Commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. Hence,
Boy, that sure felt good! The Washington Nationals became the first team in the majors to clinch a division last night, beating the Braves in Atlanta by a score of 3-0. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning, when Jayson Werth drew a walk and then Ian Desmond crushed a home run to the entry portal near the left field foul pole. Boom! That gave Tanner Roark a nice cushion, and he finished seven full innings without giving up a run. Desmond doubled in the ninth inning, reached third on a hard ground ball hit by Bryce Harper, and then scored on a wild pitch. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen both had 1-2-3 innings as relief pitchers, and the Nationals jubilantly mobbed each other after the last out was made.
Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the game live, as I was lecturing for a night class. I got to share at least a little excitement, nevertheless, as I happened to be watching the MLB.com online scoreboard during a break when Ian Desmond hit that home run. Likewise, I was checking the scores just when the Nats made the third out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Yes!!! So today, I watched the rebroadcast on MASN, the game as well as "MASN Dan" Kolko's half-hour of interviews with the champagne- and beer-soaked Nationals players. I guess a little wretched excess is OK once in a while, as long as the cleaning bill for the visiting team locker room is not too high. But as manager Matt Williams told his team, they "have promises to keep ... and miles to go before [they] sleep." That was a nice reference to poet Robert Frost, an uplifting way to keep the focus on the ultimate prize next month.
Just 10 or 20 minutes after the Nats-Braves game ended, the Baltimore Orioles emerged victorious in their game against the Blue Jays, by a score of 8-2, thereby clinching the American League East championship for the first time since 1997. The heroes of that game were two guys I never heard of: Steve Pearce hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Alejandro Da Aza hit a three-run triple in the seventh inning. It was quite a coincidence that such clinching victories took place almost simultaneously for baseball teams in neighboring cities!
So now the prospect of a Washington vs. Baltimore World Series becomes very plausible. Wouldn't that be something!
Sun Trust Field groundbreaking
This is almost too weird to believe, but from everything I have read, it seems to be true. In suburburban Cobb County yesterday, the Atlanta Braves held a "groundbreaking" ceremony for their future home, which is to be called "Sun Trust Field." I didn't see any golden shovels or actual dirt in the video, but it is still considered legitimate. The design reminds me a little of Minnesota's Target Field, but details are still sketchy. The actual construction is set to begin early next year, and will presumably be completed in time for the 2017 season. This will put an end to the hiatus in baseball stadium construction that began after Marlins Park opened in 2012. How bizarre that after 20 brief years, Turner Field will end up in "limbo" sooner than either Oakland Coliseum or Tropicana Field! See MLB.com.
After taking three of four games from the New York Mets over the weekend, and then beating the (second-place) Braves in Atlanta tonight, the Washington Nationals are now just one game from clinching the National League Eastern Division title. With their magic number down to just two, all they need is to win either the Tuesday game or the Wednesday game.
It's quite a contrast from two years ago, when the Nats first won the NL East. The Braves were much better then, and even though the Nats had already secured a postseason berth by September 20, they didn't clinch the divisional title until October 1, with two games yet to play. The Nats ended the 2012 season at 98-64, the best record in the majors, and the Braves were only four games behind them!
In tonight's game, beset with steady drizzle, the Nats got on the board first with another home run (solo) by Wilson Ramos, and scraped together three more runs in subsequent innings. Stephen Strasburg pitched superbly, going seven innings without allowing a run. Unlike past outings in Atlanta, he kept his cool when the pressure was on. He even got an RBI single! But in the bottom of the ninth inning, Matt Williams gave the ball to Rafael Soriano, figuring that a four-run lead was safe enough to entrust to the shaky-at-best former closer. And sure enough, Soriano gave up two doubles and a walk before Williams yanked him, and then Drew Storen struggled to limit the damage, giving up just one more run. A great play by Ian Desmond at shortstop to get the final out may have kept the score from being tied. Final score: 4-2. Whew!
Nats clobber the Mets
Perhaps furious at the way the Mets closing pitcher Jose Mejia taunted them after getting the final out on Friday night, the Nats roared back with a 10-3 win on Saturday. Bryce Harper and Denard Span homered, while the red-hot Anthony Rendon went four for five at the plate. Ian Desmond stole his 20th base of the season, thus becoming the fourth shortstop in Major League history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases at least three times; the others were Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Alex Rodriguez. Quite an elite grouping! Desmond has been in a slump lately, but he has done more than his share throughout the season, a big reason why the Nationals keep winning. Doug Fister got his 14th win, once again leading the team. (Tanner Roark has 13 wins.) See MLB.com. That win, plus the loss by the Braves earlier that day, raised the Nats' lead to 8.5 games, cutting their magic number to six.
On Sunday, Jordan Zimmermann outdueled the Mets' Jon Niese, with neither team scoring for the first six innings. In the top of the seventh, Ian Desmond hustled for an infield single, and then Wilson Ramos crushed a ball into the bullpens in right field, showing amazing opposite-field strength. In the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond led off with a double, but only made it to third base after two outs. Danny Espinosa walked, and then in one of the weirdest plays I've seen in a while, he attempted to steal second ... but not really. He actually could have made it to second, but he paused before he got there, trying to draw a throw from the catcher and hope that Desmond would run home before Espinosa was tagged. And what do you know? It worked! A nice insurance run to make the final score 3-0. With another loss by Atlanta, the Nationals' lead rose to 9.5 games, more than at any time during the 2012 season, while their magic number dropped to just four.
Rangers sweep the Braves
The Texas Rangers, currently in last place in the AL Central, did their part to help the franchise's former home city (Washington, D.C.) get to the playoffs this weekend. They swept the Atlanta Braves in three games. Not many people saw that coming.
Dodgers clobber Giants
After Friday night's game, in which the Giants beat the Dodgers 9-0, some people may have questioned my statement about L.A. teams "dominating" the Bay-area teams. (In fact, someone did!) But on Saturday, the Dodgers came right back with four runs in both the first and second innings, and ended up beating the Giants by a score of 17-0. Pitcher Zack Greinke not only won his 15th game of the year, he had two hits, one of which was a two-run homer. Altogether the Dodgers racked up 24 hits, while the Giants managed just five. The Dodgers also prevailed in the rubber match on Sunday, by the relatively normal score of 4-2.
Statistical table updates
I have continued with the work of updating the statistical tables on the stadium pages, taking care of Canadian ballparks, and miscellaneous ballparks such as Seals Stadium. After verifying my results with an alternate estimation method, I realized that I had to recalculate fair territory in all stadiums, because of slight flaw in my estimation methods. So, pending further updates over the next week or so, most of the stadium statistical tables currently understate fair territory by about 800 square feet. (For most stadiums, that's less than one percent.) After that work is done, I'll post a virtually complete (and corrected!) Stadium statistics page. Then I'll have a lot more to say about fair and foul territory!
Thus far in September, I haven't seen any large numbers of migrating birds, although I did have some success on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Wednesday. It was a foggy morning, with very little bird activity until later in the morning, when I finally came across a nice "fallout" of neotropical migrants south of Ravens Roost overlook. I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler (probable), Common Yellowthroats, Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, as well as the Ovenbird pictured below. I only got a few good photos, unfortunately. Darned warblers are just too fast!
Ovenbird, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, September 10.
Later in the day, I noticed some small birds flitting about the tree branches in the back yard, and quickly identified them as American Redstarts. Nice!
Yesterday (Thursday) I stopped at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, and saw an Osprey, two Bald Eagles, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I plan to be there for the annual open house this Sunday, hoping to see a massive "kettle" of Broad-wings! It's been a long time since I've seen that amazing natural phenomenon.
With a little more than two weeks left to go in the 2014 regular season, three of the divisional races (NL-C, NL-W, AL-C) are very close, while the other three (NL-E, AL-E, AL-W) are pretty much wrapped up.
Until late July, it appeared very likely that there might be another Bay Area World Series, between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's, just like in 1989. But now it's the Los Angeles teams that dominate their respective leagues, or their divisions at least. We could have the first-ever Los Angeles-only World Series next month, or the first-ever Baltimore-Washington World Series.
NL East: not much drama
In the National League East, the Washington Nationals are still 8.5 games ahead of the Braves, even though they lost 4-3 to the Mets tonight. (Thanks go out to the Texas Rangers, who beat the Braves, 2-1.) Anthony Rendon hit a solo homer and went 3 for 5, but his teammates grounded into double plays three times, killing potential rallies. Gio Gonazalez gave up a three-run double in the bottom of the first inning, and even though he composed himself and went another five innings, he still got charged with the loss. (He's 8-10 this year.) Jayson Werth was out of the lineup tonight with those "flu-like symptoms." I sure hope it's not that dreaded enterovirus that has afflicted so many people in the Midwest.
I'll admit I'm a bit worried about Bryce Harper. He's getting semi-regular hits and occasional homers, but is still not performing like he ought to, and you can tell he is getting very frustrated with himself. In yesterday's Washington Post, there was a big photo of him angrily yelling after hitting a fly ball out. He really needs to keep his composure.
On a brighter note, the Nationals pitchers have the best team ERA in the National League (3.11), just behind the Mariners (3.01), who are the best in the majors. The Nats' starting rotation is solid as can be, and their relievers are very reliable for the most part. The question of who (if anyone) will be the regular closing pitcher during the postseason is the only problem.
NL Central: back & forth
In the NL Central Division, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals lost three straight games (until winning tonight), while the Pittsburgh Pirates have surged ahead of the woebegone Milwaukee Brewers and are now just 2.5 games behind the Cardinals. I get the sense that many people were surprised that the Brewers were doing so well earlier this season, almost expecting them to fall back eventually. The Brewers lost 13 out of 14 games from August 26 through September 9, a disastrous reversal of fortune. But in Miller Park tonight they got a much-needed jolt of energy when pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay hit a game-winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning, beating the Reds, 3-2. That makes three wins in a row, so maybe there's still hope.
NL West: long, hard grind
In the NL West, the Giants continue to keep pace with the Dodgers, who surged into first place toward the end of July. The Giants won three straight games against the Diamondbacks, putting them just two games behind the Dodgers. Their rookie infielder Joe Panik, who briefly caused panic in Washington with his slugging prowess last month, was voted "Mr. Energy of the Month." (See MLB.com.) He is considered a future team leader. After losing two out of three to the visiting Nationals last week, L.A. won five out of six games. The Giants and Dodgers are playing a high-stakes series in San Francisco this weekend.
AL East: Orioles fly high
The big news in the American League is the Baltimore Orioles, who have won six in a row after beating the visiting New York Yankees in a double-header today. Their magic number is now five. In the afternoon game, neither team scored for the first ten innings, and then the Yankees' Chris Young hit a solo homer in the top of the eleventh. But the Orioles loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, and with two outs, Jimmy Paredes hit a two-run double to win the game in dramatic walk-off fashion. This came one day after the Yankees came back from a 4-0 deficit against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, getting two runs in the eighth and three runs in the ninth, thus winning 5-4.
The Orioles got a rude shock when they learned that first baseman Chris Davis received a 25-game suspension after testing positive for the prescription drug Adderall. (Perhaps he was flying too high.) That means he can't play for the rest of the regular season, and will miss at least the divisional series in October, depending on how far the Orioles go. See MLB.com.
AL Central: Tigers-Royals
The Kansas City Royals withstood a fierce challenge from the Detroit Tigers in this week's series in Motown, winning the final game on Wednesday to avoid being swept, thereby remaining in first place. But the Royals lost the first two games of a four-game series against the Red Sox yesterday and today, while the Tigers beat the visiting Cleveland Indians. That puts Detroit in sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time in two weeks, with a half game lead. But don't think that the traditional powerhouse in the AL Central has got the inside track to another division title. The Royals have proven themselves worthy competitors, and they've got plenty of support from the community. (Perhaps the Royals will benefit from the lackluster performance of the Kansas City Chiefs, attracting football fans from next door in Arrowhead Stadium over to Kaufmann Stadium.)
These newspapers posted at the Kansas City airport show how strong fan support is for the Royals. (Courtesy of Dan Clem.)
AL West: Angels astound
The L.A. (Anaheim) Angels are simply awesome this year, and with a winning percentage of .623 (91-53), it's hard to see how anyone except perhaps the Orioles can beat them. The Angels' magic number is now seven. Their big-salary roster of sluggers (Pujols, Trout, Kendrick, Aybar, Hamilton*) is well known, but their pitchers are less prominent, from what I can tell. *Josh Hamilton has been out with a sore shoulder since September 4, and in spite of cortisone shots he isn't making a very fast recovery. As for the Oakland A's, it's a mystery what befell them after doing so well for the first four months. All they can realistically hope for now is to get home field advantage for the wild card play-in game. Meanwhile, with a best-in-the-majors pitching staff, the Seattle Mariners are just a half game behind the Kansas City Royals for the second AL wild card spot. Many possible outcomes still remain...
Stadium chronology fixup
The Stadium chronology, annual page has been updated to include the impending demolition of Candlestick Park and possible demolition of the Astrodome next year. It also lists the expected 2015 groundbreaking on the new Atlanta Braves stadium, yet to be named. In addition, that page now shows the years lights were installed in the "Classical" (Early 20th Century) and "Early Modern" (1920s & 1930s) baseball stadiums. Previously, the only place where that information was compiled was on the Stadiums by class page, soon to be updated.
More on Braves Field
After taking a close look at some old photos of Braves Field (found on baseball-fever.com), I made some significant discoveries. In particular, in 1937 there were distance markers of 407 feet and 404 feet to the left and right (respectively) of the corner in right-center field. Also, home plate was only about 45 feet from the backstop, rather than about 60 feet as it was for most of its lifetime. Those clues allowed me to reconcile the reported distances of 368 (left field) and 376 (right field), which had seemed implausible to me. It also explains why such a big chunk was taken out of the pavilion near the right field corner that year: All of that space was in fair territory until 1940, when an inner fence was added. And so, I added a 1937 version diagram to the Braves Field page. Fortunately, I didn't have to make any noticeable changes to the other diagrams, as was the case with Angel Stadium recently. ("Take two!")
Oops, I did it again
Thanks to Zach LaFleur for pointing out (via the stadium impressions feedback feature) that I had a broken link on the Busch Stadium II page, after doing a big batch of stadium page data table updates earlier this month. That's because I have been working on an upper-deck version diagram for that stadium, but it's not yet ready for publication. [That page is] fixed now. I do depend on fans to bring such mistakes to my attention, which reminds me that I need to streamline the feedback mechanism. Plus I need to reformat the pages to more suitably display on mobile devices, etc., etc., etc. Sigh...
The Washington Nationals took two of three games from the Atlanta Braves at home in D.C. this week, thereby widening their lead in the NL East Division to eight games and cutting their "magic number" to just ten. It was a big relief to get past one of their arch-nemeses, pretty much eliminating the Braves' hopes of contending for the divisional title this year. On Monday, Doug Fister pitched a masterful seven innings, in a pitchers' duel with Mike Minor, exiting the game with a 1-0 lead. The Nats' bullpen did their job, and Washington won by a score of 2-1. Now Fister has a 13-6 record.
On Tuesday, the Nats jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, as batter after batter got hits. They cooled off after that, but Jordan Zimmermann prevented the Braves from closing the gap. He left after six innings, having given up four runs, two of which were earned. Final score: Nats 6, Braves 4.
Wednesday's game was scoreless for the first four innings, as Stephen Strasburg pitched well, but gave up three runs in six innings. The Braves got three more runs in the eighth inning, so even though Bryce Harper hit a dramatic (solo) home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nats still lost, 6-2.
Then tonight in New York, the Nats beat the Mets 6-2, thereby shrinking their "magic number" to just nine. For a while, it looked like a rout, with the Nats getting a 6-0 lead before the Mets started clawing their way back. Adam LaRoche homered in the first inning, and Anthony Rendon followed suit in the third inning. Things got dicey in the seventh and eighth innings, when the Mets loaded the bases with just one out. The relief pitchers got into a couple jams, as the bases were loaded with only one out in both the eighth and ninth innings, but they got out of it both times. Tanner Roark got his 13th win of the season, pulling even with [Doug Fister] Cabrera.
Next week the Nats travel to Atlanta, where they will play three games against the Braves in Turner Field.
Ryan Zimmerman has started hitting balls in batting practice, and even knocked a few of them into the outfield seats. (NOTE: On September 1, I erred in suggesting that Zimmerman's return was expected in the next week or two. If he returns to active duty soon, it would greatly boost the Nats' postseason prospects.
On this date two yers ago, the Nats had an 88-54 record, with a 7.5-game lead over the Braves and a magic number of 13.
Braves Field update
Last year Bruce Orser sent me information on the exact structural dimensions of Braves Field, so I made the diagrams slightly bigger for the sake of accuracy. The field itself is the essentially same as before, but the entry portals in the pavilions have been moved, and a few tiny details have been corrected as well. While I was at it, I added a "roofless" diagram version, showing where the entry portals and (obstructing) roof support columns were located. That diagram shows the restrooms that were situated at both ends of the concourse at the rear of the grandstand, but the one on the third base side was evidently a few feet lower, as the space constraint imposed by the property line on that side reduced the number of seat rows from about 55 to about 50.
Weirdest Nats' names
I was watching one of the "Nationals' Classics" baseball games on MASN recently, reminding me of other present and former Nats players with weird names. I went back and checked the (partial) rosters for each year since 2005 on the Washington Nationals annual (history) page. Here's the list I came up with, in reverse chronological order:
Asdrubal Cabrera (2014)
Shairon Martis (2009)
Nyjer Morgan (2009-2010)
Lastings Milledge (2008)
Odalis Perez (2008): Threw the first-ever pitch at Nationals Park.
Terrmel Sledge (2005): Hit the first-ever Washington Nationals home run. (I was there.)
After a devastating loss on Friday night and a woeful underperformance on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Nationals at last managed to defeat the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, by a slim margin of 3-2. The last-place Phillies had beaten the Nationals in the five preceding games, and another loss would have been a big psychological blow for the Nats, just as their main rivals the Atlanta Braves are coming to town.
In the Friday game, everything was going just fine for most of the game, as the Nats were cruising on the momentum boost they got from the triumphant victory in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening. Sparked by another Adam LaRoche home run in the first inning, they had a 5-0 after five innings, but the Phillies slowly narrowed the gap as the innings progressed. Stephen Strasburg was taken out after six innings, because of a finger blister, but the Nats were still ahead 7-2 after seven innings. In the eighth, the Phillies took advantage of a Nats error and a walk, scoring two runs on a double by Chase Utley and a single by Ryan Howard. Well, it was still a three-run lead going into the top of the ninth, enough of a cushion even for the often-shaky Nats closer Rafael Soriano. Or maybe not. Domonic Brown quickly singled and Carlos Ruiz homered to make it a 7-6 ballgame, and fans in Nationals Park got nervous all of a sudden. The next two batters were out, and with the Phillies down to their final strike, it appeared all would end well. Except that Ben Revere hit a home run into the right field seats to the left of the bullpen, tying the game. Yep, Soriano did it again, blowing another easy save opportunity. The game went into extra innings, and in the top of the 11th, Bryce Harper collided with Denard Span chasing a fly ball, an error that allowed Domonic Brown to reach second base. After reaching third on a sac bunt, Brown scored on a throwing error by Tyler Moore, playing at first base, and the batter reached second. A single by Ben Revere got another run across, so the Phillies had a 9-7 lead. Un-believable. In spite of the horrific turn of events, the Nats did not go quietly, however, staging a rally in the bottom of the 11th. Tyler Moore hit an RBI single, and the Nats had runners on first and second with just one out. But Ian Desmond struck out and Bryce Harper flew out swinging at the first pitch, and that is how the nightmarish game ended. Phillies 9, Nationals 8. Definitely NOT a game to remember.
On Saturday, the Nats were once again stymied by Phillies pitcher A.J. Burnett, and even though they had more hits (7 vs. 6), they fell short in the runs department, 3-1. Tanner Roark pitched OK, but the team seemed shell-shocked from what had transpired the night before. It goes to show how one critical blunder can thrown an entire team off kilter, taking the momentum away.
But on Sunday, the Nats managed to come back, thanks to two more home runs by Adam LaRoche. He won the final game in L.A. almost single-handedly, with five RBIs even though he entered the game in the ninth inning. Scott Hairston hit the go-ahead RBI on a sac fly in the sixth inning, coming within a few feet of hit a home run over the left field fence. Gio Gonzalez got credit for the win, but his record is still only 8-9.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves lost to the Marlins, so the Nationals regained a seven-game lead in the NL East, cutting their magic number to 14 with less than three weeks to go. The Nats still have the highest winning percentage in the National League, and the only real question is whether they will maintain that advantage through the end of the regular season. But with Rafael Soriano on the mound anything is possible, and manager Matt Williams said he is reevaluating the relief pitching duties, giving Soriano a few days off to work on his slider, which apparently is not sliding much. I had some unkind things to say about Soriano on Facebook, furious at what had happened on Friday. I doubt very much that he'll be back with the team next year, so it's going to be a delicate juggling act as the Nats search for a way to share closer duties for the rest of this month -- and into October! Drew Storen looked good yesterday, so maybe he is ready to resume being the closer. I wish they didn't make such a big deal about one pitcher serving as "the" closing pitcher. Tyler Clippard and Aaron Barrett can probably share those duties with Drew, depending on the workload and the situation.
Are you ready for some football?
Apparently the Washington Redskins are not ready; they lost to the Houston Texans yesterday, 17-6. Like it or not, the advent of September heralds the arrival of football season.
As of this 2014 season, the San Francisco 49ers have left Candlestick Park, and the Minnesota Vikings have left the Metrodome, which was demolished in February. That leaves just "o.co" (Oakland) Coliseum, Angels Stadium, and Jack Murphy (QualComm) Stadium, as (current or former) baseball stadiums in which pro football is still being played. See the updated Football use page.
While I was at it, I completed the statistical tables for nearly all of the 1960s- and 1970s-era dual use stadiums, calculating the estimated fair and foul territory, as well as number of rows of seats in the main decks. That page is still "under construction," pending further review, but the whole thing ought to be done in the next month or so.
Football at a racetrack?!
I was intrigued by the news that the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Tennessee Volunteers are going to play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 10, 2016. With a seating capacity of almost 160,000, they could easily set a new collegiate attendance record. See Yahoo Sports (hat tip to Matt Ereth).
What an amazing ballgame that was in Los Angeles on Wednesday! The Washington Nationals went toe-to-toe against the L.A. Dodgers in another fierce pitchers' duel, and neither team scored until the seventh inning. Just like the day before (see next paragraph), the Dodgers eventually took the lead, with a two-run homer that just cleared the center field fence. Jordan Zimmermann was taken out of the game, in spite of a masterful performance. The Nats had a chance in the eighth inning, but the would-be rally fell flat. Then in the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond, who had failed to get a hit during the game, reached base on a throwing error by the shortstop. Up to the plate came Adam LaRoche, as a pinch hitter. His back has been ailing him this week, but the Nats needed his power. And sure enough, he belted that ball on top of the left field fence for a game-tying home run! And then to take the lead. But then the Dodgers came right back to tie it in the bottom of the ninth. In the twelvth inning, the Nats scored twice on a two-run single by -- Adam LaRoche again! With a 5-3 lead, they were virtually assured of a win. Tyler Clippard took the mound to close the game, and was within one strike of doing so, when -- guess what? Carl Crawford hit a two-run homer that tied the game 5-5. Poor Tyler cringed and kneeled in disbelieving agony. How could he let that happen? So the game went two more innings, and all of a sudden the Nats staged a real rally. Ian Desmond reached base on an error, Bryce Harper walked on a wild pitch that sent Desmond to third. Adam LaRoche then hit a ground ball out that got Desmond across the plate to retake the lead, again. To top it off, Asdrubal Cabrera then hit a two-run homer to give the Nats a three-run lead. This time the closing pitcher (Blake Treinen) did his job, and that is how the Nationals came out on top, 8-5. Believe it or not!!!
That was the sixth extra-inning victory in a row for the Nationals. The Nats finished the road trip with a 4-5 record, not bad when you consider they lost the first three games, in Philadelphia. Their record is now 79-59, seven games ahead of the Braves, with the magic number down to 17. I can almost taste October baseball!
The Tuesday night game was an epic struggle between Clayton Kershaw (this year's presumptive NL Cy Young winner) and the newest (and best?) starter in the Nats' rotation Doug Fister, and Kershaw came out on top. The decisive moment was when Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning. The Dodgers scored two more in the sixth inning, a very safe cushion for Kershaw. Bryce Harper hit a home run to put the Nats on the scoreboard, but that was it. Dodgers 4, Nats 1. Harper was the first left-handed batter to hit a homer off Kershaw this year.
My plan was to mark this momentous encounter by revising the Dodger Stadium diagrams (which are badly out of date), but...
Angel Stadium: take two
OOPS! I noticed a few small discrepancies, and before you know it, I had to make a number of significant changes to the Angel Stadium diagrams. [Oops again: corrected link!] The biggest change since my "false start" diagram update on Monday was that the roof extends about ten feet forward, completely covering the entry portals in the upper deck, neatly aligning with the rear of the lateral aisles. How did I determine that? By very closely inspecting the shadows in the detailed panoramic photo of (then-) Anaheim Stadium taken by Jim Dow, and published as a calendar for 2003. So, I decided I had to create a new diagram showing the uncovered upper deck seats, with the entry portals. Also, I added the luxury suites behind home plate that were added in the 1998 renovations. You can get a rough idea of the changes by rolling your mouse over that thumbnail, to see what it was like for the first three days of September. Sorry about that.
Belated hat tip to Marc Gilbert for the information about the changed distance markers at Angel Stadium.
I'll get caught up with other baseball news, etc. tomorrow.
I went up to Shenandoah Mountain on Saturday, curious as to whether the neotropical migrant birds have begun their southward sojourn. Indeed, some have, as I saw and photographed a Cape May Warbler, as well as other warbler and vireo species that may be local breeders, rather than migrants. (Cape May Warblers only breed in Canada and a few northerly states.) The photo montage below shows most of what I observed during my brief outing. Individually, none of the photos was really that good, so I just put them in a bunch. Also seen: Black-and-White Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo.
Clockwise from top left: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco (imm.), Blackburnian Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Cape May Warbler..
Shenandoah Mountain is a high-elevation habitat in which some "winter" birds (such as Juncos) breed. The place I visited is just south of the Confederate Breastworks. I have previously seen Scarlet Tanagers there.
For shorebirds, migration season starts a month or so earlier than for most songbirds and raptors. I was hoping to fill in the many gaps in terms of photographs and my life bird list. These are a few of the nicer recent sightings:
Western Sandpiper, at Leonard's Pond in Rockingham County, on August 12.
White Ibises (immature), at Day's Inn on Bell's Lane, on August 17.
Great Egret, at Smith's Pond in Swoope, on August 22.
In addition, there was a Glossy Ibis near that Great Egret in Smith's Pond, but my photos weren't good at all. I had a much better view of a Glossy Ibis in Rockingham County in August 2006.
The Washington Nationals amassed 19 victories and only 10 losses (.655) in August, their best month since last September, when they were 18-9 (.667). They could have done even better, had they not lost four of the last six games. Overall, you have to give more credit to the pitching side, as the Nats averaged only 4.7 runs during the month, and in fact seven of their victories during the wild ten-game winning streak were by a single run margin. Just think how they would do if Ryan Zimmerman were back in the lineup! Ryan is starting to do limited running and batting exercises, but his return is probably at least a week or two away.
In Seattle on Friday night, the Washington Nationals unleashed a veritable barrage of six home runs, including two by Wilson Ramos, beating the Mariners, 8-3. The home team ace, Felix Hernandez, has a whole section of devoted fans who wear yellow T-shirts and hold up "K" (strikeout) signs, but the the crowd was silenced as he gave up a career-high four home runs, and only got one strikeout. He is still considered a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young award. It reminds me of when the Nationals got so many runs against the Reds' ace Johnny Cueto back in May. The last time they managed six home runs was in September 5, 2012, and the time before that was one night earlier -- yes, six home runs two nights in a row! The scores in those two games were (respectively) 11-5 and 9-1. One more way in which this year is looking more and more like the Nats' superb 2012 divisional championship. (Don't remind me about the NLDS.)
On Saturday, Jayson Werth got an early home run that gave a margin of safety to pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who went 7 2/3 innings, and got the win. Nats 3, Mariners 1. Nothin' fancy, just a solid victory against a solid oppositing team.
On Sunday, the Nats took an early lead again, with two home runs by Bryce Harper and one by Nate Schierholtz, the latest addition to the team's roster. All three were solo shots. But Tanner Roark allowed two batters to reach base and gave up a home run that gave the lead to the Mariners. They won the game 5-3, thus avoiding being swept at home.
So, for the three games in Seattle, the Nats racked up ten home runs altogether. Unfortunately, most of them were solo shots. But at least that display of offensive power helped them put that dreadful series in Philadelphia behind them. Regaining momentum will help a lot as they take on the NL West-leading Dodgers tonight. It could be a preview of a series in October...
UPDATE: The Nationals took the first game of the series in Los Angeles, beating the Dodgers 6-4, with four more home runs, two of which were hit by Denard Span. He has been a very good at the plate this year, leading the team in batting average, but he is not what most people would consider a slugger.
Poultry output forecast*
September means the beginning of football season, but more importantly, it's the climax of the divisional races in baseball. The Nationals now enjoy a 6 1/2-game lead over the Braves, pending the outcome of tonight's game in L.A. against the Dodgers. The MLB standings page at ESPN gives the Nationals a 99.4% probability of making it to the playoffs, second only to the L.A. Angels. I noticed that the coolstandings.com Web site has not been updated since the 2013 season. (And I thought my Web site had been lagging behind!) So even though things are looking great for the Nats right now, I'm not taking anything for granted.
With that in mind, each blog post this month will show the Nationals' magic number, just like I did in September 2012. The magic number is the combined number of leading team (in this case, Washington) wins and challenging team (in this case, Atlanta) losses needed to clinch a given title. The Nats have 27 more games to play, and the Braves have 24 more games to play. The Nats' magic number was 21 this morning, but today in Atlanta, the Phillies pitched a four-pitcher combined no-hitter (!), beating the Braves, 7-0. Cole Hamels had already reached a pitch count of 108, and the hot weather was getting to him, apparently. So now Nats' magic number is down to 20 [make that 19, after beating the Dodgers tonight]!
* As in, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch!"
Angel Stadium update
Speaking of the "LAnaheim" Angels, they have bulldozed their way to the top of the AL West, soundly thrashing the Oakland A's last week. And with the prospects of another postseason in Anaheim in mind, I finished revisions on the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams, which now show the altered distance markers that were put up this year, to more accurately reflect the distance at the precise spot where the markers are placed. (Note that I am shifting to current stadium names as a general rule.) I mentioned [that issue] in June, and the fact that the bullpens were too small. I increased my estimate (by about five feet) of the size of the upper deck, which has 24 rows of seats plus a lateral aisle. Meanwhile, the lower deck is slightly smaller than I thought, only 33 rows. Also, as usual, I needed to depict the profile more accurately, including the entry portals for the first time.
Cubs sweep the Orioles
Did I mention that already? Well, I figured it was unusual enough to bring up a second time, and possibly a third time. This weekend, they got off to a good start against the Cardinals, taking the first two games of a four-game series, but the Cards bounced back and earned a series tie.
Complete blog entries for the current month:
September 2014 (with links to archives of previous months)
My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:
Wild birds (LAST)
Science & Technology *
Culture & Travel *
Canaries ("Home birds")
* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007
The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.
The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.
This blog is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.
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