much better than that!

Zimmerman, Murphy, Werth

After hitting a home run in the sixth inning, Ryan Zimmerman is greeted by Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth. Those three players alone accounted for eight hits, three home runs, and 19 total bases that night! (September 29, 2017)

Then on Saturday evening (after a busy day for me; see below), Ryan Zimmerman put the Nats on the scoreboard first once again, with an RBI single in the second inning. Zimmerman got another hit in second at-bat, making it six consecutive hits. When he's hot, he's hot! Max Scherzer had to leave the game during the fourth inning, which made the fans nervous, but apparently it was just tightness in a hamstring ligament. The air was chilly that night, and this time of year, it's better to be safe than sorry! His replacement A.J. Cole did just fine for the next few innings, and just like the night before, the score remained 1-0 for most of the game -- until the ninth inning, in fact. I was looking forward to seeing the Nats' new star closing pitcher Sean Doolittle come out of the bullpen, and was surprised when Dusty Baker sent Brandon Kintzler to the mound instead. Big mistake! The first batter, Starling Marte, got an infield single after the original "out" call was overturned on review. Then Josh Bell lined out to right field (out of view from where I was sitting on that side) and Jordan Luplow singled, putting two men on base. Uh-oh! Gregory Polanco flew out to left field, so the Nationals were just one out away from getting their 98th win. (That would have matched their best season ever -- 2012.) But then Sean Rodriguez hit an RBI single to tie the game, Elias Diaz walked to load the bases, and then Max Moroff hit a triple to the gap in left center field, clearing the bases and giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats went down 1-2-3, and that was that. frown

Having given up four runs on four hits, Brandon Kintzler was obviously not prepared to assume the responsibility of closing pitcher. What was Dusty Baker thinking? Doolittle had not pitched the night before, and saving a game with a razor-tight score is supposed to be his forte. Losing the lead (and the game) when the opposing team scores four runs in the top of the ninth inning is a twist of fate that the Nationals have experienced before -- in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, in fact. Granted, this game didn't really matter that much, but that kind of a gut-wrenching loss can ruin a team's competitive spirit. As the Nats prepare to take on the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of this year's NLDS on Friday, I dearly hope that's not the case.

Nationals Park at night

Nationals Park at night, showing the new row of front-row seats; click on the image to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

Several months ago I noticed that a new below-ground row of cushioned seats has been added on the right side of the Nationals' dugout (first base side), and this was the first time I've seen it with my own eyes. That means I'll have to do a new diagram, and calculate the effect on foul territory.

The bad karma from the ninth inning of the game on Saturday night carried into the first inning of the final game of the season on Sunday afternoon. Gio Gonzalez was totally ineffective, giving up multiple hits and walks as the Pirates took a 5-0 lead. Prospects for a happy ending to the regular season seemed bleak, but then Anthony Rendon got the Nats right back into the game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning. The Nats seemed poised to tie the game and/or take the lead several times over the next few innings, but nobody could get the needed clutch hit. Instead, the Pirates actually extended their lead with late-inning rallies. Even though the Nats scrounged up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, thanks in part to Bryce Harper's second hit of the day, they still lost, 11-8. So, in the final series of the season, the Nats settled for a 2-2 split.

Harper, Werth, & McCutcheon

The return of Bryce Harper to the lineup last week was a huge relief, but he has struggled to find his rhythm at the plate. In the two games I saw, he failed to reach base, and struck out four times. These last few regular games have served merely as "practice" for Bryce, and he'll be much better prepared when the NLDS starts in four more days.

One of the most emotional moments in Nationals history came in the ninth inning on Sunday, when Jayson Werth was replaced as left fielder. It was a ritual opportunity for the fans to express their appreciation for his seven years of energetic top-caliber slugging. They say "there's no crying in baseball," but... frown

Surprisingly, the Pirates' slugging star Andrew McCutcheon was not in the lineup that day. His contract is about to expire, and many people expect him to sign with a different team next year. It's too bad, since he was the spark that put the Pirates on track to win a wild-card spot in three consecutive years: 2013, 2014, and 2015. This year they finished in fourth place in the NL Central, and that means "rebuilding time."

Andrew McCutcheon

Andrew McCutcheon, playing left field for the Pirates.

Visit to site of Griffith Stadium

One of my main objectives on Saturday was to see the historical marker for Griffith Stadium, where Howard University Hospital now stands. I was there twice before, in October of 2004, soon after it was announced that the Montreal Expos would relocate to Washington, D.C. I also visited a second time a few years later, but couldn't find any historical marker. This time I located the sign in question, and was delighted that it bears such a clear (though pock-marked) image of the ancient home of the Senators. It's part of a neighborhood historical trail that passes around Howard University, about a mile north of downtown D.C. Afterwards, I walked to Oakdale Place on the other side of the hospital, where Mickey Mantle's famous 565 (?) foot home run landed back in 1953. New photos will be added to the Griffith Stadium page soon.

Griffith Stadium historical marker

Griffith Stadium historical marker, in front of Howard University Hospital on Georgia Avenue NW; click on the image to see the stadium photo portion enlarged. (September 30, 2017)

Surprise visit to RFK Stadium!

While driving through D.C. on Saturday morning, I heard on the radio that there was going to be a football game between Georgetown and Harvard University at RFK Stadium. This came as a complete surprise to me, as I did not even know that Georgetown had a football team, much less that any college team used RFK Stadium. I had been thinking about attending the final home game of D.C. United there later this month just to see the insides of RFK one last time, but now I don't have to. There were hundreds of tail-gaters outside, and eventually about 3,000 fans got seated in the southwest side of the lower deck, including several hundred from Harvard, sitting on the northeast side. (That's the movable portion that used to rock up and down whenever "Hogs" fans went into a frenzy.) With peeling paint, rust, cracks, and busted seats everywhere, the former home of the Washington Senators, Nationals, and Redskins is a pitiful sight to behold. Before the game I strolled to the upper deck to take photos, explaining my activities to the ushers, showing them this website on my iPhone. (The guys at the credentials table told me before I went through the turnstile that it would probably be OK.) Anyway, I used my iPhone's panoramic photo feature to capture several dazzling images that will be added to the RFK Stadium page soon. Based on my detailed inspection, I will make some updates to the lower-deck diagrams as well. Stay tuned!!!

RFK Stadium

RFK Stadium from what would have been behind home plate under the baseball configuration. Roll your mouse over the image for a surprise, and click to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

FOOTNOTE: To my surprise, the Georgetown Hoyas lost that game to the Harvard Crimson, 31-2. In fact, the only points scored by the home team came when the opposing team's center hiked the ball over the punter's head and out of the end zone, for a safety! I left during the third quarter, but frankly almost all of my time and attention was focused on the stadium, not the game being played.

Audi Field constuction site

But wait, there's more! After leaving RFK Stadium, on my way to the Saturday Nats-Pirates game, I walked by the construction site of the future home of the D.C. United soccer team: Audi Field. It is located about two blocks southwest of Nationals Park. (Parking tip: You can save money by parking at the Lewis Creek Marina on V Street SW; it costs just $10, rather than $20 or more that you have to pay elsewhere.) The structural work on the west grandstand is nearly done, but they haven't even started on the east grandstand yet. From the artist's renderings, the east side seems to be double-decked. Both sides will have a large roof to provide shade and protection from rain.

Audi Field

Audi Field under constuction, southwest side. In the distance (about three blocks away), Nationals Park is visible; click on the image to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

Assuming that construction is finished on time, D.C. United will move into their new home next spring, meaning that RFK Stadium will essentially enter a state of "limbo," slated for demolition. But maybe if somebody had the bright idea to put on an exhibition "Old-Timers" game there with retired Nationals or Redskins players before it is torn down... Hmm-m-m...

New BIGGER photos

In recognition that more and more people these days have large, high-resolution computer monitors, I am moving toward posting photos with dimensions twice as big as before: a standard size of 1200 x 800 pixels, rather than 600 x 400. Panoramas will generally be 1200 x 480 pixels, rather than 960 x 400. Hence the multiple caption phrases above, "click on the image to see it full size," etc.

So, how's that for an action-packed weekend full of fun and frivolity for a stadium geek??!! smile

September 29, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nats (barely) win another road trip

Since the Dodgers pulled out of their nose dive last week, there wasn't much chance that the Nationals could catch them in the race to get home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. So, just as the Dodgers lost the motivation to win by building up such a huge lead in the NL West, so too did the Nationals once they clinched the NL East way back on September 10.

Nats' bats beat Braves

At brand-new SunTrust Park (see below) on Tuesday, September 19, the Nationals capitalized on Ryan Zimmerman's hot bat, as the veteran slugger crossed the 100-RBI threshhold for the first time in years. Max Scherzer had everything under control, and the Nats beat the Braves, 4-2. The next night, it took longer, and Gio Gonzalez left the game after six innings behind by two runs. But in the bottom of that inning, the Nats scored six times, and Gio got the win! The next day, Ryan Zimmerman hit his 34th home run of the year, setting a personal best, but the Nats still fell, 3-2. Tanner Roark was good, going seven innings, but didn't get enough run support.

Nats edge feisty Mets

The next evening in Citi Field (September 22), Edwin Jackson had a rough outing, giving up six runs in just 4 2/3 innings. The Nats later tied it, but the Mets tacked on another run to win, 7-6. On the 23rd, Steven Strasburg gave up three runs over five innings. But home runs by Adam Lind, Matt Wieters, and (former Met!) Daniel Murphy tipped the balance in the Nats favor: 4-3 in ten tense innings. The Nats won the rubber game on September 24, thanks to great pitching by Max Scherzer, a home run by Trea Turner, and two spectacular defensive plays in right field by rookie Victor Robles. He is almost certain to make the postseason roster!

Phillies beat Nats twice

The Nats kept up their pace of winning close games the next evening in Philadelphia, winning 3-1 on the strength of a homer by Michael A. Taylor and a solid outing on the mound by A. J. Cole. But the Phillies took two games from Nats. On the 26th, Gio Gonzalez gave up three runs over five innings, and the Nats could only manage one run. On the 27th, Tanner Roark gave up six runs over 4 2/3 innings, and even though the Nats took a 5-3 lead in the top of the fifth, the Mets retook the lead and scored one more later, and that was that. Mets 7, Nats 5.

So even though they lost that series, the Nats still came away with a net positive road trip, winning five out of nine games. I have been compiling their series win-loss records this year, and found that the Nats won each of their last three road trips of the year, going back to mid-August. Details to follow...

It's worth noting that that was perhaps Jayson Werth's final game of his career in Citizens Bank Park. Did he get a fond farewell from his former fans in Philadelphia? Nope.

Back home again!

Back in Our Nation's Capital last night, the Nats battled a surprisingly tough Pittsburgh Pirates team, finally winning it 5-4, but not until after Sean Doolittle blew his first save since joining the Nats in mid-July. The score went from 4-2 to 4-4, and the the Nats staged a nice rally in the bottom of the ninth, capped by Alejandro De Aza's walk-off RBI single, as Anthony Rendon scored the winning run. Yes!!!

This evening Steven Strasburg takes the mound for the Nats, hoping to end his superb season on a high notes. And I'll be there to see it!

Can Stanton beat Maris?

In cavernous Marlins Park last night, the incredible Giancarlo Stanton hit his 58th and 59th home runs of the season, setting a new National League record, and closing in fast on Babe Ruth (60) and Roger Maris (61). With three games left to go, chances are good that he'll at least reach 60. (The numbers attained by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa during the "Steroid Era" probably won't count as legitimate in most record books.) It is worth noting that Stanton must contend with a much bigger (and more symmetrical) outfield than the two Yankees mentioned above.

And speaking of incredible, the Yankees' Aaron Judge has shaken off his post-All Star break slump and recently broke the 50-home run mark, setting an all-time record for rookie players.

SunTrust Park

SunTrust Park update

I made several improvements to the diagram of SunTrust Park, the brand-new home of the Atlanta Braves. Aside from greater detail and accuracy, there is now a lower-deck variant, and there will be additional variants in the next week or two.

Target Field football!

Target Field

It somehow escaped my notice, but there was actually a college football game in Target Field last Saturday, as St. Thomas College hosted St. John's College in the annual "Tommies-Johnnies" game. See twincities.com. So, of course I had to make a quickie" football diagram for the Target Field page. Hat tip to Mark London.

"Little League Classic"

Something else that escaped my notice was the baseball game between the MLB Little League Classic on August 20, coinciding with the 2017 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (I was paying more attention to the solar eclipse that weekend!) The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3. Attendance was only 2,596. To me, this reeks of cheap sentimentalism. They did something similar at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in July 2016. This means I'll have to update the Anomalous stadiums page once again... Hat tip to Steven Poppe.

I've got even more news items to get to from Mike Zurawski, so please stand by!

August 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg rocks, Nats sweep Marlins!

For the first time since mid-July, the Nats swept a series, winning all three games against the Miami Marlins this week. The star of the show was Stephen Strasburg, who went a complete nine innings for the second shutout of his career. He even provided all the offensive power the Nats needed, getting the first score by hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning. (Two batters later, Wilmer Difo did likewise.) Strasburg got into a jam a couple times, but he kept his composure like the veteran he is, and escaped unscathed. Anthony Rendon later batted in a run, and the Nats added another run in the eighth inning on a passed ball. Final score: Nats 4, Marlins 0.

Strasburg thus brought his ERA down from 3.10 to 2.90, joining Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez in the elite sub-3.00 ERA club. Clayton Kershaw leads the National League in that category, but the next three pitchers are all Washington Nationals pitchers!

Wrigley Field foul pole anomaly

If you look closely at the photo of Wrigley Field that I posted two days ago, you will notice that the left field foul pole seems slightly out of line from the left field wall. That bothered me, and after doing some checking of other photos, I discovered that that pole is indeed positioned about five feet closer to home plate than the wall is. I assume that means the distance marker (355) is correct at that precise spot, and that the foul pole is therefore about 350 feet from home. The left field corner in Wrigley Field is slightly curved!

Wrigley Field LF corner

Wilson Contreras nabbed what would have been a double hit by Daniel Murphy in the August 5 game. Roll your mouse over the image to compare it to a virtually identical perspective when I was at a game there in July 2012.

So, I brought this discovery to the attention of Bruce Orser, and he found some excellent closeup photos on bleedcubbieblue.com that show that curved brick wall much more clearly. (Thanks, Bruce!) It is not yet certain whether the left field foul pole was that way ever since the modern bleachers were built in 1938, or if it was moved at some point after that. In any case, I have made a few minor tweaks to the main Wrigley Field diagram, but will leave the other variants untouched for the next day or two, while I pursue this question further.

NOTE: I made two corrections to the August 20 blog post, eleven days after the fact: In the paragraph about stadium capacity changes, I meant to say that official data are usually accurate to within 500 seats (not 5,000) the and in the paragraph about the Nationals' series in San Diego, I changed "Marlins" to "Padres."

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 100%
Oakland (San Jose?) Athletics
Cisco Field (?)
2022? 0%
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Stadium (?)
2022? 0%
NOTES: This table includes stadiums that were recently under construction or are being contemplated.

Research department:

Postseason scores, 2017

Major League Baseball championship series, 2017
World Champions: TBA
Wild Card Games / Divisional series
Oct. 3 - 12
League Championship series
Oct. 13 - 22
World Series
Oct. 24 - Nov. 1
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NL-C: Chicago Cubs (.568) 3 3 2 0 9    
NL-E: Washington Nationals (.599) 0 6 1 5 8    
    Chicago Cubs 2 1  
    Los Angeles Dodgers 5 4  
NL-wc: ^ Colorado Rockies (.537) 8  
NL-wc: ^ Arizona Diamonbacks (.574) 11   5 5 1 X X
NL-W: Los Angeles Dodgers (.642) 9 8 3 X X    
AL-E: Boston Red Sox (.574) 2 2 10 4 X    
AL-W: Houston Astros (.623) 8 8 3 5 X    
    New York Yankees 1 1 8  
    Houston Astros 2 2 1  
AL-wc: ^ Minnesota Twins (.525) 4  
AL-wc: ^ New York Yankees (.562) 8   0 8 1 7 5   Extra-inning game: X
AL-C: Cleveland Indians (.630) 4 9 0 3 2   Win by visiting team: X

See explanatory notes at bottom.
^ : If either of the visiting wild card teams had won, their row positions would have been switched so as to properly align in the subsequent divisional series.

Explanatory notes

(Regular season winning percentages in parentheses.) Boldfaced scores indicate the winning team. Underlined scores denote extra-inning games. Olive-shaded score boxes denote games won by the VISITING team. Higher-seeded teams (those with the initial home field advantage) are shown on the BOTTOM side in each matchup. However, beginning with 2012, each league has TWO wild card teams, competing in a one-game "play-in," and whichever of those two teams that wins in each league is displayed below (after the outcome is known), so as to properly align with the subsequent divisional series scores. Beginning in 2003, the league that wins the All Star Game gets the initial home field advantage in the World Series; prior to 2003, initial home field advantage in the World Series alternated from year to year. Except for 2002 (the infamous tie), the American League won the All Star Game every year between 1997 and 2009.

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