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August 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Baseball road trip 2017

For a variety of reasons, my baseball road trip this year was less ambitious than last year's, but it was definitely worthwhile. I took AMTRAK out west from Virginia (one way), and as we pulled into Chicago, I saw (and photographed) Guaranteed Rate Field, previously known as "U.S. Cellular Field," and before that "Comiskey Park" (second incarnation). While in the shopping mall that occupies the Union Station building, I bought a Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship flag, intending to place it at the grave site of my father. (See below.) I spent a few days in Kansas City, where my brother Dan and I visited the site of Municipal Stadium, but didn't make it to Kauffman Stadium since the Royals were out of town. Next I headed north to South Dakota for a few more days, and then headed back east again.

Stadium montage Aug. 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wrigley Field, Great American Ballpark, Crosley Field historical site marker, Guaranteed Rate Field, Victory Field, and Municipal Stadium (K.C.) historical site marker.

The timing of my (return trip) visit to Chicago was dictated by the Washington Nationals' schedule, and I had the choice of three consecutive early afternoon games. I was going to buy a ticket over the phone but balked at the $20 service charge. Hell no! Driving into the Chicago area from the northwest late on Saturday morning (August 5), I looked for the PACE terminal in Schaumburg from which buses to Wrigley Field depart, but couldn't find it. So, I took my chances on parking in the "Wrigleyville" neighborhood, as I had done five years earlier, and this time I got lucky big time. Heading east along Irving Park Road (Rt. 19), I saw signs for Cubs parking, and lo and behold there it was just east of the Chicago River -- about two miles west of the stadium. To my utter amazement and delight, both the parking and the shuttle bus were FREE!!! smile I arrived at Wrigley Field about 20 minutes early, but the last upper-deck tickets had just been sold out, and having learned from five years ago how poor the obstructed-view lower-deck seats can be, I opted for a standing-room-only ticket which cost $39. That would be outrageous were it not for the free parking. In contrast to the hazy, grim lighting conditions during my visit in 2012, this time the skies were mostly bright blue, almost perfect for pitcture-taking.

Wrigley Field ticket windows 2017

Wrigley Field ticket windows, showing the fancy new exterior trimmings. This and other photos (including some stunning panoramic images taken with my iPhone) will soon be posted on the Wrigley Field page.

While the National Anthem was being sung, I walked up the recently-built staircases extending from the west (third base) side of the stadium, and started taking photos from in the lateral walkway of the upper deck on the third base side. I was in perfect position to see Bryce Harper at bat in the top of the first inning. But then some people walked in front of me, just as Bryce launched a solo home run into the new scoreboard above right field. I missed it!

Bryce Harper home run 5 Aug 2017

Bryce Harper crosses home after hitting a solo shot in the top of the first inning.

Pitching for the Nationals that day was Edwin Jackson, acquired in a trade last month to fill the void left by Joe Ross, who had Tommy John surgery. The first two Cubs to bat in the first inning both doubled, and Wilson Contreras hit an RBI single, and Alex Avila hit a two-run homer just over the center field wall. Three innings later, the Nats closed the gap by staging a nice two-run rally, thanks to a sac fly by Anthony Rendon (scoring Ryan Zimmerman) [and] an RBI single by Matt Wieters.

Ryan Zimmerman safe at home 5 Aug 2017

Ryan Zimmerman safe at home on a sac fly in the fourth inning.

To his credit, Edwin Jackson recovered from the first-inning mess and pitched four scoreless innings before he exited, but then the Nats' bullpen reverted to their old ways, giving up two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh. Harper singled and later scored in the eighth inning, and then came up again in the top of the ninth inning, when the Nats had runners on first and second with two outs. Talk about high tension! Unfortunately, the mighty Bryce struck out. I took a photo which shows that the ball skipped in the dirt, so technically Bryce could have tried to run to first, but in the end, it wouldn't have mattered. Final score: Cubs 7, Nats 4.

Bryce Harper strikes out 5 Aug 2017

Bryce Harper strikes out to end the game; roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the ball.

One day before, the Nats had beaten the Cubs 4-2, thanks to Daniel Murphy's two home runs, and the next day they won 9-4, thanks to Matt Wieter's grand slam and Brian Goodwin's home run, both in the eighth inning. That huge five-run rally tipped the series balance in the Nats' favor.

I spent most of the game in a vacant seat in the very top row of the upper deck near the right field foul pole, along with a few other fans who apparently had "SRO" tickets. But such "Bob Uecker seats" at Wrigley are better than upper-deck seats just about anywhere else, so I was satisfied. I was eager to see Wrigley Field in the brand-new configuration, with the former bullpen areas along the foul lines now occupied by new rows of seats. (The bullpens are now located underneath the bleachers, out of sight.) I am already working on diagram revisions, and a recalculation of foul territory, so stay tuned!

I had pondered continuing straight east to Cleveland, in order to see the reconfigured Progressive Field, but decided to put that off for another year. The next morning I walked around downtown Indianapolis, getting a look at Victory Field for the first time. That's the home of the Indianapolis Indians, and is the third prominent minor league park I have seen. (The others are The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia, and Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo, New York.) I also took some photos of nearby Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL Indianapolis Colts.

I arrived in Cincinnati early in the afternoon, just as the Reds hit three home runs to take a 3-0 lead over the Cardinals in the bottom of the first inning. I visited the site of old Crosley Field, and was surprised to learn that the former building has been replaced by a new "City Gospel Mission," with a detailed historical sign for Crosley Field. I had thought about attending the Cards-Reds game, but I'm glad I didn't, as the mood of the crowd quickly turned sour. The Cards scored four runs in the top of the second and then nine (9) runs two innings later, and the final score was a humiliating 13-3. Ouch! I contented myself with some photos of Great American Ballpark from across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. Then I resumed my eastbound drive toward home.

Welcome to D.C., Howie Kendrick!!

As the July 31 trade deadline approach, most of the attention was directed toward Washington's shaky bullpen. They had acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in a trade with Oakland in mid-July, and at the last minute, obtained Brandon Kintzler in a trade with Minnesota. Those deals have made a huge impact already, giving the team some much-needed confidence that they can hold onto leads late in the game. But another late July trade has turned out to have almost as dramatic of an effect: the Nats got Howie Kendrick from Philadelphia. He missed several weeks due to injury earlier in the season, and at age 34, his value as a player is a question mark. At first he served as a pinch hitter for the Nats, and has been playing left field since Brian Goodwin went on the disabled list. With a batting average of .341, Kendrick is proving to be invaluable to his new team.

In the second game of a double-header with the Giants at Nationals Park on Sunday evening (a make-up for the rained-out Friday night game), it went into extra innings with a 2-2 score. Having lost the afternoon game (4-2), and having lost Bryce Harper for at least a couple weeks the day before (see below), the outcome of this game would have a crucial psychological impact as the team approaches the final six weeks of the season. In the 11th inning, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman led off with back-to-back singles, and then Anthony Rendon was walked to load the bases with nobody out. All Howie Kendrick had to do to win the game was hit a long fly ball sac fly, but he smacked that ball right out of the park for a grand slam. It was exactly seven days after Matt Wieter's grand slam, and was the fourth walk-off grand slam in Nationals history!!!

  1. May 12, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 7, FLA 3
  2. Sept. 30, 2009 -- Justin Maxwell; WSH 7, NYM 4
  3. Aug. 19, 2011 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 8, PHI 4
  4. Aug. 13, 2017 -- Howie Kendrick; WSH 6, SF 2

I posted that list (extracted from the newly-updated Washington Nationals page) on Facebook, and was reminded by Sean Grogan who the pitcher was when Zimmerman hit the grand slam against the Phillies in [2011]: none other than Ryan Madson, one of the newest Nats!

And in last night's game against the visiting L.A. Angels, Kendrick did it again! He hit two solo homers, while Gio Gonzalez had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. The Nats later got an insurance run, and as usual (of late), the bullpen held on to win the game. Final score: Nats 3, Angels 1.

Howie Kendrick

Howie Kendrick, at Wrigley Field on August 5.

Harper injured, but not too bad

I was watching in horror late on Saturday night when Bryce Harper slipped on a wet first base, twisted his leg, and fell in agony in the first inning of the game. I've seen enough season-ending injuries on TV to fear the worst, but in this case it seems the Nats have dodged a bullet. MRI tests revealed that there is no damage to Harper's knee ligaments, just a bruise to a bone. Obviously, the Nationals will be extremely cautious as Harper heals for the rest of this month, but hopefully he will be ready to play again by September. With a 14 1/2-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals are focused on October.

Other Nationals news notes

On July 27, the Nationals made history by hitting back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs (plus a fifth non-consecutive one) in the third inning. Unbelievable! Altogether they hit eight home runs in that game, beating the visiting Brewers by a score of 15-2. That was the third and deciding game of that series.

In Miami on July 31, Gio Gonzalez had a no-hitter going into the top of the ninth inning, when Dee Gordon spoiled everything. Gio was relieved by Sean Doolittle, who induced Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play, then gave up a hit to Christian Yelich, and then got the final out. Whew! Nats 1, Marlins 0.

In the first inning of the game on August 1, Max Scherzer hit his first career home run (in Marlins Park, of all places!), as the Nats took a 6-0 lead over the Marlins. But that big swing apparently aggravated a pinched nerve in his neck, as Max had to come out of the game in the second inning, and the Marlins scored seven runs against the relief pitchers, while the Nats failed to score any more at all. Final score: 7-6. How weird is that? Fortunately, Max was only out of action for a few days.

In Washington on August 9, Ryan Zimmerman hit two more home runs, raising his season total to 27, as the Nats beat the Marlins 10-1. The Nats also won the next day, 3-2, thus taking three of the four games in that series.

[UPDATE: I was so focused on getting this blog post done that I completely forgot the Nationals were playing an afternoon game! Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer (#28!) in the first inning, but the Nats failed to capitalize on run-scoring opportunities after that. Meanwhile, Tanner Roark had a solid seven-inning outing on the mound, but gave up two home runs. And so, the Nats lost to the Angels, 3-2, splitting the two-game series.]

Tribute to a late Cubs fan

As mentioned above, in Chicago I bought a Cubs 2016 World Series championship flag, for the express purpose of placing at the grave site of my father, Alan L. Clem, who passed away on April 11, 2016 -- seven months before his favorite team finally won the World Series for the first time in over a century. The glorious triumph came just a little too late for my dad to enjoy it...

Andrew, Cubs flag, gravesite

Yours truly with the Cubs flag at my father's (and mother's) gravesite, adjacent to The Bluffs Golf Course in Vermillion, South Dakota. (Photo taken by Dan Clem, later retouched.)

July 26, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals: nearly dominant

(NOTE: I've got a lot of catching up to do, so here's a quick run-down of how the Nationals fared from May through July.) After nearly four months of play this year, the Washington Nationals continue to perform very, very well -- most of the time. The recent acquisition of two top-caliber relief pitchers (see below) has patched the main glaring weakness in their roster, but there are other potential vulnerabilities as well.

The Nats went on a nine-game road trip following the All-Star break, and won seven games. Not bad at all. The Nats swept the Reds in a four-game series in Cincinnati, and then split a two-game series with the Angels in Anaheim, and then took two out of three games from the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. Bryce Harper has been on a big rebound (currently a 17-game hitting streak), raising his home run total to 25. Anthony Rendon has been erasing any doubts as to whether he should have made the All-Star team, raising his batting average to .318. Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy is holding his own at the top of the batting average rankings, while Ryan Zimmerman has cooled off after a torrid first two months of the season. But four Nationals players are still in the top ten, in terms of batting average, and that is pretty darned impressive.

As for the postseason, the Nationals' main hope is that "anything can happen" in October.

Nats bullpen gets relief

The Nationals recently acquired veteran relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in a trade with the Oakland A's, giving up Blake Treinen, some prospects, and perhaps some cash. Thus far, Doolittle has been the closer. Those two pitchers have helped the bullpen stabilize, and so far they have not blown any saves. Whew! But with Joe Ross out for the season (Tommy John surgery) and Stephen Strasburg taken out of the game after two innings on Monday, now it's the starting rotation that is looking vulnerable. Edwin Jackson did just fine in his first start last week, but in the Nats' 8-0 loss to the Brewers last night, he was a disaster. There may be more big deals before the trade deadline.

Nat stars shine at All-Star Game

Although five members of the Washington Nationals were selected for the 2017 All-Star Game, only four of them ended up playing. All four were in the starting lineup, and all four did their part. Max Scherzer mowed down the three batters he saw in the top of the first, but was unfortunately replaced after that. Ryan Zimmerman had a big chance in the inning, but grounded into a double play. In the fourth inning, he hit a towering fly ball to the warning track in center field, which was caught by . Nolan Arenado tagged up at first base but was easily thrown out at second; not very smart. For his part, Bryce Harper hit a single and took a walk in his second and last plate appearance, plus he made a great diving catch in left field. (That made me nervous.) Daniel Murphy also got a hit, but didn't score either. Stephen Strasburg didn't get a chance to pitch, but might have if the game had gone into the 11th inning.The American League scored a run in the fifth inning, and the National League tied it two innings later.

Last year, four Nationals were chosen, but only one (Bryce Harper) was in the starting lineup. Last year it seemed there were too many Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox being chosen as All Stars, and this year the same could be said about the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

2017 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
Position National League American League
My pick Actual My pick Actual
C Buster Posey
Buster Posey
Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez
1B Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Zimmerman
Jose Abreu
Justin Smoak
2B Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy
Jose Altuve
Jose Altuve
3B Anthony Rendon
Nolan Arenado
Miguel Sano
Jose Ramirez
SS Zack Cozart
Zack Cozart
Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa
OF Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper
Avisail Garcia
George Springer
OF Charlie Blackon
Charlie Blackon
Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge
OF Marcell Ozuna
Marcell Ozuna
Mike Trout *
Mookie Betts
DH Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton
Corey Dickerson
Corey Dickerson
P -- Max Scherzer
-- Chris Sale

* = on disabled list during All-Star Game.
SOURCE: Washington Post

Happy 4th of July in Washington!

As usual, the game in Washington on July 4 started early -- at 11:05 AM -- and from start to finish it was a very Happy Fourth for the home town fans. The Nats beat the Mets 11-4, as Daniel Murphy continued to torment his old teams, going four for five with five RBIs. One year ago, when the Nats lost to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 4, I presented a table I summarized all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals. The Nats' record in 4th of July games at home is now 8-4.

It was also a Happy 7th of July, although it was very nearly the huge letdown. The Nats gave up five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, barely holding on to a 10-7 win over the Reds. Those games illustrated in sharp contrast both the good side and the bad side of the Washington Nationals this year, showing why their prospects for going deep into the postseason this October are rather shaky. otherwise-dominant

As of July 25, the Washington Nationals are 11 1/2 games ahead in the NL East race, but they really should be doing better. Right now the Nats are 59-39, or .604. I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data through the end of May, when they were 33-19.

Jayson Werth has been on the DL much longer than expected. Hopefully he will be back in the lineup by August.

Nats' bullpen chokes

I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of 2017.

Washington Nationals' 9th (+) inning blown leads, Apr.-June 2017 frown
Date Winner Loser Nats
runs in 9th
runs in 9th
Extra innings, notes
4-6-17 MIA 4 WSH 3 0 1 Blown save by Blake Treinen, and Joe Blanton takes the loss in 11 innings.
5-9-17 BAL 6 WSH 4 0 2 Blown save by Enny Romero, and Jacob Turner takes the loss in 12 innings.
5-14-17 PHI 4 WSH 3 0 3 Blown save by Shawn Kelley, who takes the loss.
6-10-17 TEX 6 WSH 3 0 2 Blown save by Koda Glover, and Shawn Kelley takes the loss in 11 innings.
6-12-17 ATL 11 WSH 10 1 3 Blown save by Matt Albers, and takes the loss.
6-29-17 CHC 5 WSH 4 0 3 After Nats take 4-2 lead in the 7th, blown save by Blake Treinen, who takes the loss.

This table shows games in which the Nationals gave up the lead during the ninth inning and then lost the game, including games that went into extra innings. Home team is underlined. It is taken from a table on the Washington Nationals

Elsewhere in the majors...

How about them Houston Astros!? A couple years ago there was a rising star named Jose Altuve, but little else, and now they are far and away the best team in the American League. (I'm still having a hard time adjusting to their switch from the National League.)

And who is Mike Judge? Seldom if ever has a Rookie of the Year Award been decided so far in advance. After a red-hot first half of the season, he has slowed down a little, so breaking the 50-home run mark is now in doubt. But there is still a very good chance that he will lead the Yankees into the postseason, filling the void left by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano.

The World Champion Chicago Cubs (!!??) had a disappointing first half of the season, and currently in a neck-and-neck race with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central. The Brew Crew smashed the Nationals 8-0 last night, ending a recent tail spin. The Cardinals and Pirates aren't far behind, so that race could prove to be interesting.

Whither "Mount Davis"?

Now that the Raiders have committed to leaving Oakland, in favor of Las Vegas, the question arises of what is to be done with the monstrosity looming above center field that was constructed specifically to lure them back from L.A.? "Mount Davis," named after long-time Raiders owner Davis, Mike Zurawski drew my attention to this article at newballpark.org, casting doubt on any short-term fix to the big mess. But just in case, I thought it would be interesting to contemplate a large-scale renovation to Oakland Coliseum, and my new hypothetical diagram on that page shows the lower deck being completely rebuilt and moved closer to the infield. In other words, it would resemble the standard "paired swivelable circular section lower deck" (PSCSLD) configuration from the era of "cookie-cutter" stadiums. Fat chance? Probably so.

Dept. of Corrections

In my April 21 blog post I mentioned "Adam Eaton, formerly of the Padres..." Well, of course he is formerly of the White Sox, as I noted in my February 19 blog post. D'oh!!! Obviously, I got his name mixed up with that of Derek Norris, who was slated to become the Nats' primary catcher until they got Matt Wieters to sign a one-year contract in March.

Hockey news: NOT fake!

Speaking of corrections, I should know better than to write anything at all about hockey (see June 15, 2009, for example), but with the Washington Capitals coming oh-so-close winning the second-round in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I just can't help myself. The Caps lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ended up repeating as winners of the coveted trophy.

July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Bullpen woes = misery for the Nationals

NOTE: Obviously, I've been struggling to keep up with various things lately, but as all good sports fans know, I'm not giving up! smile I will leave until tomorrow the task of systematically recounting the Nationals' successes and failures over the past two months.

They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and for the Washington Nationals this year, that weak link is obviously the group of relief pitchers in the bullpen. When was the last time a team with such enormous talent in the slugging and starting pitching departments didn't even have a regular closing pitcher??? After some early struggles and a brief stint on the disabled list, Koda Glover was on his way to settling down in that position, but then had a spectacular failure on June 10, blowing a save and paving the way for the Texas Rangers to win in extra innings. After the game, Glover disclosed -- too late -- that he had a sore shoulder. Not being candid about physical infirmities like that is just inexcusable. Since then he has been on the DL once again, as is Shawn Kelley, who was the losing pitcher in that game and also briefly served as closer.

Two weeks ago (June 15), the Washington Post had a story indicating that Nationals' bullpen is one of the worst in the major leagues since 1980. "The Nationals have lost 10 games with their starter exiting the game on record as the would-be winning pitcher, [second only to the Mets.]" Such an outcome has not been repeated since that article came out, but the starting pitchers started failing more often -- especially Tanner Roark, who only lasted three innings against the Cardinals last night. Thus, the Nats finished the month of June with a mediocre record of 14-14. What is especially disheartening is that some of those gut-wrenching losses happened at home in Nationals Park, where the Nats actually had a losing record for the month: 6-8. For the record, here are the vital pitching stats for the Nationals' usual relief pitchers, ranked according to innings pitched. Not a pretty picture...

Pitcher ERA Saves Save oppor-tunities Innings pitched
Jacob Turner5.080339.0
Enny Romero3.352437.2
Blake Treinen6.113535.1
Matt Albers1.822429.2
Joe Blanton8.240019.2
Koda Glover *5.1281019.1
Shawn Kelley *7.004618.0
Oliver Perez3.781116.2
Matt Grace4.730013.1

* = Currently on disabled list.

Wounds healed at Nationals Park

One day after the terrible shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a ballpark in nearby Alexandria (June 14), the annual congressional baseball game went on as scheduled at Nationals Park. If ever a time there was for The National Pastime to bring this country together, this was it. Members of Congress mostly wore uniforms from colleges in their home states, so it was hard to tell who was on whose side. They said a prayer before the game, and partisan differences were left aside at least for one day. One positive side-effect from the tragedy was that many more tickets were sold than usual, as over 20,000 people attended. See the Washington Post.

Comiskey Park update

Comiskey Park

About a month ago, I posted updates to the Comiskey Park diagrams, adding a new variant for 1983. These revisions were prompted in part by a photograph, and partly by the fine photographs of that ballpark taken by Al Kara, which I mentioned on April 21. My estimate of the distance to the backstop is now just 67 feet, rather than 78 feet as before. Why? Because of one aerial photo I saw of the 1959 World Series (photoshelter.com), taken from almost directly overhead in broad daylight. Comparing the backstop distance to the distance between home plate and the pitching rubber left no doubt: It could not possibly be 78 feet! (Bruce Orser concurs with my judgment on that, by the way.)

This reduced my estimate of foul territory from 29,500 to 29,000 square feet. Estimated fair territory remains the same as before, 113,600 square feet.

NOTE: I made finishing that diagram update my top baseball priority in May, and as so often happens, I encountered some unexpected hangups. For example, after supposedly finishing the updates in late May, I discovered that the grandstand was a few feet too shallow along the baselines compared to the curved portion between the dugouts. Making that adjustment forced me to make further compensating adjustments elsewhere.

Minute Maid Park

My friend Dave Givens was in Houston several weeks ago, and saw the first-place (!!!) Houston Astros play in Minute Maid Park, which underwent revisions during the off-season. I plan to revise the diagrams on that page, but I'm still waiting to see better photos of the new center field area, which is now perfectly flat. frown

Minute Maid Park from 3B UD.jpg

Minute Maid Park from the upper deck on the third base side. Photo courtesy of Dave Givens, taken May 9, 2017.

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:

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

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