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August 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Keep hope on artificial life support!

As the Nationals' slim hopes for making it to the postseason steadily decline, it's important for fans to keep the rational and emotional components in balance. There's a vast space between the cheerleading "fan boys" who veer between euphoria and despondency on one hand, versus the clinical sabermetric analyst who relies on numbers to derive some kind of "objective" probability via the scientific method. I think the commentators on MASN TV manage to strike a pretty good balance, especially the MLB veterans F.P. Santangelo (Expos, etc.) and Ray Knight (Reds, Mets, etc.). "F.P." stands for "Frank Paul," I just found out from my Baseball Encyclopedia. F.P. has been away this week, but before that he struck a guardedly upbeat tone, explaining what the Nationals needed to do to get back on track. He is realistic without being pessimistic.

I mention this as a background to an opinion column by Barry Svrluga that appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post, after the Nats lost two consecutive games via a walk-off home run. Just before midnight "was convinced the Washington Nationals were going to make the playoffs, and be dangerous once they got there." And then came that utterly improbable game-winning grand slam by David Bote, and Svrluga's hopes instantly collapsed. But even after the loss in St. Louis on the following night, he still thought the Nats could pull off a late-season comeback and make it into the postseason. But after the Nats lost a second and then a third game to the Cardinals (the final score was 4-2 on Wednesday), is there any reason to hold out hope? Yes, but such hopes have to be weighed against the overwhelming unlikelihood of a successful outcome.

For what it's worth, the Nationals ended their latest losing streak and won two in a row. In the finale of the four-game set, Tanner Roark came through big time once again, going six innings and earning the win in a 5-4 victory. Justin Miller pitched the seventh and eighth innings without a hitch, and then Koda Glover (!) came in as closing pitcher. There was some drama and two Cardinals reached base, but he kept his cool and got the third out -- and his first save of this season. Bryce Harper continued his hot streak, getting three hits in five at-bats, with three RBIs. Thus, the Nats barely averted being swept in four games, and raised their win-loss record back up to 61-61.

After a late night plane ride home to D.C. and very little rest, the Nats welcomed the Miami Marlins to town this evening. Ryan Zimmerman hit a solo homer in the second inning, and Bryce Harper got three more hits and two more RBIs, raising his total to 79. The puts him in sixth place in the National League, which is not bad for a guy who was in a slump for the first half of the year! Max Scherzer got his 16th win of the year as the Nats cruised to an 8-2 victory. Since the Braves lost again, that brings the Nats up to "just" seven games behind in the NL East race. You never know...

NL Rookie of the Year race

Until last week, I was convinced that the Nationals' 19-year old phenom Juan Soto had a clear path to winning the Rookie of the Year award for the National League. But then I started hearing about the Braves' Ronaldo Acuña, and the unbelievable five-game home run streak he just achieved. Obviously, it's going to be a tight race between those guys for the next six weeks. See MLB.com Soto has hit 15 home runs, is batting .293 (after a mini-slump this week), and has amassed 44 RBIs in only 78 games. Acuña's numbers are very similar: 19 homers, .288 average, and 43 RBIs.

On Wednesday in Miami, Acuña was intentionally hit by a pitch thrown by the Marlins' Jose Urena, who rightly received a suspension for it. Such MLB "hazing" traditions for keeping rookie hotshots humble are just stupid, and should not be tolerated.

Riverfront Stadium update

Riverfront Stadium

Continuing with the recent focus on Cincinnati, I have updated the Riverfront Stadium diagrams. (It was fairly high in my "to-do" list anyway, so it was a logical choice.) One obvious enhancement is the more precise rendering of the horizontal beams that protrude a few feet beyond the rim of the roof. That is also a characteristic of RFK Stadium, Angel (Anaheim) Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Veterans Stadium, and Olympic Stadium (in Montreal). But the main change involved shifting the entire field relative to the stadium surrounding it. It wasn't easy, but there was a very good reason for it.

I have long been skeptical about the supposed 51 foot distance to the backstop in Riverfront Stadium reported by Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals. My own estimate based on photographs was 60 feet, which is the old "standard" backstop distance. (Nowadays, 50-52 feet is the "new normal.") I learned from one of the news items published by the Cincinnati Enquirer about the conversion of "Cinergy Field" into an compacted, all-grass ballpark in 2001 that the diamond was moved back ten feet, and the new backstop distance was 49 feet. That implies that it had been 59 feet previously, so that is what I'm going with. Modifying the diagrams thusly raised my estimate of foul territory from 22,500 square feet to 23,300 square feet. That relieves a nagging doubt I had had about that stadium.

Finally, I should have explained some of the changes that I made to the Great American Ballpark diagrams (other than the adding the "Budweiser Bow Tie" party deck beyond the right field corner) when I did that a few days ago, so here goes. I also made corrections to the tapered "bleacher" section in right field, and to the "riverboat" observation deck beyond center field. I also added a bit of detail to the first-deck diagram, showing where the open areas are in the main concourse. That is based partly on my photos, and partly on my imperfect memory, so I may need to make further corrections to that after I visit "GABP" again...

August 14, 2018 [LINK / comment]

New page: Stadium construction!

I realized to my horror that I had not updated the "Stadium construction" portion in the right column of my Baseball blog page in over a year, when construction is in fact already well underway on the Texas Rangers' future home, "Globe Life Park II." That prompted me to follow through with an idea that I hatched a few years ago: Stadium construction (chronology), a timeline showing when it was that various MLB stadiums were under construction. The page itself is subject to considerable revision, so please stay tuned.

I relied on my own blog posts to find out when groundbreaking occurred on the more recent MLB stadiums. I'll have to look up the rest of them elsewhere.

* Woefully belated recognition (March 30) in this blog.

Baseball Stadium construction

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PNC Park (Pittsburgh, Aug. 2000), Citi Field (Queens, NY, Oct. 2008), Nationals Park (Washington, DC, Aug. 2007)

And after scrutinizing the Baseball blog page for other errors, I deleted Candlestick Park, Comiskey Park, and Marlins Park from the list of stadiums for which I do not yet have photos, because I now do have such photos. I could have deleted Braves Field from that list, since I took some photos of what is left of it (Nickerson Field) two years ago, but that doesn't really count. I also added Andrew Owen to the list of photographic contributors; he sent me photos of SunTrust Park back in April.

Website maintenance chores

For the record, I have also updated the following baseball-related pages:

Stadium chronology: Including a link to SunTrust Park, etc.

Stadium chronology, annual: Including Wrigley Field renovation work, etc.

Stadium milestones: Including All Star games, etc.

Stadium names: Including "Guaranteed Rate Field" and a couple other details.

My ballpark visits: Including Three Rivers Stadium, which I saw twice, once from close range. Also enhancing some high-resolution photos.

Football use (of baseball stadiums): smile???

Other baseball pages will be updated soon...

Nationals lose again

The Nationals did show some spunk in the game against the Cardinals tonight, but not until the latter innings, and so they fell short once again, 6-4. Gio Gonzalez had decent command of the ball, but the Cardinals' pitcher John Gant hit a two-run homer in the third inning -- his very first hit in the major leagues! (Since his debut in 2016, he has gone 0 for 30.) What's more, it's the first time in his career that Gio has given up a home run to the opposing pitcher. When outrageously improbable things like that happen, you really don't have a chance. Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer (his 30th) in the eighth inning, sparking a small rally, but Adam Eaton struck out with runners on second and third to end the inning. So now the Nats are back down to an even .500 record for the year, eight games behind the Braves, who have surged ahead of the Phillies. Before long all the Nats will have left to hope for this season is a wild card berth. Should it be considered a good thing that they have outscored their opponents 550 to 484 this year?

August 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Nats bounce back, then get another punch in the gut

The Nationals faced a big test in St. Louis tonight, and at the very least they proved that they aren't going to let some stupid outrageous twist of fortune get them down. Nevertheless, the end result was the same as the night before in Chicago: an agonizing loss on a walk-off home run by the home team. In fact, the Nats bounced back three times in this game. Twice they took the lead on home runs by Bryce Harper (#29) and Juan Soto (#15), but then the Cardinals staged a devastating four-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning, and it seemed like Doomsday once again. But thanks to a series of clutch singles by Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Wieters in the ninth inning, the Nats tied the game 6-6 and were in position to take the lead again with runners on second and third with only one out. But then Wilmer Difo grounded out, and Adam Eaton struck out. I knew that was their one big chance to win the game, and they blew it. In the ninth inning, Koda Glover came in as closing pitcher, a sign of just how desperate the Nats' bullpen is right now. On a 3-1 count he threw a fastball to Paul DeJong, who hit the ball into the left field bullpen to end the game. And the crowd went wild, yadda, yadda...

So after enduring heartbreaking losses in three of their last four games, will the Nationals bounce back once again? I say yes. Gio Gonzalez starts Tuesday night, and with any luck, he'll pitch as well as he did last week.

Walk-off grand slams

I'm still in a state of shock from what happened in Chicago last night, when David Bote's bases-loaded home run abruptly turned a 3-0 Nats victory into a 4-3 loss. According to MLB, "[O]nly six pinch-hitters on record dating back to 1925 had hit an 'ultimate grand slam,' a walk-off shot with the bases loaded and his club down by three runs. And Bote's pinch-hit ultimate slam was only the third on record to come when his team was down to its final out." I think I heard that it was the very first in which the batter already had two strikes against him. Out of curiousity, I checked my Washington Nationals page, and found that the Nationals have had four walk-off grand slam home runs in their nearly 14-year history:

  • May 12, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 7, FLA 3
  • September 30, 2009 -- Justin Maxwell; WSH 7, NYM 4 #
  • August 19, 2011 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 8, PHI 4
  • August 13, 2017 -- Howie Kendrick; WSH 6, SF 2 (11 inn., 2nd game of double-header)

The hashtag ( # ) symbol indicates that the grand slam reversed what would have been a loss, as opposed to one that was hit when the game was tied.

Zimmerman: NL Player of the Week!

Ryan Zimmerman was rewarded for his recent offensive surge by being named National League Player of the Week. From August 6-12 he had an average of .476, with three home runs and twelve RBIs. Since returning from disabled list on July 20, he has had a .354 batting average. J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox won the honors on the AL side. See MLB.com.

It's really amazing how Zimmerman has gotten over his back problems and resumed his former All-Star level of performance. (The same is true to a lesser extent with Daniel Murphy.) Zimmerman was on the disabled list for over two months, and didn't play any games from May 10 through July 19. He and his team mates sure better stay healthy for the rest of the year, as there just isn't any margin for error left.

Great American Ballpark update

Great American Ballpark

As noted yesterday, I updated the main Great American Ballpark diagram, which now shows the new elevated party deck just beyond the right field corner. That change doesn't affect the lower-deck diagram, and I decided for the time being to use the "full-size" diagram (which shows the adjacent buildings, etc.) to show what the ballpark was like previously. I may add an original (2003) diagram, since the "Pilot House" and fake riverboat beyond center field were not added until a few years later. They were not present when I first saw a game there in 2004.

While I was at it, I also redid the principal "grand view" photo, which is now high-resolution (1200 x 800 pixels rather than 600 x 450 as before). However, I still need to do some coding work before that photo will display full size on that page; in the mean time, you can just click on the image below. Eventually, most of my stadium pages will feature at least one high-resolution photo. Also, it now conforms to the standard aspect photographic ratio (3 x 2 rather than 4 x 3 as before). In order to achieve that, I managed to splice together elements of two different photos I took from the same position. If you look real hard, you might notice the "seams." (See my July 31, 2014 blog post.)

Great American Ballpark grand view

Great American Ballpark "grand view," at the end of the game on July 27, 2014. Final score: Nats 4, Reds 2. (Too bad it was such a cloudy day.) Click on the image to see it full size.

August 12, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Nationals fight hard, but lose another heartbreaker

The narrative for this blog post, and perhaps the very fate of the Nats' 2018 season, was changed completely by one swing of the bat at Wrigley Field tonight. I was going to write about how the Nats bounced back from a heartbreaking 3-2 loss against the Cubs on Friday afternoon, after starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson had a no-hitter going in the sixth inning but loaded the bases on walks and had to be replaced. Sammy Solis immediately gave up a two-run single to Jason Heyward, and the game was tied. The Cubs took the lead in the seventh inning when they loaded the bases with three singles and newly-acquired veteran Greg Holland walked Anthony Rizzo, who thus earned his 75th RBI. The Nats had a potential rally in the eighth inning when Bryce Harper and Juan Soto both walked, but Soto was then picked off at first base after taking way too big of a lead. In this case, a simple rookie mistake had deadly consequences.

After that grievous defeat, Saturday's game was a huge uplift for Nats fans. Bryce Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman homered in the first inning, and all of sudden the spring was back in the team's (collective) step. Tanner Roark pitched one of his best games of the year, giving up only one run until the eighth inning, when the Cubs scored a second run. By then the Nats had scored nine runs, thanks to a homer by Daniel Murphy and a second homer by the Ryan Zimmerman, who tied his career-best with six RBIs for the day. The Cubs scored two more in the ninth, but it didn't matter. Final score: Nats 9, Cubs 4.

So when the Nats had Max Scherzer on the mound tonight and took an early 1-0 lead, there was reason to hope that this series really would mark the turning point that would put the Nats back into the divisional race again. As usual, Max delivered one of his masterpieces, striking out eleven batters over seven innings and retaking the lead in strikeouts (227) in the majors from Boston's Chris Sale, who has 219. (See below.) But the Cubs had Cole Hamels on the mound, recently acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers. Both ace pitchers went seven full innings in one of the best pitchers' duels this year. I was nervous when Koda Glover took the mound for the Nats in the eighth inning, but he only gave up one hit before getting three outs. (Javier Baez seemed to reach first base on an infield single, but the Nats challenged the [safe] call and won, thus ending the inning.) In the top of the ninth, Trea Turner hit a one-out triple down the left field line, and former Nat Brandon Kintzler walked Juan Soto and Bryce Harper (the latter intentionally) to load the bases. Ryan Zimmerman made the Cubs pay for it, smashing a two-run single up the middle. So with a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ryan Madson came on as the Nats' closing pitcher, a role with which he is not comfortable. Having just replaced Daniel Murphy at second base, Wilmer Difo misplayed a high-bouncing ball hit by Jason Heywood. It was ruled a hit, but the missed chance at an out rattled Madson, who then hit two batters with pitches (getting Kyle Schwarber to pop out in between them), loading the bases with two outs. Ordinarily, any decent manager would have changed pitchers, but Dave Martinez didn't have any good alternatives in the bullpen. A young pinch hitter named David Bote came up to bat in the classic fantasy-world baseball situation, and with one strike away from victory, Madson threw a low fastball down the middle, and Bote smashed that sucker way over the center field wall. Just like that, the game was over, 4-3.

So instead of being 4 1/2 games behind the Braves and Phillies (in a virtual tie for the NL East lead right now), the Nats are now 5 1/2 games back. With seven more weeks to go this season, there is still a non-negligible chance the Nats can put together enough wins to climb back and win the division. But can they muster enough self-confidence and determination to bounce back from another gut-wrenching heart-breaking loss? Anything is possible, but in the real world of what is probable, what happened tonight will most likely be regarded as one of the last nails in the Nats' 2018 coffin.

Earlier this month Nationals were on a pretty good run in a home stand in which they won seven out of ten games. The followed up their historic 25-4 win over the Mets on July 31 with a 5-3 win the next day. Once again, recently-acquired Tommy Milone rose to the occasion and gave up only one run over seven innings. Then the Cincinnati Reds came to town, and the Nats took three out of four games in that series. They won 10-4 on August 2 thanks in part to early home runs by Trea Turner and Bryce Harper, but most of the runs came later in the game. The Friday night game was postponed until Saturday (August 4) afternoon due to rain, but Gio Gonzalez faltered once again, and was replaced in the fourth inning. Final score: Reds 7, Nats 1. But the Nats bounced back in the nightcap, winning 6-2, and won the Sunday finale as well, 2-1. Tanner Roark got a much-deserved win, going seven innings.

Next the Atlanta Braves came to town, a real divisional showdown and test of the Nationals' mettle. With a depleted staff, the Nats resorted to Jefry Rodriguez as their starting pitcher on Tuesday (August 7) afternoon, and he came through like a champion, giving up just one run in five innings. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back homers, and it really seemed like the old championship-bound Nats were their true selves again. Final score: Nats 8, Braves 3. With Max Scherzer on the mound for the second game that day, the Nats were in a great position to gain ground. Juan Soto hit a solo homer (his 13th!) and Ryan Zimmerman went three for three, but none of those hits resulted in runs. The Braves won that game, 3-1. The next day Tommy Milone gave up seven runs over six innings, quite a sharp contrast to his two previous successful outings, and the Nats lost, 8-3. In the series finale on Thursday, the Nats' prospects seemed grim as the recently-shaky Gio Gonzalez took the mound, but he somehow pulled himself together and pitched his best game of the year, being charged with only one run over seven innings. Nats 6, Braves 3. The Nats really needed to win three out of four games in that series, but at least they held their own.

Nats shuffle bullpen

With the return of Sean Doolittle doubtful any time soon, and with his replacement Kelvin Herrera likewise on the disabled list, the Nats' front office got desperate this month. But the first order of business was parting ways with malcontent Shawn Kelley, who was traded to the Oakland A's. Brandon Kintzler likewise seemed to have personality issues with the club, and the Nats traded him to the Cubs -- who then used him against the Nationals in this weekend series! Greg Holland, a former standout pitcher, was released by the Cardinals late in August, and the Nationals acquired him in a trade. Coming after the July 31 deadline, all of these trades were made after clearing waivers, meaning that other eligible teams had the opportunity to extend competing offers. Finally, the Nats activated Koda Glover, who had some bad outings as a reliever last year. It was later learned that he was suffering from a sore shoulder without telling the manager. (See July 1, 2017 blog post.) Somewhat to my surprise, Koda has done alright in the two games in the Cubs series.

How about those Red Sox?

As we look forward to the 2018 postseason, it is hard to imagine a team that has been more dominant than the Boston Red Sox during any regular season over the past decade. Last weekend they had a big showdown against the New York Yankees in Fenway Park, winning the first three games by a combined score of 23-9. Steve Pearce homered three times on August 2, and once more the next day. In the Sunday night game, they did to the Yankees what the Cubs did to the Nationals tonight. (The parallels between those two games is fascinating: broadcast by ESPN, in a historic funky ballpark filled with once-long-suffering fans.) With the Yankees ahead 4-1, closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman walked the bases loaded, and with two outs, J.D. Martinez hit a two-run single to make it a 4-3 game. Then the tying run scored on a throwing error by the third baseman, and it went into the tenth inning. Andrew Benintendi bounced a slow single up the middle to score the runner from second base, and Fenway Park erupted with joy. It was a crushing blow to the Bronx Bombers. The Red Sox swept the Yankees four games straight, taking a nine-game lead, all but guaranteeing themselves a smooth path to the AL East divisional championship.

Since then the Red Sox have won all but one of the seven games they have played, taking two out of three games against the Blue Jays in Toronto and sweeping the Orioles in Baltimore. The Friday night game was a real slugfest, and the Orioles took the lead at one point but quickly squandered it; the Red Sox won 19-12. After that, the lowly Orioles (currently 35-84, .294) really didn't stand much of a chance. In the Sunday finale (won by the Red Sox, 4-1), Chris Sale marked his return from the DL by striking out twelve batters, temporarily surpassing Max Scherzer for the MLB lead in that category.

How do they do it? The Red Sox currently have the highest team batting average in the majors (.270) as well as the most number of RBIs (628). On the pitching side, they have the second best team ERA (3.50) in the majors, after the Houston Astros. With outfielders Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and pitcher Chris Sale on the All-Star Game starting roster, it's no wonder. Right now, it will be hard for any teams in the American League to stop the Red Sox and Astros from going to the League Championship Series, and perhaps beyond.

Thus, the Red Sox are soaring into the stratosphere, standings-wise, with a record of 85-35 (.708). It would be a monumental accomplishment indeed to keep up such a high rate of winning, but would it really matter? Since the turn of the century, the highest regular season winning percentage was recorded by the Seattle Mariners (.716) in 2001; they lost the ALCS to the Yankees, however. The next-highest was recorded by the St. Louis Cardinals (.648) in 2004; they advanced to the World Series but were then swept by the Boston Red Sox, the AL wild card team that year! Moral of the story: regular season win-loss records don't count for as much as you might think. Just ask the 2012 Washington Nationals; they amassed a 98-64 record (.605) but were eliminated in the first round!

Juvenile jocks are jerks

The ideal of a professional athlete as role model is occasionally marred by reality. Back in the 1990s Saturday Night Live had a skit in which a little boy's dream of meeting his favorite baseball player is answered when one of them pops out of his bedroom closet, and then another, and so on. Before you knew it, the bedroom was full of cigar smoke, beer, and foul language, and the young fan's innocence was forever lost. You had to be there. Such humor often serves a purpose because many people lacking in self-awareness tend to lose their sense of proportion when expressing moral outrage. I bring this up as a commentary on the mini sports scandal that erupted late last month when some journalists went digging through the Twitter archives of various professional athletes. Among them was the Washington Nationals' young shortstop Trea Turner, who made some racist tweets when he was a teenager, and the sports world went up in arms. Turner rightly apologized; 'nuff said.

There was a possible case of bad karma two weeks ago (July 29) in Atlanta, whe the Braves' 25-year old pitcher Sean Newcomb was within one strike of recording a no-hitter against the L.A. Dodgers. He was on the very threshold of glory, but then Chris Taylor spoiled the party by hitting a single. It so happens that Newcomb was among those identified as having used racist language in cyberspace, and the guilt may have come back to haunt him. Having thrown 134 pitches, Newcomb was replaced and then the newest Dodger star, Manny Machado hit an RBI single. The Braves still won that game, 4-1.

Wrigley Field surprise update!!??

Wrigley Field

While watching the Nats-Cubs game on Friday, I made the rather belated discovery that the dugouts at Wrigley Field moved toward the respective foul poles during the winter off-season. Later I learned that most of the lower deck had been demolished and rebuilt during the winter, in part to provide space for new batting practice areas. If I had been keeping up with my e-mail like I should, I would have known that. Both Joe Duider and Jeff Stark alerted me to the latest Wrigley Field renovations back in April, when the news was "fresh." Interestingly, several rows of seats on the third base side have built on metal risers, and the dugout itself is retractable, in order to accommodate football games. When they played a college football game at Wrigley Field in 2010, they couldn't even use one end zone because the back line was within a couple feet of the brick wall in right field. See bleedcubbieblue.com. Of course, I made the necessary change to the current-year Wrigley Field diagram, and while I was at it, made a few more tweaks to the earlier year diagram variants.

More ballpark construction news

But that's not all! I was aware that the Rangers' future ballpark was a done deal, but I had no idea that construcion on it was so far along. Mike Zurawski informed me recently that there is a live webcam at MLB.com, and it shows that two decks have already been built. Because "Globe Park II" overlaps with the existing parking lot on the south side of Globe Park I, they are doing the same thing the Cardinals did when building Busch Stadium III: All the land where center field and left field will eventually sit remains in use for parking until the final phase of construction begins. The new stadium will have a retractable roof, so they will build large support pylons in that land, as well as the grandstand itself.

Mike also told me about something that I noticed during the first series of the season when the Nats played the Reds in Cincinnati. They have added a new party deck behind the right field corner of Great American Ballpark; it's called the "Budweiser Bowtie Bar." It seems to be an extension of the glassed-in restaurant at the end of the grandstand on that side, connecting with the rear corner of the bleachers in back of the bullpen. Diagram update pending...

More news courtesy of Mike: In the Tampa Bay area, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg finally unveiled actual plans for a new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. I have long been skeptical of such talk, but this seems pretty serious. To my surprise, the seating capacity would be only about 28,000, not including standing-room-only. Estimated cost: $892 million. Ouch! See fieldofschemes.com

There will be more news to come soon. I can almost guarantee it! wink

July 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Nats end bleak month on a high note

The way most people saw it, the four-game series in Miami was a do-or-die moment of truth for the Washington Nationals. As the non-waiver trading deadline approached, the unthinkable worst-case scenario of trading Bryce Harper -- the de facto "face of the franchise"* -- loomed as a very real possibility. Ironically, they were playing against one of their main trading "targets": Marlins' catcher J.T. Realmuto.

In the first two games, the Nats came out with guns blazing, winning by lopsided margins. On Thursday, Tommy Milone pitched as an emergency starter after Steven Strasburg was put on the disabled list once again, this time because of a pinched nerve in his neck. (He later had an injection that seemed to help, so he may not be out for that long.) Milone started his pitching career with the Nationals in September 2011 and made history by hitting a home run in his very first major league at bat -- on the first pitch, no less! This time he held his own and left after five innings with the Nats behind, 3-2. The Nats' early runs came on back-to-back homers by Trea Turner and Juan Soto in the fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman tied the game with an RBI double in the sixth inning, and Trea Turner put the Nats two runs ahead with a triple in the seventh inning. He then scored on an RBI double by Bryce Harper. In the ninth inning, the Nats piled on more runs, starting when Matt Wieters hit a bases-loaded double. Final score: 10-3.

In Friday's game, the Nats took an early lead, and the amazing Juan Soto homered for the third consecutive day! (He has 13 total now.) Max Scherzer went eight full innings on the mound, giving up just one run and striking out eleven batters. That put him at an even 200 strikeouts for the year thus far, and Scherzer thus became the fourth pitcher in history to strike out at least 200 batters in seven consecutive seasons. (The others are Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Tom Seaver.) Not a bad way to celebrate his 34th birthday! The Nats added five more runs in the eighth inning, winning by a score of 9-1.

On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez had one of his best outings of the year, giving up only one run over seven innings pitched. Unfortunately, however, the Nats' bats fell silent -- until Daniel Murphy hit a clutch game-tying single in the top of the ninth. With one out and a runner on third base, the Nats were in position to take the lead and win their fourth game in a row. But Mark Reynolds flew out and Michael A. Taylor grounded out, and the game went into the tenth inning. The Nats went down 1-2-3, and closing pitcher Kelvin Herrera took the mound. All of a sudden, things got weird. Magneuris Sierra laid down a perfect bunt single, Miguel Rojas reached base on catcher's interference, and Brian Anderson singled to load the bases with nobody out. In desperation, the Nats brought in Bryce Harper from center field to set up a five-man infield, but it backfired. J.T. Realmuto hit a pop single down the right field line, which probably would have been caught had there been three outfielders, but with nobody out, it probably didn't change the outcome of the game. And thus the Nats lost a heartbreaker, 2-1.

On Sunday, Jeremy Hellickson took the mound, but he fell short of his recent solid performances, giving up five runs and being replaced in the fifth inning. The Nats only managed to get two hits: an infield single by Bryce Harper in the first inning, and a single by Matt Adams in the ninth inning. For a team that had so much on the line, it was a stunningly weak exhibition. It's as if they just gave up. Final score: 5-0. Attendance in that four-game series was likewise pathetic, peaking at 12,112 in the Sunday finale. It's a shame that more folks in Miami aren't enjoying that climate-controlled (and taxpayer-funded) marvel, Marlins Park. (Diagram tweak pending.)

* The semi-official "face of the franchise" is Ryan Zimmerman, who has a contract with a no-trade clause extending for a few more years. But Bryce Harper is far better known to the outside world, and since his rookie year in 2012, he has been primarily responsible for making the Nationals into perennial postseason contenders.

Trading frenzy: Nats stand pat

Frankly, I was extremely anxious about the Bryce Harper situation in the days and hours leading up to the deadline at 4:00 this afternoon. On [Monday], word spread that Harper was available for a trade, and I cringed. Then late this morning General Manager Mike Rizzo announced that Bryce Harper would not be traded after all, and [that] the front office had full confidence in the team. Whew! Still, I wasn't 100% sure and nervously watched the clock as all the MLB trade alerts kept popping up on my iPhone. The Nats' only trade was letting relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler go to the Cubs in exchange for a minor league pitcher. I get the sense that there were some personality issues there.

I know that many people think that the Nats might as well cash in on whatever Harper is worth now, since his chances of signing with the Nationals again after this year are probably only 50-50 at best. But baseball teams aren't just machines to be taken apart and reassembled at will; they are living organisms that thrive (or not) based on that ephemeral quality known as team spirit. What's more, a big part of team spirit comes from the fan base, and for the Nationals to have let Harper go would be terribly demoralizing to Nats fans everywhere. In strict dollars-and-sense terms, that would have seriously degraded the value of the Nationals franchise, and Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are to be commended for recognizing that.

One of the biggest last-minute surprise trades was the Pittsburgh Pirates getting pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays. (I saw him pitch in Toronto in August 2015, when the Blue Jays beat the Rays.) The Pirates have been winning a lot lately, and can't be discounted as potential postseason contenders.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who fell out of first place in the NL Central Division earlier this month, are determined to retake the lead. (After tonight's win, they are tied with the Cubs.) Last week they got Kansas City Royal star slugger Mike Moustakas in a trade, and today they acquired second baseman Jonathan Schoop from the Baltimore Orioles. I occasionally watch Orioles games on MASN, and Schoop has been one of their biggest clutch hitters this year -- after Manny Machado (now with the Dodgers), of course.

The Atlanta Braves, who likewise lost their first-place standing recently, got outfielder Adam Duvall and four pitchers, most notably Kevin Gausman.

And finally, the Philadelphia Phillies (currently one half game ahead of the Braves) acquired two former Nats players: infielder Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets and catcher Wilson Ramos from the Rays. He is injured, however, and his years with the Nationals were full of lengthy periods on the disabled list (such as when he suffered hurt his knee in late September 2016, just before the NLDS), so the value of Ramos is a question mark. Still, I was hoping the Nats would find a way to get him.

Wilson Ramos

Wilson Ramos, before the Nats-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016.

Historic game in Nats Park

So, how would the Nationals react to the announcement by Rizzo this morning? Pretty well, I'd say! The Nats returned to D.C. for a home stand, welcoming the New York Mets. Trea Turner's leadoff single sparked a seven-run rally in the first inning, capped by a three-run double hit by Tanner Roark to the gap in left-center field. Tanner went on to pitch a nearly-flawless game, giving up just one run in seven innings, which makes two stellar outings in a row for him. That had to feel good. The game unfolded in a very unusual fashion: the Nats scored exactly three runs in each of the next four innings! Home runs by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman were a big part of that offensive surge. The score was 19-0 after five innings, and by the eighth inning the Mets' bullpen was so worn out that they put veteran slugger Jose Reyes on the mound as a "relief pitcher." But the Nats showed no mercy, racking up six more runs, thanks to home runs by Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds, and an RBI triple by Wilmer Difo.

The only sour note in the spectacular one-sided slugfest was when Shawn Kelley came in as a relief pitcher in the top of the ninth: the first two Mets batters reached base on hits, and after an RBI ground-out, Austin Jackson hit a two-run homer. Kelley was angry about something, and threw down his glove in disgust. Thus, the Nats' 24-run lead shrank to 21 runs. More details are at the Washington Post. Final score: Nats 25, Mets 4!!! The last time a team scored that many runs in a game was in 2007, when the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3.

Tonight's game set new records for the Nats, both in terms of the number of runs scored (25) and the run differential (25 - 4 = 21). That is true for both the Nationals as a "reborn" team (since they began playing in D.C. in 2005) and for the franchise, which began as the Montreal Expos in 1969. The Expos' highest scoring game was in Denver on April 28, 1999, when they beat the Colorado Rockies, 21-9. In both cases, the Nationals' previous records were set on April 30 last year, also against the Mets: the final score then was 23 - 5, an 18-run difference. The Nats' previous high score this year (17) was on June 29 in Philadelphia: Nats 17, Phillies 7. The Nats' previous biggest run differential this year (13) was on April 25 in San Francisco: Nats 15, Giants 2.

And so, the Nats finished the month back at an even 53-53, with a 10-14 record in July itself. Thus far, the Nats have only had a winning record in one month this year: May. Pretty hard to believe. I updated the Washington Nationals page accordingly. One factoid that is worth highlighting is that the Nats' aggregate run total in games this year is 484 to 426 for their opponents. Given their .500 win-loss record, that's a sign that they're wasting a lot of runs in easy wins while losing a lot of crucial close games.

Hall of Fame induction ceremony

In Cooperstown, New York on Sunday, six former players were officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Chipper Jones was especially emotional in his speech, partly because his wife was just about to have a baby boy. They named him "Cooper." I have seen Jones and Guerrero play, but I'm not sure about the others. (Numbers below were from the Washington Post print edition; a link to the article was not immediately available.)

  • Larry "Chipper" Jones (ATL)#: 468 HR, 1,623 RBI
  • Jim Thome (CLE): 612 HR -- 8th best all-time
  • Vladimir Guerrero (MON)
  • Trevor Hoffman (SD): 601 saves -- 2nd best all-time
  • Jack Morris (DET) *
  • Alan Trammell (DET)# *

# : Played entire career with one team; Hoffman nearly did so. For the other players, the team indicated is the one they played on for the most number of years.
* Chosen by a special "veterans committee."

NOTE: A few corrections were made to the text on the following day.

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.

Clem's Baseball ~ Stadium construction

Stadium construction
Chronology of the contemporary era: 1986 - present

1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020s
1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
UC 1989: Skydome (Rogers Centre) (construction finished in early June)
plan. UC 1990: Florida Suncoast Dome (Tropicana Field)
planning UC 1991: Comiskey Park II (U.S. Cellular Field, Guaranteed Rate Field)
- planning UC 1992: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
- planning UC 1994: Jacobs Field (Progressive Field)
- planning UC 1994: Ballpark in Arlington (Globe Life Park, etc.)
- planning UC 1995: Coors Field
- planning UC 1996: (Olympic Stadium) 1997: Turner Field
- planning UC 1998: Chase Field (Bank One Ballpark)
- planning UC 1999: AT&T Park (Pac Bell Park)
- planning UC 1999: Safeco Field
- planning UC 2000: Comerica Park
- planning UC 2000: Minute Maid Park
- planning UC 2001: Miller Park
- planning UC 2001: PNC Park
- planning UC 2003: Great American Ballpark
- planning UC 2004: Citizens Bank Park
- planning UC 2006: Busch Stadium III (construction finished in late May)
- planning UC 2008: Nationals Park
- planning UC 2009: Yankee Stadium II
- planning UC 2009: Citi Field
- planning UC 2010: Target Field
- planning UC 2012: Marlins Park
- planning UC 2017: SunTrust Park
Texas Rangers: Globe Life Park II   UC 2020 opening?
STILL WAITING ... Oakland (San Jose?) Athletics: Cisco Field (?)  
STILL WAITING ... Tampa Bay Rays: Rays Stadium (?)  
1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024
NOTE: For most stadiums, groundbreaking years are mere estimates. For most stadiums, construction continued through March of the year in which they opened. Two exceptions are Skydome / Rogers Centre (construction finished in early June 1989) and Busch Stadium III (construction finished in late May 2006).

Stadium construction montage

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PNC Park (Pittsburgh, Aug. 2000), Citi Field (Queens, NY, Oct. 2008), Nationals Park (Washington, DC, Aug. 2007)

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