May 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Zimmerman's streak reaches 30
Even as the rest of his team struggles to play consistently, Ryan Zimmerman has led the way, hitting safely in 30 consecutive games. He's over half way to Joe DiMaggio's record of 56 consecutive games with hits. It's truly an incredible achievement, made even more amazing by the fact that in almost all of those games he has gotten a hit in the early innings, neutralizing the suspense element. Only in the May 9 game in Phoenix was his first hit in the latter innings, and that was a huge blast over the high center field wall at Chase Field for what ended up being the game-deciding run. During most of April, he was hitting consistently but not that often, spreading out his hits over the games, but with a batting average below .250. That changed toward the end of the month, and in May he has been the hottest batter in the major leagues, as his average has climbed to .363. He has surpassed Chipper Jones as the best third baseman in the National League, and he should be a cinch to get picked for this year's All-Star Game in St. Louis. See MLB.com.
In today's game in San Francisco, Zimmerman is 0 for 2, getting two bases on balls. As his reputation has grown, even ace pitchers like Barry Zito are afraid to pitch to him. Too bad, as that might take away a fair chance to extend his streak. The ninth inning is about to begin, with the Nats ahead 4-2, and the "Z-man" is the third to bat...
UPDATE: Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson, and Josh Willingham (a former Marlin) all got hits in the top of the ninth inning, but alas, not Ryan Zimmerman. He did reach base on a fielder's choice, however, and he was one of the two insurance runs scored by the Nationals, who went on to beat the Giants, 6-3. Whew: no sweep, yet again. Tha Nats have actually won six or their last ten games, which is a very welcome turn of events, and if not for Pablo Sandoval's three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth last night with two strikes and two outs, it would have been seven out of ten wins. Anyway, Zimmerman's streak is now officially over at 30 games.
The Nats: offensive power house?
True, they have lost the last three games, and last night's heartbreaking loss in San Francisco was hard to take, but for the first time since Opening Day 2008, watching a Washington Nationals baseball game is actually fun! Since their 2005 inaugural season in Washington, the Nationals have not been known for their slugging prowess. They have usually managed to win by solid pitching, great defensive plays, or clutch base hits -- not from home runs. Here's one for Ripley's Believe It Or Not: the Washington Nationals currently rank third in the National League in batting average, at .277, behind the Mets and Dodgers. Three American League teams rank higher: the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Rangers. So why are the Nats in the NL East cellar? Well, they have the worst pitching record in the National League, with an aggregate ERA of 5.54,* and the worst fielding percentage among all major league teams, .972. That's how come they keep managing to lose even when they should be winning.
* The two worst pitching teams? The Indians (5.58 ERA) and the Yankees (5.78 ERA) -- believe it, or not.
The Nats' western road trip was going pretty well until Sunday, when the Diamondbacks came back in the late innings and won 10-8, thus averting a sweep. The game on Saturday night will be remembered not only for the monster home runs to center field by Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, but also for the amazing put-out by [right] fielder Austin Kearns. With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Josh Whitesell hit a liner to right field, but the runner on third base hesitated in case the ball would be caught. Kearns snagged it cleanly and fired a rocket to the catcher Jesus Flores, who stretched to catch the ball for a force out. Un-be-lievable! John Lannan finally got his first win of the season.
The mail bag
This sounds like an April Fool's joke, but apparently it's true: The Miami Dolphins are renaming their home Dolphin Stadium "Landshark Stadium" for the next season only, as part of a promotional deal with singer Jimmy Buffett. Wasted away again... See ESPN and Baseball Fever ; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. This may be part of a ploy to get the Marlins to hurry up in building their new ballpark so the Dolphins can have their stadium all to themselves.
Clarence Riley tells me that PETCO Park was also recently the site of a Rugby Sevens (!) tournament. Watch this YouTube video.
I've been busy for the past week, but am getting ready for another burst of Web site activity. Stay tuned, sports fans!!!