April 15, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

It was sixty six years ago today, April 15, 1947, that Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus breaking the color barrier that had plagued major league baseball since its inception. And so, every Major League player donned a uniform with the number 42 on it, in honor of Jackie Robinson. See MLB.com.

The movie 42 debuted in Kansas City last Friday, and racked up huge box office revenues over the weekend. I have heard mostly positive things about it from people who have seen it. Although busy lately, I don't plan to wait long. On a related cinematic note, I recently saw The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), starring Jackie Robinson himself. There is a nice review of that movie by Bill Christopher: "Lights, Camera, Jackie! The Short-But-Distinguished Film Career of Baseball Legend Jackie Robinson." I agree with his assessment of #42's performance as an actor: "Despite a total lack of professional acting experience, Jackie Robinson does a fine job in front of the camera."

I recently learned that Yankee second-baseman Robinson Cano is named after Jackie Robinson, but I guess I should have realized that.

Braves sweep the Nationals

After the Washington Nationals swept the Chicago White Sox in three home games (8-7, 5-2, and 7-4), it looked like they were back on track, putting the losses in Cincinnati behind them. NOT! Welcoming the Atlanta Braves to D.C. on Friday night, they started off just fine, taking a 4-0 lead after two innings. After that, however, they just plain choked, eerily reminiscent of NLDS Game 5 last year. They frittered away a comfortable lead in the late innings, and the Braves scored twice in the top of the tenth, winning 6-4. In fact, the Nationals only scored a single run over the next 26 innings, while the pitchers failed to get outs. Stephen Strasburg struggled and just managed to hold the Braves to scoring just two runs on Saturday, but he had almost no run support, and the Nats lost, 3-1. In Sunday's game, Gio Gonzalez allowed seven runs over five innings, his worst outing since joining the Nationals. The Nationals were badly outplayed and lost, 9-0. See MLB.com. What was particularly disturbing about the first two losses is that errors by Ryan Zimmerman played a key role.

And so, the Nationals not only failed to catch up to the Braves in the NL East race, they fell four games behind their rivals in Atlanta; the Nats' biggest deficit during their brief period in second place last year was just two games. And they have fallen from a 73-72 lifetime record against the Braves (2005 to 2013) to a 73-75 lifetime record. That weekend series was a big disappointment, and contrary to those who say it's still very early in the season and those losses don't really matter, I think what happened does say something about the Nationals' ability to compete and win when it really counts. Hopefully they will learn and do better next time.

But maybe it's not the Nationals' fault, but rather a sign of how good the Braves are. With Justin Upton hitting seven home runs already this year, it's hard to imagine how a team could be playing hotter than the Braves. Michael Morse and three other guys are close behind with six homers, while the Nats' Bryce Harper has five. And the guy who is replacing catcher Brian McCann, somebody named Evan Gattis, has four home runs, playing a key role in many of their 11 wins. Where do these people come from? The Braves could turn out to be the team to beat this year, knocking the Nationals off their pedestal.

Thanks in part to the blowout losses to the Reds (15-0) and the Braves (9-0), the Nationals' total ERA has risen to 4.27, 20th in the majors. So much for their vaunted starting rotation and bullpen! The number one team in ERA? The Atlanta Braves, with an amazing 1.82. See MLB.com.

Fortunately, the Nationals did get themselves back on track this evening, trouncing the Miami Marlins 10-3. The Nats scored four times in the first inning, and twice each in the third, fourth, and fifth innings. Ryan Zimmerman looked like he was limping early in the game, but later smashed a ball over the deep left-center field fence, his first home run of the year, so he must be OK. Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann pitched a complete game, and earned his third win of the season, enjoying much more run support than he got last year.

Zack Greinke on the DL

The Dodgers will have to do without their new ace pitcher Zack Greinke for at least several more weeks, as he suffered a broken collarbone after Carlos Quentin of the Padres assaulted him in retaliation for being hit by a pitch. Greinke could have retreated in the face of superior bulk, but evidently felt his honor was at stake, or something like that. See MLB.com.

And speaking of disabled, the Yankees are hanging in there, despite having almost half of their starting lineup out of action. Ironically, that was the situation the Nationals found themselves in one year ago, and yet they managed to surge to the top of the NL East.

The mail bag

I learned from Brandon Henderson and Matt Ereth that a college football game will be played in Busch Stadium III this coming fall. Southeast Missouri State University will play against Southern Illinois University on September 21. Contrary to my earlier supposition, however, the gridiron is going to be aligned diagonally, so as to minimize trampling of the infield area. See the news article and the football seating chart (both MLB.com). Also, Jonathan Karberg tells me that Busch Stadium is hosting a soccer match this month. Perhaps of more interest to baseball fans, Mike Zurawski reports that construction on the "Ballpark Village" next door to Busch Stadium is underway, and should be completed by Opening Day 2014. See ballparkdigest.com.

And via Facebook, there is a cute decision-making flow chart purporting explain how people choose to be fans of which MLB teams at bloggerstobenamedlater.com.