July 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Dodgers get the best of the Nats
Just when you think the Washington Nationals have gotten themselves into a winning groove, they fall back into a slump again. But at least when they do win, they win big! In their only win since last weekend, on Wednesday, they charged out of the starting gate with a colossal first-inning home run by Bryce Harper. (See below.) After that, Ben Revere, Jayson Werth, and Anthony Rendon all had homers for the Nationals, while Gio Gonzalez kept his cool on the mound for once, going six innings. Final score: Nats 8, Dodgers 1.
But the Dodgers bounced back on Thursday, as Stephen Strasburg suffered his very first loss of the year. It was all thanks to the home runs hit by Justin Turner, in the first and third innings. Strasburg pitched well, getting ten strikeouts, but just two errant pitches was all it took for the visiting team to prevail, 6-3. And thus the Nationals lost the series to the Dodgers, two games to one.
The Nats lost to the Padres in the first of a three-game series yesterday, their fourth loss in the last five games. Hopefully Max Scherzer will do better tonight; I'll deal with that later...
Harper's moon shot
Speaking of slumps, Bryce Harper has had a rough two months now. However, he does occasionally show his latent super powers with tape-measure home run, such as the one on Wednesday, estimated to have traveled 451 feet without the obstructing grandstand. If you look at page 18 of Robert Adair's book The Physics of Baseball, you'll see that is consistent with the longest of the five alternative ball trajectories. MASN's F.P. Santangelo said the ball would have reached the Navy Yard if the upper deck weren't in the way. Well, not quite, but it probably would have left the ballpark and landed on First Street, SE. I estimate that the ball landed 395 feet horizontally from home plate, and 86 feet vertically. You can see for yourself on the Stadiums superimposed page, by selecting the first line ("distances") from the upper scrolling menu ("Reference stadium") and then selecting Nationals Park, or indeed any stadium, from the lower scrolling menu ("Comparison stadium").
Cleveland Stadium update
I just made some revisions to the Cleveland Stadium diagrams, and as usual the difficulty of the task turned out to exceed my expectations. Since the last such update was on Sept. 8, 2012, I made some important discoveries, and not surprisingly, Bruce Orser deserves almost all the credit for research. Most significantly, he sent me an article from 1931 which provides rich detail on the exact overall dimensions of the stadium (800 feet long, and 725 feet wide), as well as number of rows in each deck, both in front of and behind the support beams. It also states very clearly something I suspected before: the roof actually extended several feet beyond the front edge of the upper deck! Another significant change was the center-field bleachers, which are bigger than before. Of course, I included those architectural details, along with the entry portals, etc. Finally, I realized that center field was oriented toward the northeast, not straight east as I previously thought. For some reason I had thought that the Lake Erie shore (to which the stadium was parallel) runs more or less east to west.
One of the photographic resources I consulted was phanfare.com. It shows the support beams and entry portals of Cleveland Stadium more clearly than any other places I have seen.
As followers of this Web site know, one of the detail enhancements every time I make a diagram update is the the bullpen, showing the pitching rubbers and plates and relief pitcher "dugouts," if any. In this case, that task was made much easier by the photos contained in the book Strike Three: My Years in the 'Pen, by Dr. Thomas Tomsick. He discusses, among many other things, the effect of moving the bullpen from beyond the center field fence to the spaces near the foul poles. In my diagrams of Cleveland Stadium, the bullpen pitching mounds are rendered in dark brown to distinguish them from the warning tracks.
Speaking of which, many thanks to Dr. Tomsick for once again sponsoring the Cleveland Stadium page; that is where he used to serve as the bullpen catcher for the Indians. He wrote a wonderful book about his experiences in Cleveland and other American League cities during the mid-1960s. The Indians had a superior pitching rotation in 1966, consisting of Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Steve Hargan, and Gary Bell. They were in first place until June, but then steadily fell back, finishing the season in fifth place (out of ten), with an 81-81 record.
Speaking of Cleveland, Donald Trump was there this week, speaking at a political gathering in Quicken Loans Arena. I bet he would have loved Cleveland Stadium. Why? Because it was HYU-U-UGE! During their convention, the Republicans rented out next-door Progressive Field as a display venue for all sorts of political vendors. FUN FACT: Even thought Progressive Field is named after a company, not an ideology, the company's long-time president Peter Lewis indeed was a progressive, or as the Washington Post called him, a "liberal mega-donor." He passed away three years ago.
July 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nats almost sweep the Pirates
The Washington Nationals came very close to sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend, with two straight lopsided victories and a marathon 18-inning game that ended up going the other way. Max Scherzer pitched well, giving up only one run over seven innings, but the Nats failed to score at all, leaving him in line for a possible loss. But then with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats' new superstar Daniel Murphy pulled off a feat that defied belief, smashing a home run into the middle deck above the right field bullpen. Yes, he did it!!! It was the kind of storybook narrative that makes you expect destiny to be on your side, but in spite of a superb performance by the bullpen, somehow the Nats just couldn't follow through with an extra-inning win. In the top of the 18th inning, Starling Marte hit a solo homer way up into left field seats, and the Pirates won it, 2-1.
That game bore a haunting similarity to NLDS Game 2 on October 4, 2014, which the Giants won by the same score in the same number of innings. The difference was that in that other game, it was the Giants who tied the game 1-1 in the ninth inning. (That was when then-manager Matt Williams pulled Jordan Zimmermann, who was just one out from winning the game.)
In the first two games of that series, the Nats combined superb pitching with clutch hitting, and the outcome was never really in doubt. On Friday, Stephen Strasburg went eight full innings, getting his 13th win of the season; Nats 5, Pirates 1. The last time a National League pitcher had a 13-0 record was 1912 (Rube Marquard of the New York Giants); see masnsports.com. That's pretty damn impressive! On Saturday, Tanner Roark did even better, pitching into the ninth inning without giving up a run. But he was replaced after giving up a walk and a single, and there went his chance at a first complete-game shutout. Anthony Rendon homered, but the biggest offensive display in that game was by Steven Drew, who hit three doubles. Final score: 6-0.
So the upshot of that series is that the top three pitchers in the Nationals' starting rotation kept up the astounding pattern of many innings with few runs allowed, as I discussed recently. If only it weren't for the mental and physical frailties of the other two starters...
Dodgers torment rookie
In the first of three games against the Dodgers last night, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez took the mound and was immediately subjected to a baptism by fire as the very first batter (Yasmani Grandal -- Who? Oh yeah) hit a home run. Then came a single and a double, putting two runners in scoring position. Then Lopez got two quick outs, almost escaping peril, but Joc Pederson hit a two-run single. That put the Nats in an early hole from which they would not recover. Lopez was just called up from the minors to replace Joe Ross, who is still healing on the DL. (Lucas Giolito had been filling in for Ross, but he was sent back down to the minors after a rough outing against the Mets on July 7.) Lopez managed to strike out nine batters during the four and two-thirds innings he pitched, at least showing some future promise. You have to give him credit for keeping his cool, but I really take issue with the decision to have him start. About the only bright spots for the Nationals were a solo home run by Jose Lobaton in the fifth inning and a two-run triple by Trea Turner in the eighth inning; he then scored on a double by Daniel Murphy. Final score: L.A. 8, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.
The Nats had a day off on Monday, which was good because their bullpen was worn out from the marathon on Sunday. But meanwhile, both their division rivals won their games, and so the Nats' lead in the NL East has fallen from seven games (as of Saturday night) to just 4.5 games over the Marlins and 5.5 games over the Mets.
Finally: Metrodome update
Whew! I recently got started on some minor "repair" work on the Metrodome diagrams, concentrating on the precise position and orientation of the entry portals in the upper deck, but by the time I was finished there were some rather big changes. (Have you heard that one before? Yes.) I made some significant "discoveries" along the way: First, the upper deck actually hung over right field by a couple feet, slightly more in the corner. [I always wondered whether there might have been some overhang there, and then I came across some excellent panoramic photos at cookandsonbats.com, erasing any doubt. The "foul pole" on that side (actually a strip of yelllow fabric, like in Rogers Centre) angled slightly inward.] In that respect, the Metrodome was the opposite of old Comiskey Park, where the foul poles angled slightly outward. In order to illustrate the overhang more clearly, I created a lower-deck diagram for the first time, but it lacks detail. Also, in two of the diagram variants both the top- and bottom-level outlines are shown.
Second, the upper deck is slightly bigger than in the previous rendition (Dec. 17, 2012); it had 31 rows, almost as many as in the lower deck (35 rows). But because the upper-deck overhang is greater than I had thought (about four rows), the net effect of these two changes is that the overall stadium "footprint" is slightly smaller than before. Note that the support columns in the upper deck are easier to see than before, when they were just tiny dots.
Third, my previous diagram indicated a backstop distance of 63 feet, where it should have been 60 feet, so I corrected that. As a result, foul territory decreased slightly, from 34,300 to 33,900 square feet, while fair territory stayed the same, at 107,500 square feet. The new diagrams show that the grandstand quickly transitions from a gradual curve to a sharp bend behind home plate and in the left field corner. (This applies to all four corners in the football diagram variant.) Note that in the "combined" diagram variant, the two extra rows of seats installed between the dugouts in the early 2000s are shown; the foul territory measurement does not pertain to that configuration.
July 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Great Egrets pay brief visit
A pair of Great Egrets visited Verona on Thursday, presumably juveniles which fledged in breeding grounds closer to the Atlantic coast. It was only by happenstance that I made this discovery, and otherwise the news might never have circulated in the local birding community. After "shopping" at the Antique Mall in Verona, I drove to the other side of the highway and took a look at the pond in back of the Hardees, at the entrance of the Mill Place industrial park. I hardly ever see any interesting birds there, and I was astonished when I saw a very tall white bird. Unfortunately, it had been raining, or else I would have brought my camera, so I had to hurry home and get my optical gear. When I returned, I saw that there were two Great Egrets, one of which was standing only about 30 yards from the road. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! It later rejoined its companion on the other side of the pond, and I took some more photos. The breeding range of Great Egrets covers the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, extending upwards into the central Mississippi basin as far north as Illinois.
Great Egret, in Verona, July 14. Roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup of the head. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
More encounters with nature
When I went back to Verona the next day, workers were cutting the grass around the pond, and the Great Egrets were already gone. So I took a leisurely drive through north-central Augusta County, looking for other wetlands and meadows in case something interesting should appear. Bird-wise, it was just "the usual suspects."
So then I headed farther west toward Jennings Gap, through which Route 250 passes, and then went for a short walk along the Chimney Hollow trail. I wasn't really expecting to see much in the way of birds, but mainly wanted to get some peace and quiet. Indeed, the forest was almost silent, in contrast to the countryside fields and meadows I passed on the way there. I heard a couple Acadian Flycatchers, and saw one, and I also heard some odd squeaks in the bushes and finally saw a family of Worm-eating Warblers. Other than that, just a couple of Ravens passing far overhead, the (muted) songs of some Red-eyed Vireos, and the loud call of a Pileated Woodpecker. With overcast skies, it was very dark, and there was a brief sprinkle of rain. But the abundance of colorful fungus in the moist soil more than made up for the lack of birds:
Among the mushrooms in the montage above are Clavulina cristata (top right) and Amanita abrupta (bottom left). Other species are yet uncertain... Once identified, the photos will be posted on the Mushrooms photo gallery page, which I just realized is extremely outdated.
While I was departing to attend the OneVirginia 2021 meeting on Tuesday evening, I saw an enormous moth on the hood of a neighbor's car, and ran back inside to get my camera. It was bigger than my fist, almost five inches across. I determined the species from butterfliesandmoths.org.
Imperial Moth, in Staunton, July 12. A top-view photo can be seen on the Butterflies photo gallery page, which also includes moths -- at least for the time being.
July 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals' starting rotation
NOTE: The analysis below pertains strictly to the 90 games played before the All-Star break. I'll discuss the ongoing series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow.
A major reason for the success of the Washington Nationals' during the first half of the 2016 season has been the remarkably consistent performance of the five pitchers who comprise their starting rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross. (Scherzer was slated to be the team's ace pitcher this year, but Strasburg has outperformed him in most categories.)
Nationals' starting pitchers before All-Star break
|Starting pitcher||Innings |
|Avg. IP per game||Strike- outs||ERA||Wins||Losses||"Grade"|
|Stephen Strasburg ||106.2||6.7||132 || 2.62 || 12|| 0||A|
|Max Scherzer|| 127.2 ||6.6||164||3.03 ||10|| 6||B+|
| Tanner Roark ||116.2||6.4||101||3.01 || 8||5||B+|
|Joe Ross||95.1||6.0||79||3.49 || 7||4||B-|
|Gio Gonzalez||103.1||5.7||104||4.70 || 5||8||C-|
NOTE: The above figures do not include the two games started by Lucas Giolito (4 IP, 3 2/3 IP) and the one game started by Yusmeiro Petit (6 IP).
SOURCE: MLB.com, plus my own daily tabulations of game results.
Those grades take into account the expectations for the individual pitchers, and are almost identical to those published in the Washington Post Kids Post section on Thursday. They gave Gio Gonzalez a D, which is a bit harsh.
In particular, the endurance of the Nationals starting pitchers -- as measured by number of innings pitched per game -- has been simply amazing, as I discussed on June 7. This chart compares that factor to the run differential in each game; positive = win, negative = loss.
How much does innings pitched matter, statistically speaking? The correlation coefficient r between that variable and the margin of victory (or defeat) variable is 0.261, which yields an R2 value of 0.0676 -- not very high, but far from negligible. (That means that 6.76% of the variation in the run differential can be explained by the number of innings pitched by the starter.) Multiple regression analysis might help to sort out the relative importance of pitching, batting, fielding, etc., but that is beyond my scope for now.
The only complete game pitched by a National this year was on May 11 (see May 23 blog post), when Max Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers batters, and yet barely held on in the ninth inning to win the game, 3-2. (It almost happened again tonight...)
Of the 90 games they played this year before All-Star break, in only 20 has the starting pitcher not lasted at least six innings. Among the notable lapses by Nats starting pitchers:
|Date||Starting pitcher||Innings |
|Apr. 7 || Tanner Roark || 4 || MIA 6|| WSH 4|
|Apr. 20||Joe Ross||2 ||WSH 3|| MIA 1|
|May 28||Gio Gonzalez||4.2 ||STL 9||WSH 4|
|June 25|| Gio Gonzalez ||3 ||MIL 6||WSH 5|
|July 7||Lucas Giolito||3.2 ||NYM 9||WSH 7|
Otherwise, with few exceptions, Washington's starting pitchers had "quality starts," i.e. at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs.
As the (symbolic) second half of the season begins, things are looking very good for the pitching staff, subjectively speaking. Stephen Strasburg shows occasional signs of fatigue and stress toward the middle of games, especially on the hot and muggy days for which Washington is famous, but he seems to have matured enough to know when he has had it. Max Scherzer has not let the occasional disappointments affect his positive outlook, and he has a solid psychological core to "go the distance" into October. Likewise, Tanner Roark is a veritable bulldog on the mound, with good pitching "stuff" and usually a steady temperament. Joe Ross was superb for a rookie pitcher late last season, effectively replacing Doug Fister, and he was excellent for the first several weeks of this year. Time will tell whether he gets over his injury and resumes performing at a top-notch level. His temporary replacement, Lucas Giolito, is touted as the Nats' ace of the future, but still needs polishing at the minor league level. He will probably play in more games after the September 1 roster expansion, perhaps earlier. The big question mark is Gio Gonzalez, the archetypical "head case." One or two things go wrong in the early innings, and he's a mess. It may be the fact that this is the last year of his contract, much like the "final year" pressure evidently ruined Ian Desmond's performance at shortstop last year. But he was the first National to win 20 games in a season (in 2012), and he has at least a few more good years in him -- either in D.C. or elsewhere.
ASG 2016 gripe
In my post about the All Star Game, I neglected to mention something that I wrote on Facebook. In the top of the eighth inning, the National League had the bases loaded, and Aledmys Diaz came up to bat. He took ball one, and then the second pitch which was clearly outside, but the umpire called it a strike. So Diaz felt obliged to swing at the third pitch, which was low, and then he struck out. On that one at-bat hinged the outcome of the whole game, and that umpire's call was a real shame.
July 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Redistricting reform movement is growing
Yesterday evening I attended a local meeting of the "OneVirginia 2021" movement (see Web site), which is dedicated to reforming the process by which redistricting is done here in the Old Dominion. I joined their Facebook page early this year, since it is an issue near and dear to my heart, and later made a modest contribution of money. The main speaker was Executive Director Brian Cannon, and he was joined by Angela Lynn, a Democrat who ran for the House of Delegates last fall, and a couple assistants. About 25 people attended, altogether.
Mr. Cannon began by outlining three central problems with the status quo of incumbent-protecting gerrymandering: 1) Both parties are guilty of it ("bad" bipartisanship); 2) Many of the resulting districts have a monstrous "Frankenstein" characteristic (encompassing multiple local communities, which are split up in the process); and 3) There are often woeful personal consequences, such as when the Democrats tried to redistrict State Sen. Bryce Reeves out of his district, but goofed by mixing up his house with that of a relative named Reeves. (For more on that case, which had largely escaped my notice last year, see bearingdrift.com.) It's a perfect example of how legislators use gerrymandering to reverse the principle of democratic accountability: Instead of voters choosing their representatives, the representatives choose their voters. Politicians make up some of the worst excuses you can imagine to justify this practice; basically, it comes down to "So what? Everybody does it."
Brian Cannon explains the grotesquely misshapen state legislative districts in northern Virginia at the OneVirginia 2021 meeting. On the right is Angela Lynn.
If you ask the average American, they are not likely to grasp what gerrymandering is all about or why it matters. Indeed, as I tried to say during the meeting, that is the whole point. Gerrymandering is deliberately used by lawmakers not just to keep themselves in power, but also to foster a sense of cynical hopelessness about bringing about any real change. As but one illustration of how bad things have gotten, six State Senators told a judge that they were willing to rack up $51,000 in legal fines (at taxpayers' expense) for contempt of court after refusing to turn over documents related to their redistricting action. Mr. Cannon summarized the legal history of redistricting and gerrymandering, including the 1962 Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr, which required states to draw districts with approximately equal populations.
It is worth citing once again Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia, which is routinely and blatantly ignored by our elected representatives in Richmond:
Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory* and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.
This controversy came before the court system last year, and this past January Federal judges issued a ruling which imposed new lines, affecting the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Seventh Congressional Districts in Virginia. (See the Richmond Times-Dispatch.) I was aware of this forced redistricting, but did not realize just how extensive the changes were. Accordingly, I have updated the maps on the Virginia Politics page.
Roll your mouse over this map to compare the newly-redrawn congressional district lines to the ones that were originally drawn in 2011. Before the court-ordered changes, the Third Congressional District was an absurdly stretched-out and non-contiguous, except by boat.
The Third Congressional District was originally intended as a "minority-majority district," a means to ensure that African-Americans get a fair chance at electing a member of their own race to Congress. (Indeed, Supreme Court rulings have required a number of states to do just that.) But "racial gerrymandering" got out of hand in some states, and Virginia is a perfect example. The Republicans in the House of Delegates "packed" so many blacks into the 3rd C.D. that the Democrats ended up with thousand of "surplus votes" that went to waste.
So what is to be done? Mr. Cannon laid out the best-case outcome of the reform movement, which is passing a state constitutional amendment to have special independent commissions handle the task or redistricting, and the second-best outcome, which would be to pass a statute with strict criteria by which legislators must draw the district lines. In my mind, the latter option would change very little. If there is one thing that I learned from my years of political involvement, the political establishment in Virginia is solid as a rock, almost impervious to the popular will. It's been that way ever since Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. ran Virginia almost as a despot. (He died in 1965, after more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, and his son Harry F. Byrd Jr. "inherited" the position.)
After the meeting, I called attention to my past involvement in this issue (predating "OneVirginia 2021"), such as when I spoke up at a public meeting with state legislators in Verona, in April 2011. In recent years, I have placed a heavy emphasis on this topic in my American Government classes at Central Virginia Community College. I talked with Mr. Cannon about various issues related to redistricting, such as the alternatives of a congressional election based on proportional representation, either statewide or in multi-member districts. The latter approach (MMD) reduces the number of districts that need to be drawn, making the process simpler and presumably more transparent, but it often works to the disadvantage of various minority factions that might not get any representatives. The bottom line is that no system is without flaws, and realism dictates that any reforms not stray too far from long-established practices. For better or worse, we are probably stuck with the single-member district system and the two-party system that it tends to foster. In political science, that is known as Duverger's Law.
I expect to become active with OneVirginia 2021 in the weeks and months to come. I should mention that I became familiar with their work through Facebook friend Bob Gibson, who runs the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Like me, Bob is a big Washington Nationals fan.
This is the first political blog post I have made since early May. That may seem odd, given that it's an election year. On Facebook, I have made clear my utter refusal to consider voting for Donald Trump, regardless of who he picks as a vice presidential candidate. At this point I'm leaning toward voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. More on all that soon...
July 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]
ASG: American League wins again
For the fourth year in a row, the American League has won the All Star Game (the score was 4-2), this time in the beautiful and sunny Petco Park in San Diego. If the past is any indication, that will make it very hard for the National League pennant winner to win the World Series. In nine of the thirteen years since they gave World Series home field advantage to the league that won the All Star Game, the same league won in both contests. See the Chronology annual page.
In general, the game was well-played, and pretty exciting. The Cubs' Kris Bryant hit a solo homer in the first inning, but the AL came back with three runs in the bottom of the second, with homers by Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. Hosmer got another RBI one inning later, and was named the MVP of the 2016 All Star Game. All four AL RBIs came from Royals players! The National League got more hits (10) than the American League (8), but kept leaving men on base. Johnny Cueto (the former Red, former Royal who plays for the Giants this year) took the loss after giving up the runs in the second inning.
The Nationals All Stars fared better than in past years: Bryce Harper went one for two with a double, while Daniel Murphy reached base on an error and then got two singles. On the other hand, Wilson Ramos struck out with the bases loaded in his only at-bat. Max Scherzer retired all three batters in the one inning he pitched, with a strikeout. Stephen Strasburg was introduced as part of the lineup at the beginning of the game, a special treat for the fans in San Diego, where he grew up, but he chose not to play because of physical issues.
Even though the game was played in a National League park this year, the American League was considered the home team, since the National League had home field advantage last year. For this game, that meant that the designated hitter rule was in effect. The 2017 All Star Game will be played in Marlins Park and in 2018 it will be played in Nationals Park -- presumably under American League rules?
Before the game began, it was announced that from now on, the annual awards for the highest batting average will be named for (respectively) Rod Carew in the American League and Tony Gwynn in the National League. That was a nice gesture to San Diego fans, since Gwynn played his entire career with the Padres.
Rogers Centre photos
Thanks to Mario Vara for sending some great photos of Rogers Centre showing the brand new "normal-dirt" infield, which he took in Toronto on July 2. The Blue Jays beat the red-hot Indians, 9-6 that day, thereby breaking Cleveland's 14-game winning streak. This panorama and one other photo have already been posted on that page:
Panorama of Rogers Centre on July 2, 2016, courtesy of Mario Vara. (Click on the image to see it full-size.)
July 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Murphy does it again! Nats edge Mets, climb back to .600
The pivotal four-game series with the Mets in New York started off with a wild slugfest on Thursday, not the way the Nationals wanted it to. Washington's rookie starting pitcher Lucas Giolito showed some good stuff but failed to hold an early lead, and was replaced during the fourth inning. Four Nationals hit home runs, including Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, but they ended up losing to the Mets, 9-7. Apparently Giolito needs more time sharpening his skills, as the hot prospect was sent back down to the minors.
But in the next three games, things went the Nats' way. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both went seven full innings (on Friday and Saturday), and both times the Mets were held to one run. In the Friday game, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer, providing all the offense Washington needed in a 3-1 victory. On Saturday, Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer, and got another RBI, accounting for most of Washington's six runs. On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez gave up two home runs to Jose Reyes, but managed to last nearly six innings without allowing any other runs to score. Once again, a home run from Daniel Murphy proved decisive in the 3-2 win.
I think it's fair to say that my rebuttal to Mets fans at Nationals Park on June 29 bears repeating:
We got Murphy! We got Murphy!
With a 3-1 series win, the Nationals thereby widened their lead in the NL East from 4 to 6 games. At 54-36 (.600), they are on track for a 98-64 season, which was what they accomplished in 2012. It ties the mark set in 1994 for the highest winning percentage for any team in the Montreal-Washington franchise. As F.P. Santangelo mentioned during the Sunday game, if Montreal had won the World Series in that strike-ruined year, the franchise might have thrived and never moved to Washington. Hmm-m....
Mets are really hurting
In some ways, the series in New York almost wasn't a fair fight, however. After surging only a week earlier, the Mets had a sudden string of bad luck. It was already known that third baseman David Wright would be out for the rest of this season after having neck surgery last month, but then came word that Matt Harvey would also miss the entire second half of the 2016 season because of "thoracic outlet syndrome." Also, first baseman Lucas Duda is on the 15-day DL with a stress fracture in his lower back. As for less-serious ailments, Noah Syndergaard is suffering arm fatigue (he exited early in the Friday game against the Nats), and Yoenis Cespedes is listed as day-to-day with a right quad muscle strain. See MLB.com
Regarding Harvey's departure, many analysts have wondered whether the Mets put too much pressure on him last year after having had Tommy John surgery. He was a key factor in the Mets' surge to the World Series, but the long-term damage to his body may greatly outweigh that moment of glory. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell compared how the Mets treated Harvey with how the Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg, who leads the majors with a 12-0 win-loss record.
Zimmerman on the DL
Ryan Zimmerman was placed on on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained rib cage, and was replaced on the active roster by Trea Turner. Outfielder Michael Taylor was also called back up from the minors, filling the roster spot vacated by Lucas Giolito. The usual fifth starting pitcher, Joe Ross, is on the DL with a sore shoulder. See MLB.com. Compared to other teams, and compared to last year, the Nationals have had pretty good luck with their players being healthy this year.
Scherzer is an All Star
Max Scherzer is replacing Stephen Strasburg on the NL All Star roster, as Strasburg is trying to rest his arm after a recent brief stint on the DL.
Stanton wins Home Run Derby
Miami Marlins star slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby tonight, beating Todd Frazier (of the Cincinnati Reds) 20-13 in the third round. Frazier was the winner last year. In Round 1, Stanton out-homered Robinson Cano (of the Mariners) 24-7, and in Round 2, he out-homered Mark Trumbo (of the Orioles) 17-14. Stanton not only hit more homers, he hit them much farther than the others; some of them were measured at nearly 500 feet, in fact. Poor Chris Berman got tired of his "back, back, back" routine. (Frankly, I did too.)
New page: Fort Bragg Field
Being a simple, single-decked stadium, it wasn't too hard for me to do a diagram of Fort Bragg Field, where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins on July 3. (ICYMI, "Atlanta" lost, 5-2.) I estimate that it has 116,200 square feet of fair territory (pretty big) and 22,700 square feet of foul territory. If I understand correctly, all of the grandstand along the baselines and in the outfield will be removed soon, leaving just the small rectangular grandstand behind home plate.
There are two other stadiums at which official MLB games have been played in recent years for which I have not yet drawn diagrams: Champions Field (now called "Disney's Wonderful World of Sports") in Orlando, Florida, and Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Sydney, Australia.
Speaking of the Braves, Terry Wallace commented on Facebook that it's ironic that two stadiums of the same franchise -- Braves Field and Turner Field -- are meeting identical fates. Braves Field was "inherited" by Boston University for use as a football venue, and Turner Field will soon be "inherited" by Georgia State University, for exactly the same reason.
July 8, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Soras breeding in the Valley!
Prompted by some alerts from Ron Shearer and others about a family of Soras at the Nazarene Church Road wetlands (in Rockingham County) which I had read on the shenvalbirds e-mail list, I drove up to that location today, and boy was my patience sorely tested! I arrived before 10:00 A.M., and carefully checked out various likely spots, to no avail. A man was mowing his lawn with a self-propelled mower, and the noise was probably frightening the birds. Finally, he was done and it got quiet. At one point, a lady bus driver stopped, and I was afraid she was going to ask what the heck I was doing, but instead she asked "Did you see it?" Yes, she was one of the local people who had seen the Sora, and I was glad to know that I was looking in the right place. I saw a few Wood Ducks (female and juveniles), as well as a Green Heron and Kingfisher, so I took some photos. By 11:00, it was getting hot, and I had mixed feelings when dark clouds approached and light rain began to fall. The cool wind was a relief, but I feared that bad weather would cause my efforts to be wasted. I told myself, just a little more time...
And just when I was beginning to lose hope, the sun came back out and all of a sudden I saw two of the Sora fledglings, dark charcoal black in color. Finally! Of course, I started taking photos, but it was hard because they kept hiding in the marshes. I noticed that one of the juveniles had more brownish plumage than the other two, perhaps because it's a few days older. After a while, I caught a glimpse of the adult (presumably the mother), and was struck by the short, upturned tail, reminding me of a Winter Wren. No photos, though. A few times later on I heard the distinctive "whinnying" call of the Sora, so I knew it was close even if it was concealed. I took a break in my car, and when I came back, I had another clear view, and this time I was amazed by the bright yellow beak. I finally got some good photos of the adult, along with more photos of the juveniles. BINGO! I ended up with sunburns on the arms and neck, but it was worth it!
Sora, July 8. See the montage below for more Sora photos.
Soras are marsh-dwelling birds related to Rails, one of which I photographed in February. (See note at bottom.) In the eastern United States, Soras breed almost exclusively north of the Mason-Dixon line. Parts of the southwest U.S.A. are within their breeding range as well. According to Birds of Augusta County (2008), there is only one nesting record of Soras in this county, in 1973, and that nest was abandoned before the eggs hatched. I'll have to check to make sure this successful breeding has been duly recorded in the VABBA-2 system.
I first saw a Sora on July 28, 2012 near Utica, SD, during a birding expedition with my brother John and my (late) father, Alan Clem. (See my Life bird list.) It was in a muddy ditch along a highway, with many other birds, and I only had a brief view.
Ruffed Grouse encore
After I got satisfactory photos of the Soras, I headed northwest a few more miles toward Briery Branch, and ascended the mountains in the direction of Reddish Knob. I never made it to the summit parking lot, but I did accomplish my main goal, which was to see whether the Ruffed Grouse that we spotted during an Augusta Bird Club field trip on May 20 was still there. Sure enough, I spotted one almost as soon as I passed the intersection of Routes 257 and FS 85 at the gap summit. It was probably the same bird that we saw before, i.e. probably the mother, but this time there were no young ones with it / her. (That's where we saw the Red Crossbills on that trip, but they weren't there today.) Anyway, the Ruffed Grouse was just standing in the middle of the "road" (actually a rutted track), and stayed close enough to the side as I slowly passed by for me to get an excellent closeup "portrait"!
Ruffed Grouse, July 8. [This photo and caption were added subsequent to the original blog post.]
I also saw a [singing male] Yellow-rumped Warbler (see montage below) and Chipping Sparrow in that area, but nothing else. [The only other songs I heard up there were those of Juncos, Towhees, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler.] It's a sign that songbird breeding activity is quickly winding down for the season.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher (F), Ruffed Grouse, Green Heron, Sora (adult), Sora (fledgling), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wood Duck (F). All but the middle two were seen at the Nazarene Church Road wetlands. (For more photos, see my Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.)
My photo is published!
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) publishes a magazine called Virginia Wildlife, and every year they run a nature photography contest. Well, I decided to enter it this year for the first time, and lo and behold, when the July/August issue came in the mail last week, there was my photo of a Virginia Rail on page six, coming in third behind two others in the "Virginia Fauna" section. I was hoping just to get included, and I was astounded that it ranked so highly. So, I figured an "encore" presentation of that photo would be appropriate.
Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20, 2016 (blog link).
July 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Four Nationals named All Stars
Four members of the Washington Nationals were selected to the 2016 All Star Game, which will be played at Petco Park in San Diego six days from now. Only one will be on the starting team, however: Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy came in second to Ben Zobrist by a margin of less than a hundred votes. It will be Bryce Harper's fourth appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the second for both Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Murphy. For Wilson Ramos, it will be the first-ever. They are all eminently worthy of this honor, and they make Washington fans proud! See MLB.com.
- Stephen Strasburg (2012)
- Bryce Harper (2012, 2013, 2015)
- Daniel Murphy (2014)
- Wilson Ramos (none)
(Previous years as an All Star.)
The Washington Nationals page will soon be updated with that information. It is the second time that four Nationals were chosen for the All Star Game: In 2012, pitcher Gio Gonzalez and shortstop Ian Desmond were chosen, in both 2013 and 2014, Jordan Zimmermann was chosen, but chose not to play for health reasons, and of course, Max Scherzer was chosen last year. Three Nationals relief pitchers played in earlier All Star Games: Chad Cordero (2005), Matt Capps (2010), and Tyler Clippard (2011 and 2014).
Last year there were complaints about too many Kansas City Royals being chosen as All Stars, and this year it looks the same way for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox:
2016 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
|| National League
|| American League
|| Wilson Ramos
| Buster Posey
| Salvador Perez
| Salvador Perez
|| Ryan Zimmerman
| Anthony Rizzo
| Miguel Cabrera
| Eric Hosmer
|| Daniel Murphy
| Ben Zobrist
| Robinson Cano
| Jose Altuve
|| Kris Bryant
| Kris Bryant
| Manny Machado
| Manny Machado
|| Danny Espinosa
| Addison Russell
| Xander Bogaerts
| Xander Bogaerts
|| Bryce Harper
| Bryce Harper
| Mike Trout
| Mookie Betts
|| Andrew McCutchen
| Dexter Fowler
| Carlos Beltran
| Jackie Bradley Jr.
|| Denard Span
| Yoenis Cespedes
| Ian Desmond
| Mike Trout
|| David Ortiz
| David Ortiz
Unfortunately, I didn't cast my vote until after the deadline, so it didn't count -- an ironic side-effect of having been so tired after my busy day(s) traveling to Washington and back to see the June 29 game against the Mets.
Danny Espinosa should have been included among the "final selection" All-Star choices, in my opinion, but at least he was given due recognition for his recent hot streak by being named National League Player of the Week. Congratulations, Danny!
Nats beat Brewers, once
If the Fourth of July game against the Brewers (losing 1-0) was just one of those inexplicable quirks, there was no excuse for the loss in last night's game. Gio Gonzalez had a decent outing, but gave up a two-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Nats behind 3-2. Ryan Zimmerman made a rare error at first base, failing to catch a low throw and thus enabling Milwaukee to score two more runs on a second home run. The Nats actually out-hit the Brewers (12-10), but kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. Final score: 5-2.
I didn't realize that today's game was in the afternoon, so I missed it completely. Bryce Harper was batting cleanup (switching with Daniel Murphy) and hit a three-run homer in the first inning to get things rolling. Jose Lobaton and Ryan Zimmerman later homered as well. Tanner Roark went seven mostly solid innings, and the Nats finally won, 7-4.
Stadium proximity update
After a lot of hair-pulling, I finally figured out an efficient way to revamp the Stadium proximity page, replacing the map with a table. (I mentioned that impending task on June 16 and June 20.) The links are much easier to access than before, making for easier comparisons. You may notice that there are several new "combined" thumbnail diagrams, showing more clearly how new baseball stadiums were positioned relative to adjacent ones (or overlapping ones) that they replaced. In some cases, I included rough outlines (simple circles or rectangles in most cases) of adjacent or nearby football stadiums and basketball / hockey arenas. CAVEAT: Non-baseball stadium renderings are only crude approximations! This led a quite a jumbled mess in my rendition of the current and past sports facilities on the south side of Philadelphia:
Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center, as well as the former Veterans Stadium, Spectrum, and John F. Kennedy Stadium, where the 1985 "Live Aid" concert was held.
Oakland Coliseum tweak
Prompted in part by the Stadium proximity update, I made some minor "repairs" to the Oakland Coliseum diagrams. The new "Mount Davis" grandstand in center field built in 1996 is slightly bigger than before, and a few other corrections were made.
Oakland Coliseum is adjacent to Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, who came in a close second in the NBA championship series last month. I heard that some guy named Kevin Durant just signed with the Warriors, who already had MVP Stephen Curry, so this apparently means they will be even harder to beat next year -- at least during the regular season!
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