The Nationals

Nationals top Braves 6-4, reduce magic number to 10

With just scant weeks remaining in the season, the Nationals reduced their magic number to ten, and increased their divisional lead to nine games – the largest span for any team in the NL East this season to date – in a 6-4 victory over the Braves in front of 29,233 at Nationals Park. 

The first inning of the Nationals game tonight was something out of a Bosch painting for the Atlanta Braves. After struggling against Jordan Zimmermann in the top half of the inning, the hits just kept coming against starter Ervin Santana. The Nationals would bat around in the bottom of the first, scoring four runs on five hits, with the only outs coming on a pair of sacrifices and a ground-out from the pitcher.

One could easily say that Santana was nibbled to death by ducks by the Nationals’ offense, but they had helped from some lackluster defensive moments, as well. A two-base throwing error by catcher Christian Bethancourt allowed Werth to advance to third and then score on a subsequent single by Adam LaRoche in the second inning. Manager Matt Williams would laud the Nats’ aggressive approach at the plate in his post-game press conference. “The thing I liked about it was, it wasn’t via the homer… It was hitting the ball back up the middle, the other way… That’s a good thing.”

The Braves were not without teeth tonight, scoring a pair in the fourth, and another pair in the sixth, with defensive failures by the Nationals costing them each time. 

With Jordan Zimmermann’s day done after six innings of four run baseball, the Nationals turned to a committee of bullpen relief to finish out the game. Aaron Barrett hurled a 7-pitch 1-2-3 7th inning before coming back to start the 8th. After giving up a double former National Emilio Bonifacio and getting Phil Gosselin to ground out, Matt Williams turned to his bullpen to face the heart of the Braves order. Freddie Freeman, who is hitting just over .500 against the Nationals’ staff this year, was cashiered by Ross Detwiler. Justin Upton, who supplied two of the Braves’ runs in the sixth with a monster home run. 

Closer-apparent Drew Storen came in for the ninth, and notched his third save in three days after replacing Soriano in the position. He was devastatingly effective tonight, retiring Heyward, Johnson and Bethancourt on just seven pitches, bringing his 3-day total to 42. Per Matt Williams, he will not be pitching in Wednesday’s mid-afternoon tilt, but Tyler Clippard had the night off tonight and would be ready to fill that gap.

Ian Desmond departed the game in the fifth inning with lower back tightness, which he brought to the team’s attention this morning and became more bothersome as the game continued on. He is expected to return to the lineup for the afternoon game Wednesday.

With tonight’s win, the Nationals draw ever closer to their second division title in three years, and there are a lot of reasons to be a very excited Nats fan. If you’ve got the chance, cut out of work a little early on Wednesday and go see these guys play.

The Nationals

The Nationals in 2014: A Season Prediction

The grind begins today.

The Nationals take the field at 1:05pm against the Mets, having spent last October at home and out of the playoffs, and with all manner of new perspective that failure amid the predictions of greatness. Last year, there were quite a few that put the Nationals atop the NL East and heading deep into the postseason, but they fell far short. This year, the expectations game is different. While the critics are predicting many accolades, there are just as many asking hard questions about the core of the Nationals lineup. 

After the fan euphoria of 2012, and the attendant disappointment that went into 2013, Nats fans going into Opening Day 2014 are a lot more sanguine about the franchise. They have every reason to be excited, but yet they understand what it is to be humbled by a 162-game grind that puts even the most well-trained professional athlete through a brutal ringer. That’s not to say that all fans are fatalistic ones, that they toss blades of grass into the wind to find their direction, but rather that this might be the sort of realistic season where the sine curve of fullest rabidity and fullest despair are not vacillated between in an hour. 

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Sports Fix

The Nats at the Halfway Mark: Believe

Photo courtesy of philliefan99
mob on first
courtesy of philliefan99

In April, my friend Elliot asked me, “Is it time to believe yet?” when the club was 10-3 and the Nats were the first to ten wins in the majors. Any team can go 10-3 over the stretch of 13 games.

In May, he asked me again, as the Nationals were 26-17, “is it time yet?” and given that the bats had remained somewhat silent, and the lead in the NL East was tenuous, I couldn’t yet pull the trigger, especially with the injury bug that seemed to affect the Nationals, before it was left in Toronto. 

Last night’s 6-5 victory in the 9th was a tipping point for many fans. At 48-32, the Nationals have the 3rd best record in baseball, the best in the National League, and have a four and a half game lead on the second place Braves.  They posses the 4th best run differential in the bigs, mostly the product of the last week’s worth of offensive triumphs over the NL West.  It’s hard not to look at the pitching staff and just grin, because any series will see one – if not more – of Strasburg/Gio/Zimmermann. The Nationals’ pitching staff carries WHIP (Walks + Hits per inning pitched) rate of just 1.20 – best in the majors, and the lowest opposing batting average at .231.

The numbers aren’t the whole story – in fact, the numbers barely begin to scratch the surface.

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Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

The Choice: Give Bryce a rest, or Send Bryce to the All-Star Game

Photo courtesy of dmbosstone
Bryce Harper – Arizona at Washington – 5/1/12
courtesy of dmbosstone

The Nationals’ rookie phenom Bryce Harper is in the final four players that could be named to the All Star Game this year in Kansas City. The young outfielder has had a tremendous start, putting up a strong slash-line (.280/.354/.478) despite the fact that he’s the most pitched-around player in the National League right now.  His 23 RBI put him tied for fourth on the Nationals’ depth chart, and only Adam LaRoche has him beat for OPS.

But is he an All Star? 

If the All Star Team is about enthusiasm, yes, absolutely, Harper belongs there. There is no player in the bigs right now playing with the sheer emotion of Bryce Harper, for better or for worse. Harper’s played the game like his hair’s on fire since coming up in late April. His hustle and charge mentality is unquestioned, though it appears to require the seasoning of experience, as Harper’s been caught several times trying to add an extra base to a single or double, or getting a little too excited on the basepaths.

If the All Star Team is about production, though, Harper’s argument is far less clear cut. Atlanta’s Michael Bourn is the better outfield according to just about every major stat. Bourn is 5th in the NL in Wins Above Replacement with 3.9 (Harper has just a 1.4 WAR rating) and appears in 18 different top ten lists of NL stats. Harper, unfortunately, doesn’t make a single one of those lists, but he’s got about 20 fewer games than most of the leaders.

Perhaps Harper should get a good three days’ rest with his family back in Vegas and come charging back into the season after the break. They’re going to need Harper’s offense down the stretch, and a pause might do him some good.

Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

The Best Week in DC Sports just got better

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Harper glare
courtesy of BrianMKA

The Wizards finished their season with six straight wins, D.C. United is 2nd in the Eastern Conference after a hot start, the Redskins have drafted Robert Griffin III to be their next quarterback, the Capitals won a pivotal Game 7 against Boston to advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and lastly, the Nationals have started their season 14-5 and have the best pitching staff in the National League and possibly all of baseball.

Late today, the Nationals announced that Ryan Zimmerman would be joining Brad Lidge, Michael Morse, Drew Storen and Chien-Ming Wang on the DL, and that Bryce Harper would make his major league debut tomorrow night at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.  So far, Harper’s not lighting up the AAA league quite as he had with the lower levels of the minor leagues, but it’s hard to deny the talent of the youngest member of the elite athletes club of Washington.

Can Harper make a difference at the Major League level? That depends on the Bryce Harper we get. This is one of those wonderful moments where a team has decided, “Alright, screw it, let’s give the kid a chance.” There’s no guarantee that Harper’s ready, though the expectations for him are nothing short of towering. Will he have a Strasburg moment tomorrow night in Dodger Stadium? Can he bring some offense to left field, where the Nationals have struggled to put anything in the offense column?

DC sports fans have been waiting for answers to these pressing questions since the summer of 2010 when the Nationals took Harper with the top pick of the draft. Will he be the next Ken Griffey Jr., or will he be the next Todd Van Poppel? It all starts tomorrow night at 9:10pm. Don’t miss it.

Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

Nationals drop laugher to Astros, lose 11-4

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Failure
courtesy of BrianMKA

The first-place Washington Nationals stumbled in the first inning on Thursday night, with Edwin Jackson giving up six hits – three of them triples – before the side was retired. The damage was done, and the Nats trailed 5-0 on the back of some shaky routes from their outfielders. A few of those triples might’ve been doubles from a more experienced and fielding-focused outfield, and might have saved a run. 

After the rough first inning, Jackson settled down to his previous self, retiring 12 of 13 in four additional innings, and notching 5 Ks on the night. After 89 pitches, he’d head for the showers just a run behind. The Nationals would score in the 2nd on a pair of singles and a wild pitch, and pick up three runs in the third on Ryan Zimmerman’s towering drive over the visiting bullpen – his first of the season, and a moon shot at 410 feet – but that wouldn’t be enough to stop the Astros.

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Sports Fix

What to look forward to at Nats Park

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Nationals Park Sunset
courtesy of flipperman75

For baseball fans, the park is the compass that we orient ourselves with; it sets the stage, its orthogonal lines and sloping curves like a map before the spectator serving as guidepost and direction. As baseball returns to Nationals Park, some things are the same, some have changed, and we’re here to get you ready for Opening Day and beyond.  While much remains the same on South Capitol Street, there’ve been some changes that you should be ready for.

Half Street

First up is Half Street, most fans’ entrance to the park, and the home of the Metro. This winter, the western side of Half Street was revamped entirely and is now home to the Half Street Fairgrounds, which is patterned after Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market. The space that was formerly the Bullpen and Das Bullpen will be augmented by the presence of food trucks, beer stands, and places to congregate and relax ahead of, and following, each game. The industrial feel matches the construction that has languished in the area thanks to the economy’s slow recovery, and the decor includes shipping containers.  One friend said of the new architecture, though, that she was taking her evening job in the other direction, and on off-days I don’t expect this place looks quite the same. We’ll have to see what the season brings.

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Nationals Park
courtesy of afagen

New Ticket Options

The Nationals have a couple new ticket options for fans this season. Weekends are big at Nats Park, and there are two options for weekend games to pique your interest.  Thursday and Fridays, Burger Pack tickets get you into the Upper Outfield Gallery and Outfield Reserve sections, as well as vouchers for a burger, some fries and a soda for $20-29 depending on where you seat and who’s in town.

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are Miller Light Party Nights in center field, with Scoreboard Pavilion seats running $25-27, but coming with a pair of drink coupons good for a soda, a bottled water, or a beer at the Scoreboard Walk bar.  Neither offer is good for games against the Yankees, but other than that the rest of the season is fair game. 

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Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

As the season wanes, Nationals continue strong, beat Braves 4-1

 

Photo courtesy of
‘win’
courtesy of ‘oddlittlebird.’

When this season started, I thought the Nationals might well win about 72 games this year. An improvement over last year’s tally of 69, but hardly a big step forward. With four games remaining, the Nationals are 77-80, still in reach of .500 ball. The Nationals are 14-9 in September, their best span of the second half, and have been playing meaningful baseball in September for the first time since 2005. While winning out isn’t a given, with Atlanta playing for their lives, and the dominance of the Marlins over the Nats, it’s still a distinct possibility that this team could finish at 81-80.

Today’s victory over the Braves can largely be placed in the hands of the battery, with Chien Ming Wang throwing 6 strong innings and limiting the Braves to a single run, and Pudge Rodriguez’s eighth inning rally-killing theft-prevention throwout of Michael Bourn. The veteran catcher’s final home start of the year (and possibly in a Nationals uniform) was certainly one of his more memorable ones, calling a phenomenal game against the very tough Braves offense, and nabbing two runners on the basepaths, as well going 1-2 with a walk.

After the game, manager Davey Johnson was very complimentary of both. Of Wang, he said, “[he had] a remarkable season, got better every time out… If I’m here [next year] he can have my salary. If you’d seen him throw in December, and where he is right now, my hat goes off to him.” Regarding his catcher, Johnson was praising of his training routine (5 hours a day, 7 days a week), and gave no thought to pulling Pudge early for a standing ovation.

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The Daily Feed

Zimmermann, Flores Come Through Big for Nats in 3-1 Victory

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‘PRE’
courtesy of ‘MissChatter’

Two years ago, right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and catcher Jesus Flores founds themselves sidelined due to injury. Since then, Zimmermann has returned to the Nationals’ clubhouse after successful Tommy John surgery and Flores has regained his spot behind the plate which makes them regular fixtures in Washington’s 2011 25-man roster.

Flores, although he fills a current slot on manager Davey Johnson’s lineup card due to Ivan Rodriguez being placed on the disabled list, is a player Johnson is proud of this season. He is also the reason the Nationals scored their first run in Thursday night’s 3-1 victory versus the Cincinnati Reds while Zimmermann got the necessary work done on the mound. It was Flores’ first homerun – a solo shot – since May 8, 2009.

The 26-year-old catcher has since recovered from a torn labrum, an injury that cost him almost two seasons. Thursday’s starting pitcher Zimmermann spent time with Flores in Viera, Fla. during their recovery time together forging bonds that made Thursday’s 3-1 victory a special success for Nationals. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Matt Purke Introduces Himself

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‘Matt Purke 3′
courtesy of ‘jondejong’

Nationals draft pick LHP Matt Purke, who signed with the team in the late hours of Monday night, introduced himself to the core group of Nationals beat writers this afternoon from the team’s ballpark at the Navy Yard. He spoke with what Dave Nichols of Nats News Networks called “a quiet confidence.”

What convinced him to sign with Washington? “They come highly recommended,” he said. “I’ve seen the things they’ve done the last few years with the prospects they’ve brought in and the Major League players as well. This organization is going to be very strong, they’re building, and they’re going to be a serious team to deal with in the years to come. I knew I wanted to be a part of that and hopefully to be a helpful piece in the puzzle.” Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

Nationals drop heartbreakers to Reds, 2-1

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‘DSC_3791′
courtesy of ‘photopete’

The Nationals couldn’t deliver any of their 5 runners in scoring position on Wednesday night against Johnny Cueto and the Reds, and they let Ross Detwiler’s best start in recent memory get written into the books as a loss.  The Nationals got their only run on a 400-foot bomb by Ryan Zimmerman to start the eighth, but couldn’t capitalize any further than that, despite having the bases loaded with one out in the ninth against the Reds’ Cordero.

A few close calls might have been the difference in the game for the Nationals.  First base umpire Ed Rapuano saw things a bit differently than the rest of Nationals Park on a couple occasions, leading us to wonder if the old “tie goes to the runner” adage held true, or even held consistnt between innings.

The Nationals did their best to keep themselves in the game, and the 9th inning rally didn’t disappoint, until Wilson Ramos swung at the first pitch and found himself in a  6-4-3 double play to end the threat and the game.

 

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Sports Fix

Homestand Preview: August 16 – 25

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‘$5 Nats Ticket’
courtesy of ‘MudflapDC’

There are just two long homestands remaining in 2011, and just 26 home games between now and the end of the season. While the Nationals aren’t in the midst of a playoff hunt, there are still a lot of good reasons to head out to the ballpark before the end of the season.

Highlights

This homestand should be interesting for a couple reasons. First has everything to do with the draft last night. The Nationals signed all of their last five draft picks last night in a flurry of late-night activity, and there’s a decent chance some of these guys will come to DC to meet with the team. Last year, we saw Robbie Ray make a surprise visit to the Nationals shortly after the draft. It’s possible we might see Anthony Rendon or Alex Meyer or Kylin Turnbull or Matt Purke here in Washington this home stand.

In addition, we’re coming to the end of Jordan Zimmermann’s season, as he’s hitting his innings limit soon. Recovery from Tommy John surgery is a long process, and with 145 IP already on the books this season, he’s coming rapidly up on the 160 IP total that the club is rumored to have for him. With two starts for him likely on this home stand, if you want to see him this season, you’d better be out at Nats Park on Thursday night or Monday next.

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Sports Fix, The Features

Nationals stand pat at deadline, win 3-2

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‘Storen’
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As the 4pm deadline crept ever closer the questions about a potential trade with the Minnesota Twins for CF Denard Span were met with silence. No one was talking about the trade. As the clock struck four, not a positive thing had been said about the prospects of the trade for four hours. Storen would remain a National, and entered the game to an ovation from the crowd of 25,307 on hand.  Leading 2-1, Storen gave up a home run to Scott Hairston, his second of the day, to blow his fourth save this season. The Nationals went into the bottom of the ninth tied at two.

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Sports Fix

Homestand Preview: Late July – Early August

Welcome to the dog days of summer in Nats Town. The Nationals start a nine-game homestand tonight; they’ll play three series against NL East foes, and they’ll need to come out 6-3 if they want any shot at making a run at the Wild Card. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but there’s a good solid chance at 5-4, if they play their cards right. Here’s the full preview of the homestand that brings us fish, the Braves, the first start of the season for one Washington pitcher, and a Jayson Werth Bobblehead doll.

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Fun & Games, Sports Fix, The Features

Werth’s Hustle Starts Holiday Party as Nats Beat Cubs 5-4 in 10


‘Jayson Werth, where is you’re head at?!?’
courtesy of ‘Tony DeFilippo’

Jayson Werth, the focus of so much agonized discussion among Washington Nationals fans over the last few weeks, didn’t get the big hit in this 4th of July thriller. But he did score the winning run, drove in two more, walked twice, and helped cut down a runner at the plate as the Nationals scrambled back to the .500 mark, defeating the Chicago Cubs 5-4 in 10 innings in front of most of an announced crowd of 32,937 at Nationals Park.

Washington’s winning sequence was classic National League baseball. After Werth worked a walk off losing pitcher Marcos Mateo, he was bunted over to 2nd base by pinch-hitter Livan Hernandez. Hernandez was actually the second pitcher to pinch-hit in the game as Nationals manager Davey Johnson was forced to creatively manage his shortened bench in the absence of Michael Morse (hairline fracture of the forearm). After Mateo was forced to depart with an injury in favor of Carlos Marmol, Werth caught the Cubs infield defense napping and stole third without even drawing a throw. Finally, when Marmol’s 2-2 pitch slipped past Geovany Soto and bounced around the backstop, Werth raced home with the winning run.

It was the perfect end to an up-and-down day for the $126 million man. Werth’s broken-bat single in the bottom of the first drove home Danny Espinosa and made the score 2-0, Washington. But Werth was  also a supporting player in one of the worst defensive plays seen from the Nationals at any point in their history. Continue reading

Sports Fix

A Look inside the Nationals Win Streak

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’189/365′
courtesy of ‘Danilo.Lewis|Fotography’

The winning streak that ended on Sunday was the Nationals’ longest since 2009, and is tied for the second longest since their return to Washington. As I said on Sunday, streaks are difficult things, and they take you out of the big picture, and you start to live for the microcosm of the streak and not for the reality of the season.  I pulled a lot of the numbers for the streak, and for the season as a whole, and the conclusions are pretty interesting.

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Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

Nationals drop game to Orioles 7-4, end streak at 8

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‘Moon over Nationals Park’
courtesy of ‘BrianMKA’

Streaks are hard things.

Streaks take you out of seeing the Big Picture, and they change your focus to the tiny reality of the streak.  Streaks of either kind aren’t microcosms, they’re localized disruptions of the normal. As a good friend said Sunday, “Losing streaks are the result of talent, while winning streaks are the result of luck.”

The Nationals came into Sunday’s game riding as high as they’ve been all season, winners of eight straight and 10 of their last 13. They didn’t hardly look like the same team on the field on Sunday. Maybe they indulged a bit too much at Saturday night’s Dream Foundation Gala, but the Nats just couldn’t get it going. 3 errors, and some rough plate appearances were their undoing, and they dropped the game, and the streak, in a 7-3 loss in front of 35,439.

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Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

Nats rack up 8 in 7th straight win, beat Orioles 8-4

Jayson Werth makes contact

Photos by Patrick Pho, special to We Love DC

Oh, for a real crosstown rivalry.

The Nationals came into the Battle of the Beltways (or whatever they’re calling it this year) on a tear, having won six straight, and having just swept the formerly hot Cardinals. Tonight, they put their best starter on the mound against a slumping Baltimore team, and the damnedest thing happened.  The Orioles ganged up for a dozen hits off Marquis, but only plated four runs. They’d pick up another half dozen against the Nationals’ bullpen, but couldn’t strike again, while the Nationals picked up 8 runs on just 10 hits, striking for 7 runs on 6 hits in the fifth and sixth innings.

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Sports Fix, The Daily Feed

Nats mount comeback, deal Cards 8-6 loss

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‘bang, zoom go the fireworks’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

On the night when Ryan Zimmerman returned to the lineup for the first time in over two months, the Nationals put together one of their more impressive rallies. In the seventh inning tonight, they plated six runs against the St. Louis Cardinals, four of which scored with two outs. The Nationals got to their former teammate Miguel “Miss Iowa” Batista for five runs in a “6-run, 5-hit, 3-walk, 1-hit batter, 1-wild pitch, 12-batter rally.”

Second only to the offensive explosion against the Cardinals’ bullpen was the quality of the fans this evening at Nationals Park. The crowd of 26,739 was on its feet for a good part of that 7th inning rally, likely fortified by the new Shake Shack at the ballpark. On a day when many feared that the fans of Nats Park could only be plied by fancy bawbles and gewgaws in the form of concessions, fans of the home team showed that they could get into a close game, and were on their feet and rallying around the home team as they beat the Cardinals’ bullpen into submission after being down by four.

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Food and Drink

Nationals Park Adds New Food Options

All photos courtesy of the author

Although Nationals Park already features a number of iconic Washington-area restaurants, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl and Hard Times Cafe, the Nationals partnered with New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group to bring in four new dining options: Blue Smoke BBQ, Box Frites, El Verano Taqueria, and Shake Shack (which also just opened a brick-and-mortar location near Dupont Circle to much fanfare).
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