Sports Fix, The Features

Neutered Nats Flop Against Fish, Lose 3-0

Friday night was never going to be easy for the Washington Nationals. A letdown of some kind had to be expected after an emphatic four-game road sweep of the New York Mets earlier this week, and the red flags waved even more frantically when Davey Johnson announced that he was giving both Michael Morse and Jayson Werth a day off. (And he meant it; Alex Cora was first off the bench to pinch-hit.) And that was before anyone bothered to check the statistics and note that Florida had had the Indian sign over Washington this season, with an 8-4 head-to-head record entering this three-game weekend series, the next-to-last of the season between these two clubs.

But no one expected the Nats to go down as meekly as they did in the 3-0 loss. Javier Vazquez, a pitcher who has generally been mediocre to below-average since being traded by the Montreal Expos to the New York Yankees prior to the 2004 season (exceptional outliers in 2007 and 2009 notwithstanding), recorded his first complete game since September 25, 2009 (when his Braves defeated, yes, the Nationals), and he needed only 104 pitches to do it. True to form, there was nothing particularly special about what Vazquez was doing. He threw his fastball for strikes, got ahead in the count, and took advantage of a Nationals lineup that seemed completely uninterested in working the count. Of the 30 batters that Vazquez faced, 17 either took a first-pitch strike or swung at the first pitch.

The Nationals were compliant in their own demise as well, making two foolish mistakes on the basepaths. The first came in the second inning with the score still 1-0. After Rick Ankiel had singled to center with one out, Espinosa flicked a ball into left-center field. The ball was cut off quickly by center fielder Bryan Petersen, but Ankiel was still able to advance to third. However, Espinosa either underestimated Petersen’s arm or thought it was the right time to take the double play out of the equation. Regardless of his reasoning, he was easily cut down at second base for the second out of the inning. Chris Marrero flied out to right field to end the once-promising inning.

The other, less forgivable lapse came in the seventh inning, with the score 3-0 but Vazquez wobbling for the first time all night. Ryan Zimmerman and Laynce Nix singled to lead off the inning before Ankiel (fooled by a curveball) and Espinosa (unable to catch up to a fastball) struck out swinging. Then, with Marrero at the plate in search of a first home run of his term with the Nats, pinch-runner Brian Bixler was picked off of first, despite the fact that second base was already occupied by the less-than-speedy Zimmerman and it was unnecessary for Bixler to take undue risks on the basepaths with the tying run at the plate. The whole sequence summed up the lazy, haphazard approach the Nats offense brought to the ballpark last night.

Lannan wasn’t much better, though he managed to wring six innings and a quality start (in name only) out of his evening. He struggled to locate his fastball and changeup in the early going and gave up six of the eight hits recorded off him in the first three innings. The pitches that weren’t hit were taken outside of the strike zone, and this is what led to Florida’s first run of the game. Gaby Sanchez and Petersen worked one-out walks in the second inning and advanced to third and second on a wild pitch. Sanchez scored on John Buck’s single to center, and if Petersen hadn’t stopped between second and third base to make sure the ball would drop, he would have scored as well. As it was, Lannan got out of the inning with no further damage after Vazquez failed to get a squeeze bunt down and got Buck thrown out at second base and Emilio Bonifacio grounded into an inning-ending force play.

The Marlins added their other two runs in the third inning as Omar Infante and Mike Stanton opened the inning with back-to-back doubles before Stanton came home on Sanchez’s single to center. Again, the damage could have been worse, but Petersen went too far when turning first base after his two-out single and managed to get himself thrown out 7-6-3.

It was, in short, the type of game that was to be expected on a cool Friday night in September when both teams are eliminated from the playoff race (mathematically as well as realistically).  If there’s anything positive to be taken from it, it’s that Saturday’s game shouldn’t be nearly as somnolent. After all, Werth and Morse should be back, and some kid named Strasburg is on the mound.

Sports Fix, The Features

King Richard: Ankiel’s Slam Helps Nats Over Braves, 9-3

Photo courtesy of
‘HR!’
courtesy of ‘oddlittlebird.’

A night after hitting two solo home runs in a series opening 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves, Rick Ankiel struck an even bigger blow. His grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead, and the Washington Nationals went on to beat Atlanta 9-3 in front of 24,326 fans at Nationals Park Tuesday night.

The grand slam was Ankiel’s only hit of the night (he finished 1-for-5), but it was the perfect capstone to a torrid homestand for the veteran pitcher-turned-center fielder. Ankiel entered Tuesday’s game with a .421 on-base percentage in 19 plate appearances during the homestand, while his two Monday night home runs goosed his slugging percentage up to .750. In the short term, Ankiel’s hot streak has been a timely contribution to Washington’s firepower while others have struggled. Most notably, Danny Espinosa has fallen off sharply from the giddy heights of, say, mid-July. The rookie second baseman’s one-out double in the bottom of the third was his first extra-base hit since July 17 (which also, coincidentally, came against the Braves). Between the next day’s 0-for-4 performance against the Houston Astros and the start of Tuesday night’s game, Espinosa –who went 2-for-5 on Tuesday night– had reached base just nine times in 57 plate appearances on four singles, four walks, and once taking first after being hit by a pitch. That worked out to  a .161 on-base percentage, while striking out 17 times.

Jayson Werth, who also went 2-for-5 Tuesday night  has been hot as well (.440 on-base percentage and 1.011 OPS on the homestand entering the game), and it was he who scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the second inning. Werth, showing the same aggressive baserunning that’s marked his game all season, led off the inning with a single to right and took off for second with Michael Morse at the plate. Morse struck out on a full count, but David Ross’ throw sailed into center field and Werth took third base before scoring on Ian Desmond’s sacrifice fly.

That lead only lasted until the top of the third inning, when John Lannan struggled for the only significant period in his 6.2 innings. Facing the bottom third of the Atlanta order, Lannan gave up singles to Ross and Jose Constanza. After Ross was retired on a failed sacrifice by starter Derek Lowe, Michael Bourn tied the game with a double down the right field line. Lowe himself came across when the next batter, Martin Prado, grounded out to Espinosa. The Braves increased their lead to 3-1 in the top of the fourth when Alex Gonzalez singled with one out, went to second on a single by Brooks Conrad, advanced to third on a deep fly ball by Ross, and scored when Constanzo drove a single over the leaping Ryan Zimmerman and into left field.

But in the fourth, it all fell apart for Lowe, who has been a consistent disappointment for Atlanta since signing a four-year, $60 million contract with the Braves after the 2008 season. On Tuesday night, his sinker wasn’t as effective as it should have been, and the Nats finally got the measure of him. After Jonny Gomes walked with one out, Desmond pulled a sinker into left field for a single. Wilson Ramos fouled off a changeup before lining a sinker the other way to load the bases. Lannan then chopped a ground ball to first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose throw home to force Gomes was much too high and forced Ross to come well in front of the plate to make the catch. Gomes finished the job by taking out Ross’ legs with his own. It was a violent, but legal, play by Gomes and it cut the margin to 3-2. Then Ankiel watched two cutters miss high and outside before driving a sinker into the storage area behind the center field wall. It happens that quickly sometimes.

Lowe made it out of the fourth without further damage to his ERA, but he only lasted two batters into the fifth. Left with no choice but to hope that his sinker would suddenly sink, Lowe kept throwing it, and the Nationals kept hitting. Specifically, Gomes lead off the fifth by tripling down the left field line and Desmond treated another thigh-high sinker with the contempt it deserved, lining it into the first row of the left field seats to make it 8-3.

Michael Morse rounded off the home run derby in style with a long home run into the first row of the right center field balcony off Christhian Martinez to provide the final margin of victory in the bottom of the sixth. But the story once again was Ankiel, who, while he is not likely to be back with the club in 2012, has given the club some very fine service in center field (a below-average bat, perhaps, but his defense has not been close to the disaster many feared it would be). On a team that is simultaneously building toward the future and struggling to put its offense together, performances like Ankiel’s on this homestand are so often the difference between winning and losing, progress and frustration.

Sports Fix, The Features

Rockies Hurt Lannan, Stifle Nats 3-2

Photo courtesy of
‘not too happy’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

If Thursday night’s 10-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs was a spectacular defeat for the Washington Nationals, Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies was more in keeping with past defeats this season, complete with offensive incompetence and a pinch of bad luck.

In this case, actually, the bad luck was a hammer blow in the form of a baseball off the bat of Ty Wigginton in the top of the fourth inning with Washington on top 1-0. John Lannan had started his outing crisply, and had made it through the first three innings without allowing a single baserunner. After Carlos Gonzalez struck out swinging at a two-seam fastball to lead off the fourth, however, things fell apart quickly for Lannan. Jonathan Herrera lined a four-seam fastball back up the middle for Colorado’s first hit (and base) of the night. Todd Helton pulled a two-seam fastball over the inner half of the plate into right field to put runners on first and second base. And then Wigginton lined another two-seamer straight at Lannan’s skull.

Replays were inconclusive as to whether the ball deflected off Lannan’s glove. What was more definitive was the ball striking Lannan in roughly the place where nose and left cheek come together. As the ball continued into center field and Herrera raced home to tie the game at 1-1, Lannan staggered to his knees for a few seconds before picking himself up and walking to the clubhouse under his own power, holding his cap to his face to staunch any bleeding. The official diagnosis was a nose contusion, and there remains a possibility that Lannan could make his next scheduled start after the All-Star Game.

Despite being allotted as much time as he needed to warm up, Ryan Mattheus seemed rattled by his early appearance in the game. He induced Mark Ellis to ground back to the mound, but double-clutched on the throw to second and only an apparently generous out call from Brian Knight gave the Nationals the second out of the inning. Mattheus was then called for a balk by home plate umpire Bob Davidson, which forced Helton home with the go-ahead run. That in turn was followed by an RBI single for rookie Cole Garner, which made the score 3-1 and was all the scoring Colorado would do or need.

The rest of the night was, for the most part, an exercise in futility by the Nats offense, beginning in the first inning, when they loaded the bases with nobody out against Jason Hammel on a Roger Bernadina double, a walk to Danny Espinosa and an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman. Hammel kept it together, allowing only a sacrifice fly by Michael Morse (which scored Bernadina to give Washington their early lead) before striking out Jayson Werth and inducing Rick Ankiel to pop out to second base. In the rest of his outing, Hammel faced 20 batters, and allowed just four of them to reach base (a walk to Espinosa in the third inning, a solo home run by Wilson Ramos that made the score 3-2 to Colorado, a two-out single to right by Werth in the sixth, and a single to right by Desmond in the bottom of the seventh that precipitated Hammel’s removal).

Hammel’s removal did not turn the tide in Washington’s favor. With newly-recalled Jesus Flores pinch-hitting in the seventh inning against Matt Reynolds, Desmond was picked off and caught trying to steal second. And the offensive ineptitude reached its climax in the 9th inning after a leadoff single by Morse. After Werth struck out flailing wildly at a pitch in the dirt, pinch-runner Brian Bixler, seeing the ball get away briefly from catcher Chris Iannetta decided to try to scamper over to second base. Iannetta recovered the ball in plenty of time to throw out Bixler, and Ankiel’s swinging strikeout ensured that the Nats would drop back to the .500 mark entering the final weekend of the season’s first half.

The Daily Feed

Nats Almost Comeback To Beat Halladay

Photo courtesy of
‘Trying to turn the double play’
courtesy of ‘afagen’

The last time Nationals left-handed pitcher John Lannan faced Phillies right-handed pitcher Roy Halladay was September 27, 2010 at Nationals Park. That was the day the Phillies clinched their fourth consecutive National League East division title.

Jayson Werth went 3-for-5 against Lannan that night, hitting a solo home run and a two-RBI double.

In Wednesday’s game, Werth went 1-for-4 and scored a run against Halladay but that wasn’t enough to fend off Philadelphia during their 3-2 victory over Washington.  Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Thunder and finesse from Ankiel and Nats power past Braves

Photo courtesy of
’7TH’
courtesy of ‘MissChatter’

One swing of Rick Ankiel’s bat made John Lannan and the Nationals winners for the first time in 2011 on Saturday as Washington beat the Braves 6-3 in a soggy affair at Nationals Park.

Ankiel took a 91 mile-per-hour four-seam fastball from Braves starter Tommy Hanson to right field above the out-of-town scoreboard in the third inning to give the Nats a 4-1 lead, all they would need to sink Atlanta on another chilly day at the ballpark.

Ankiel also layed down a perfect squeeze bunt in bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded to score third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and make the score 5-2 Nats. Catcher Wilson Ramos (three singles) and right fielder Jayson Werth (two doubles and an infield single) both had three hits to pace the Nats 10-hit performance.

Continue reading

Interviews, Life in the Capital, People, The Features

Living in DC: The Nationals’ Perspective


Nationals Park / Photo by Max Cook

If you’re an outsider looking in then it’s easy to paint each resident of the greater D.C. metropolitan area with a political brush. People living in Maryland, Virginia or D.C. know the District is widely regarded as being the epicenter of the American political spectrum.

In anticipation of Glen Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the end of August, We Love DC author Ben H. Rome emphasized that Washington’s culture remains as diverse as its people. The interests of people who live here go beyond day jobs and politics. Living in D.C. is a catalyst for an active and intellectually stimulating lifestyle. Not only do the Washington Nationals know this, but they embrace it.

When they’re not at Nationals Park or on the road, Nationals players take advantage of their new home.

“It’s definitely a fun place to be. There’s always a lot going on in this place whether it’s professional teams or politically. There’s always something you can pay attention to in the news. It’s kind of the center of a lot of things so you always feel like you’re in an important place,” Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen said. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Daily Feed

Top Chef DC Takes Show To Nationals Stadium

Photo courtesy of
‘Nationals Park in HDR’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means- Top Chef DC!

Ya ya I know. The season hasn’t lived up to previous seasons and it probably rivals Real Housewives of DC when it comes to local watchability. However we can expect some DC flavor in tonight’s episode.

The elimination challenge takes place at Nationals Park where teams will run two concession stands and try and serve up fare that exceeds the Five Guys and Half Smokes you would expect on Gameday.

Nats players Adam Dunn, and John Lannan make appearances as well as former closer Matt Capps. Seafood chef Rick Moonen will appear as a guest judge as well.

What else can you expect? Well with Alex gone Ed will set his sights on another annoying contestant and Angelo will continue to baffle me with his eccentricity.

Expect a recap tomorrow complete with some insider views on the Nationals Park tasting.

Video after the jump!

Continue reading