The feast or famine trend for the Nationals offense continued today, as the Nationals put six on the board in the second inning of the final game at home before the All-Star Break. Stephen Strasburg notched his fifth win of the season, improving to 5-6 with a 2.45 ERA. He allowed 4 earned runs in six innings pitched, striking out nine and walking just two. Strasburg struggled with his command at times, and he hit 3 Padres hitters. Manager Davey Johnson said after the game that “sometimes he fights himself,” and that was evident through innings four, five and six, as he failed to keep control of the Padres’ lineup.
“The offense was really there today,” Johnson said in his post game conference, and boy was he right. The Nationals batted around twice, once in the third and again in the fifth, pulling ten of their eleven runs in those two frames. Strasburg got the third started with a 9-pitch walk, and in an unusual turn of events, was sacrificed to second by leadoff man Denard Span. Desmond drew a walk and Harper a single, before Ryan Zimmerman absolutely crushed his fourth grand slam into the center field seats, putting the Nats up 5-1. A single from Jayson Werth followed, quickly paced by Anthony Rendon’s third homer of his rookie season, a beauty into the left field bullpen.
In the fifth, it was less bluster, and more blunder, that staked the Nationals to an 11-4 lead. The Padres seemed hellbent on hurting themselves. Three walks, two errors, a wild pitch and three singles contributed to their demise, as the Nationals gave the Padres a nibbled-to-death-by-ducks fate.
Before it was all over, though, the Nationals were intent on letting the Padres back into the ballgame, and much of that can be put at Craig Stammen’s feet. Stammen struggled in relief in the seventh and eighth, allowing three runs to store, two of them earned. He was a bit snakebit, with a couple of charitable singles and errors behind him, but some odd pitch choices, and some sliders that just hung. Fortunately, Drew Storen has returned to his dominant stature, and sent he Padres packing in a row in the eight, despite loaded bases. In the ninth, Tyler Clippard slammed the door shut to give the Nationals their fourth win in a row.
The Nationals pack up and head for Philly for four games, and then head to Miami for three ahead of the All Star Game. The Nationals have recovered to within four games of the Braves, who have stumbled of late. The Nationals are three and a half up on the Phillies (now 3 games under .500) and the 32-55 Marlins are now 13.5 back of the Nationals. This would be the perfect time for the Nationals to break out of their spring-long funk and start to perform as the team that was the odds-on favorite for the World Series on Opening Day.
“It’s a long season,” Davey said, “and momentum shifts can happen at any time.”
The Case for Ian Desmond
There’s no other way about it: Ian Desmond got snubbed by Bruce Bochy. Desmond is crushing the ball this year, and his sterling field work makes him a shortstop you just don’t want to be without when home field advantage is on the line. Sadly, every team needs a representative, and Everth Cabrera of the Padres got the spot that should be Desmond’s. The Nationals are sending Jordan Zimmermann and Bryce Harper, for sure, and Desmond could win his way in through the Final Vote Contest. There’s a really compelling case for sending the red-hot Desmond instead of Yasiel Puig (despite his incredible first month in the bigs), or Freddie Freeman of the Braves. Desmond leads the quintet of selected players in five major offensive categories, including hits, extra base hits, home runs, doubles and WAR. So, get voting DC, Desi’s earned your attention.
It’s hard to look at the attendance statistics and not tip your cap to DC sports fans for coming out to the park this season. The Nationals were 9th in attendance in the NL last year, and 14th in MLB, with an average just over 30,000 fans tickets sold per game. This season? They’re averaging just over 33,000 per game, the single best fan performance of any club in the game. Pat yourselves on the back, Nats fans, and get yourself another beer.