April 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Nationals end dismal skid with historic comeback
After a six-game losing streak, the Washington Nationals staged a spectacular victorious comeback in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was a desperately needed win for a team that had been stumbling badly. The game started on a hopeful note, as the Nats scored a run in the first inning. But by the end of the second inning, the Braves were ahead 9-1, humiliating the Nats' starting pitcher A.J. Cole in his major league debut. It seemed that the demons of defeat were haunting them again, but the Braves' pitcher Julio Teheran failed in the task of containing the Nats.
The crucial moment came in the fifth inning when Braves shortstop Alberto Callaspo fumbled what would have been a double-play ground ball. That set the stage for an RBI sac fly by Jayson Werth and a three-run homer by Jose Lobaton. That narrowed the gap from 10-2 to 10-6, making it a real game all of a sudden. Denard Span homered in the sixth inning, but the Braves got a run right back in the bottom of the inning. In the seventh inning, Dan Uggla (who used to play for the Braves) hit a two-run triple and then scored when Reed Johnson got a pinch-hit double, making it 11-10. Excitement rippled all across Nats Land at the prospect of a miraculous come-from-behind victory, but down 12-10 with two on and one out in the top of the ninth, it seemed too much to hope for. Dan Uggla had two strikes against him, and then connected perfectly with the ball, which sailed a dozen or so rows beyond the wall in left field. Un-be-lievable! That made the score 13-12 in favor of the Nationals, and their closing pitcher Drew Storen maintained his composure well enough to get the save.
And that is how the Nationals won their biggest comeback victory ever, turning an eight-run deficit into a one-run margin of victory. Take a look for yourself at MLB.com.
The acquisition of Dan Uggla by the Nats this year may turn out to be one of the smartest moves by the front office. He was released by the Braves in the middle of last year, and managed to win a spot on the roster after hustling his way through spring training. He is still being paid $12+ million by the Braves under the contractual obligations -- Ouch!
As for the unfortunate A.J. Cole, he was sent back down to the minors a day later. He filled in for Max Scherzer, who hurt his thumb in the game against the Cardinals on April 23. (Scherzer is expected to start against the Mets on Friday.) Meanwhile, Michael Taylor was called back up to the majors. He had started most of the games in center field earlier this month, before Denard Span returned from the DL. During his recovery from surgery earlier this year, Jayson Werth was replaced in left field by Clint Robinson. Both Taylor and Robinson have had a few hits, and both show great promise for the future.
The following night, the Braves took a lead in the first inning, putting heavy pressure on starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. But he kept his cool, and the Nats staged a big rally in the fourth inning, with one RBI by Ryan Zimmerman, and three more by Jordan Zimmermann. An intentional walk loaded the bases, as the Braves expected the Nats' pitcher to be an easy out, but he hung in there pitch after pitch and finally belted a line drive into the gap in left center. He da mann! Bryce Harper scored all the way from first, making it a rare three-run single. In the seventh inning, Danny Espinosa knocked in two more runs, and the Nationals added four more runs in the ninth inning, thanks mainly to a three-run homer by Denard Span, making the final score 13-4.
Those two games set a consecutive-game offensive record for the Nationals, scoring 26 runs. On June 30 - July 1, 2013, they scored a total of 23 runs, beating the Mets (on the road) 13-2, and then beating the Brewers (at home), 10-5.
Tonight in New York, the Nats beat the division-leading Mets by a score of 8-2. Once again, the Nats got plenty of clutch hits, including a bases-clearing double by Bryce Harper in the ninth inning. As a result, they scored 34 runs in three consecutive games, thereby surpassing their previous such record of June 26-28, 2012, when they amassed 33 runs against the Colorado Rockies (in Denver): 12-5, 11-5, and 10-11. (They actually lost that last game, in 11 innings.)
And speaking of records, the Nats' win tonight put an end to the Mets' home-field winning streak of ten games, the most they have done since moving to Citi Field in 2009. The Mets have lost three games in a row, and the Nats are now just five games behind them, and only a half game behind the Braves and Marlins, tied for second place in the NL East.
So, the Nationals end the first month of the 2015 with a 10-13 record, far below what had been expected of them, but not as bad as it could have been. See the soon-to-be-updated Washington Nationals page.
That bleak losing streak
The preceding six straight losses had many Nats fans wondering if the team would be a big flop this year. The Nationals had climbed back to .500 by April 21, beating the Cardinals 2-1 in ten innings. (There were ahead 1-0 in the ninth, but Drew Storen blew the save.) That made it five wins over a six-game stretch, which was quite encouraging after their feeble 2-6 record in their first eight games. But the next night, defensive miscues turned what could have been a win into a 7-5 loss. Max Scherzer
committed two errors [gave up two runs -- one on a wild pitch in the first inning, and another after hitting a batter with a pitch in the sixth inning -- ] in the 4-1 loss to the Cards on April 23. Then the Nationals traveled to Miami, where they were swept in three games by the Marlins. They had solid outings by their starting pitchers, but failed to score more than two runs. In Atlanta on Monday night, the misery continued, as they lost 8-4, sending them into last place in the NL East Division. The last time the Washington Nationals were in fifth place was August 6, 2011, when their record was a semi-respectable 54-59.
Among the most notable factors was Ian Desmond's horrendous defensive performance at shortstop. He currently leads the majors with nine (9) errors, but it should be noted that the first six players on that list are also shortstops. He muffed what should have been an easy double play in more than one game. His batting is mediocre as well, and he somehow just can't seem to resist swinging at bad pitches. He'll snap out of it sooner or later.
On a much brighter note, Bryce Harper has matured greatly both in the batters box and on the field. He is much more patient at the plate, drawing more walks (22) than any other player in the majors this year (month). Plus, he's got five home runs, and has raised his batting average to .286. Can there be any doubt that he'll make the 2015 All-Star Game roster?
Riots cancel games in Baltimore
The Baltimore Orioles were obliged to postpone two of their games against the White Sox this week, and the game yesterday afternoon was held without any fans being allowed inside to watch. That was bizarre, and I just don't see the point of playing under those conditions. Today's Washington Post had a photo of the empty grandstand at Camden Yards while the game was underay. The Orioles still managed to win, They will play their next three "home" games against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
How about them Cubs?!
Until they lost yesterday, the Chicago Cubs had climbed to within one game of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. Could this be their big year??? For your schadenfreude* amusement, read "What The World Was Like The Last Time The Cubs Won The World Series" at buzzfeed.com. (Link courtesy of Doug Mataconis.) That would be 1908, when horseless carriages were a new-fangled curiousity, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still dominated Eastern Europe.
* German for "taking pleasure in (other peoples') suffering."
The end is near!
End of the semester, that is. I look forward to getting much more active as a baseball fan and ballpark diagrammer in about two more weeks. I'll try to get to some of the e-mail messages I have received lately, acknowledge the support some of you have kindly offered, and so on. The best is yet to come!