August 27, 2013
It's a pretty modest goal, especially compared to their pre-season expectations, but it's a relief to see the Nationals having won as many games as they have lost. After Saturday's game in Kansas City they were over .500 for the first time since the All-Star break, but then they blew the chance for a sweep against the Royals on Sunday, so they're now at an even 65-65. All in all, it was a good road trip: six wins and four losses. But at this point in the season, is "good" good enough?
On Sunday afternoon, Nats starting pitcher Dan Haren seemed to fall apart in the first inning, giving up four runs. He quickly regained his composure, however, and ended up staying in the game longer than the home team pitcher. In the fourth inning Ian Desmond crushed a monster home run to the Royals Hall of Fame building beyond left field, estimated at about 435 feet. In the seventh inning, Denard Span hit a solo homer, Ryan Zimmerman singled, and then Bryce Harper homered, even though he was limping from a sore foot. (A foul ball hit his foot earlier in the game.) But the tie score didn't last long, as egregious defensive lapses by Nats infielders in the eighth inning allowed two unearned runs to score after what should have been the third out. Adam LaRoche, Craig Stammen, and Ryan Zimmerman were just standing around, wrongly assuming some other guy would make the play, and that is what allowed the Royals' rally to continue. The Nats' chances for a postseason berth will go from slim to absolutely none if they slack off like that again. Final score: K.C. 6, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.
In contrast, the Saturday night game was one of the first truly enjoyable, decisive wins the Nats have had in a while. They scored a run in the first inning, and tacked on four more in the fourth inning, winning by a score of 7-2. Jordan Zimmermann went 7 2/3 innings, getting his 15th win of the season.* It was the Nats' third five-game winning streak of the year. Too bad they couldn't quite make it to six. I was impressed with the Royals, who ended a seven-game losing streak, in terms of playing skill and hustle. The Nats did well to get two hits (by Denard Span and Jayson Werth) off the Royals' closing pitcher Greg Holland. The Royals could be a factor next year.
*CORRECTION: In my last blog post (August 24), I wrote that Jordan Zimmermann has "been stuck at 14 wins for about a month now..." but in fact he had already earned two wins this month.
Bryce Harper's infamous collision with the right field wall in Dodger Stadium really banged up his knee, and his recovery has taken a long time. He has been doing better in the batter's box lately, and his fielding is top notch as well. Ballpark and home run expert Bruce Orser expressed to me worries about Harper, but the 20-year older looked OK to me when I saw him at Nationals Park two weeks ago. I think he will be back to 100% next month. Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond are providing most of the team's offensive power.
On the other hand, I am a bit worried about Ryan Zimmerman. His ability to choose which pitches to swing at seems to be going downhill lately, as if he needs to wear glasses or something. And Adam LaRoche remains in a slump that has dragged on for just about the whole season.
Nationals GM Frank Rizzo has been busy making trades and other transactions over the past week or so. Most notably, they traded catcher Kurt Suzuki back to the Oakland A's, almost exactly a year since the trade went in the other direction. Unlike last year, the A's are in a hot race for the postseason, whereas the Nationals are very long shots. I hope Wilson Ramos stays healthy. The Nats' minor league catcher, Jhonatan Solano, shows promise but is not ready to serve full-time in that position in case Ramos gets injured again.
The Nats also acquired David DeJesus from the Chicago Cubs, and within a couple days traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays. He's an unknown to me. I was surprised to learn that Roger Bernadina had been released, and the Phillies picked him up. His batting average was way below last year, and it was probably inevitable. He's a good guy with lots of hustle, and I'm sure he'll be around the big leagues for several more years.
The Philadelphia Phillies decided to fire their long-time manager Charlie Manuel, as their once-proud team flounders in fourth place. The parting was not 100% cordial, evidently. Ryne Sandberg will become interim manager. Since he took command in 2005, the Phillies have won five division championships, and of course they reached the pinnacle of success when they won the 2008 World Series. See MLB.com.
It so happens that Manuel grew up in Buena Vista, Virginia, not far from where I live. As you drive into town, you can see signs proclaiming that it's the home of Charlie Manuel. They are rightly proud of their champion.
The proposal to adopt a "challenge" system for instant replays next year is rather troubling to me. They say they are working on a video-monitoring system that will prevent delays, but I don't like the idea of some guys in an air-conditioned studio in New York dictating the outcome of a game in Atlanta or Baltimore. I would accept a limited expansion, but one in which each manager can make one (and only one) challenge per game, with the possibility of "saving" one challenge for use in a subsequent game.
I made some small corrections on the Memorial Stadium diagrams, mostly involving the position of the entry portals.
Perhaps more significantly, that page now has the full set of "stadium statistics," including number of seating rows, fair and foul territory, etc. Percent of the upper deck in the shade? ZERO! Speaking of which...
Many thanks to long-time fan Bucky Nance for sharing the photos he took many years ago of Arlington Stadium, former home of the Texas Rangers. That, of course, was the other baseball stadium in which the upper deck had no roof whatsoever. There are two "stitched-together" panoramic shots on that page, one showing the grandstand from center field, and one (see below) showing the field and the bleachers from behind home plate. They are excellent images that add a lot to that page. Thanks again, Bucky!
Speaking of which, I am always eager to get photographs of stadiums no longer in existence. Take a look in some of those old trunks in Grandpa's attic some time!