The Features, The Nationals

Nats Fall 2-1 to Giants in Historically Long Playoff Game, Giants lead 2-0 in the NLDS

Photo Credit: Rachel Levitin

Photo Credit: Rachel Levitin

All anybody could talk about before Saturday’s Game Two of the NLDS in Washington, D.C. was the pitching match-up scheduled to start the game – San Francisco’s Tim Hudson versus Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann. Six hours and twenty-three minutes plus eighteen innings later, the longest game in recorded playoff history wrapped up and the San Francisco Giants advanced to game three with a 2-0 lead in the five-game series by beating the Nationals 2-1.

Hudson – who is notorious for his successful and often dominant outings against the Nationals – was going to be a struggle for the Nats but Washington went into the game planning to be patient with him. On the other hand, Zimmermann was fresh and just six days removed from his historical no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 regular season. The match-up made the first nine innings what they were but the final nine innings played are the reason the evening’s game turned into the longest playoff game ever played.

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The Nationals

It’s Not Over Yet. Don’t Give Up On The Nationals.

It’s hard to come to terms with a loss like last night’s epic 18-inning marathon that ended in tears for most Nats fans. A 2-1 loss is never easy to take, especially in the playoffs. I can’t blame you for leaving in the cold last night, I can’t blame you for waking up with a sense of existential dread about Game 3 on Monday afternoon, and I most certainly can’t blame you for wanting to give up now and wanting to go home and forget about baseball until March.

But you shouldn’t do that. Not yet. Not until the last out of the last game is recorded and the season is truly over. There are all kinds of reasons not to give up. Here are a few. 

  1. Since July, when their season began to come together, the Nationals have only lost three in a row just once. In that same span, the Nationals have put together three or more wins five times. In that same span, the Giants have lost three in a row six times, and won three or more in a row four times. 
  2. The hurlers for the Nationals have been nothing short of outstanding. They’ve given up just 5 runs in 27 innings pitched, for an ERA of 1.33. They have a WHIP of 0.926. These numbers are nothing short of amazing for the baseball that we’ve seen. The pitching hasn’t been an issue, and anyone who’s upset at them can calm right down. In a playoffs where we’ve seen the aces from the Cardinals, Dodgers, Royals, A’s and Angels fall apart around them, the Nationals’ rotation and bullpen have been exquisite. 
  3. When the Nats break out of a funk, they do it with authority. After a rough stretch in late July and early August, they piled on the Phillies for 15 runs in two games. Granted, both were in the Nats’ confines at home, but one need only look at that intense Dodgers series in September to see how they can do well in a hostile environment. 
  4. When the Nats get hot, they are a juggernaut of their own. Look at that magnificent 14 inning victory over the NL West champion Dodgers, which came in the midst of a long road trip.

I’ve seen a lot of head-in-hands moments on the replays from last night’s games, and I get it. Baseball is, if nothing else, constant and unrelenting failure crowned with moments of sheer panic and joy, and choosing to despair in the face of overwhelming odds is pretty well normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay despairing in the intervening time. Kick yourself free of the emotional hangover today, 

There are plenty of good reasons not to feel the existential dread ahead of Game Three. It’s better to go in feeling hopeful than it is to dread every pitch. In the 2001 ALDS, the Oakland A’s went up 2-0 and were swept at the Coliseum and lost the deciding game at Yankee Stadium. It hurts me to remember that one, as I grew up an A’s fan, and I was on the wrong side of that one, but it happened, and the Yankees rallied back from the brink to bring it home to their fans.

This team is easily as good as those 2001 Yankees, and the crowds at AT&T Park will be no less imposing than those A’s fans were then.

Take heart, Nats fans.

The Features, The Nationals

Jordan Zimmermann Tosses a Historic Regular Season Finale, Nats Beat Marlins 1-0 in Team’s First No-Hitter

A crowd of 35,085 witnessed history at Nationals Park during game 162 of the 2014 regular season when right-handed starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in the Washington Nationals’ nine year history to beat the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Sunday afternoon. The complete game outing was one the two-time All-Star never thought would ever happen, but it did.

“Even when I first got called up I thought that were was no way this would ever happen,” Zimmermann said after the game. “My career numbers are something like one hit per inning so I figure if I can make it out of the first [inning], the hit’s coming in the second, but [Sunday] was one of those special days.”

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The Nationals

Nats Come Home to Beat Mets 4-2

A crowd of 30,714 welcomed the Washington Nationals home for their first game since clinching the 2014 National League East crown on Tuesday night. And – as a “thank you” of sorts – starting pitcher Tanner Roark led his team to a 4-2 win over the New York Mets.

Roark threw 86 pitches and 58 strikes in 6 1/3 innings pitched while giving up two runs on five hits and striking out one batter in his fifteenth win of the season. The only trouble he truly encountered were the first three hits he gave up – they were all doubles.

New York scored first in the fifth inning off a pair of those doubles. Second baseman Wilmer Flores led off the inning with a double and proceeded to score off a one-out double his by outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. But thanks to a hot-hitting Adam LaRoche, the Nats answered back in the bottom half of the inning.

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The Nationals

Nats top Braves, clinch second division title in 3 years

Mediacademie 2014 Sep 16

Photo courtesy of the Nationals

It’s going to take weeks for MASN’s Dan Kolko to smell anything except Miller Lite.

The most unremarkable of wins is absolutely the most remarkable. After the Nationals topped the Braves in a 3-0 game that was closer than the score, the Nationals left their spikes in the hallway, and celebrated their second division title in three years. With a 12 and a half game lead on the National League East Division, and 12 games remaining, their position in the postseason is secure. All they have to play for now is home field advantage, something first year manager Matt Williams is keen to acquire.

There are still a dozen to play, and the Dodgers are just a game and a half behind the Nationals in pursuit of that number one position, so don’t expect the Nationals to cruise their way into October. There may be more games off for veterans and rookies alike, but don’t expect anything but a relentless drive toward the postseason. It’s clear there’s unfinished business here for the Nationals.

Tanner Roark and Aaron Harang had traded five inning of shutout ball, parrying challenge after challenge. Harang would blink first, giving up a walk to Jayson Werth, followed by a mammoth home run blast off the bat of Ian Desmond to put that Nats up 2-0. 

Roark went seven strong, bringing his total on the season to 192 and a third innings, during which he’s allowed a 1.10 WHIP, with an ERA of 2.85. Roark’s 20th quality start of the year brought him his 14th win. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen pitched perfect 8th and 9th innings, and then it was celebration time.

While the corks flew, and while Matt Williams quoted Robert Frost, fans across the city were rejoicing in bars, homes and on social media. While it was a disappointment not to clinch the playoffs at home in front of tens of thousands at Nationals Park, clinching it in Atlanta after some early season struggles against them has meaning for many. 

During the postgame celebration, for which Dan Kolko has to win some sort of award, there was a lot of discussion of what this season has meant to those playing day in and day out. At one point, Denard Span got very sober in front of the camera and thanked the Lerner Family and Mike Rizzo for bringing him to Washington where he’s been able to play to his potential, and it was a very touching moment, but the reverie was short-lived as someone turned a champagne bottle and a couple of beers on Span and Kolko.

This was a recurring theme of the evening, with Kolko asking great questions, only to be interrupted by the celebrating players with cold beer. In fact, there are some absolutely brilliant vines of this exact thing. My deepest respect to Kolko for doing a hard job well under very difficult conditions.

I really do hope that he can smell something other than Miller Lite today.

The Nationals return home on Tuesday for their final homestand of 2014 before the playoffs. October baseball is returning to Washington.

The Nationals

Nats Fall 6-2 in Series Finale vs Braves

Wednesday evening was a tough loss to swallow for Washington as the Nationals fell 6-2 against the Atlanta Braves during the series finale of their recent three-game set. Washington took two of three in the series and are eight games ahead of their division rival with a magic number of ten.

The Nats remained in good spirits despite the loss but are aware of the challenges that still lie ahead as the stakes get higher. “It’s nice to be able to win a series, be able to come out strong [and] really play good baseball these past couple days,” outfielder Bryce Harper said after the game. “You’ve got to go in to win ball games. If you don’t win the ballgames then something could happen. If you win ballgames then what you want to happen happens.”

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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

Nats Squeak By Atlanta, Beat Braves 2-1

The Washington Nationals squeaked by the Atlanta Braves in a 2-1 victory on Monday night as right-handed starter Doug Fister tallied his thirteenth win of the season. Fister threw 104 pitches and 74 strikes in seven innings pitched and gave up two hits and three walks while striking out three batters faced.

Washington took an early and necessary lead in the top of the first inning before the game turned into a pitching duel between Fister and the Braves’ left-handed starter Mike Minor. Third baseman Anthony Rendon scored on two-out single hit by shortstop Ian Desmond off Minor but the Nats wouldn’t score again until the seventh inning; Braves 0, Nats 1. Continue reading

The Daily Feed, The Nationals

LaRoche Goes Long Twice in 3-2 Nats Win Over Philadelphia

Sunday afternoon’s game got off to a rocky start when the Washington Nationals committed two defensive errors in the top of the first inning against the Phillies but Washington went on to beat Philadelphia 3-2.

Left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez went six innings while giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and striking out three batters on 105 pitches (67 strikes). The Phillies did score a run in the top of the first as a result of both outfielder Denard Span and third baseman Anthony Rendon committing a pair of consecutive throwing errors on a Grady Sizemore single hit to center field but Gonzalez bounced back and settled in allowing his pitches to work for him rather than against him after that; Phillies 1, Nats 0.

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The Nationals

Nats win a wild one, notch seventh straight win

Jordan Zimmermann had thrown 39 pitches through 4 innings. It took just an hour and a half to make it through six frames of baseball on Monday night. The Nationals were moving with expediency through the Arizona lineup. And then it happened. With the Nats having just retaken the lead in the bottom of the seventh, 2-1, Zimmermann was left in just one batter too many, and the tables had turned again.

Diamondbacks’ Shortstop Didi Gregorius, having a stellar night on the infield, rocketed a pitch into the bullpen and that was that for the Nats hurler. While Steve McCatty had worked to give Zimmermann’s relief time to get warm, and a baserunner provided ample opportunity for throws to first to stay the game’s progress, manager Matt Williams let Zimmermann stay out there one batter too many on Monday night.

If you had to find fault with Matt Williams’ first year as a skipper, and with the team 6 games up on the Division and 17 games over .500, you might be stretching to do so, it would be with his bullpen management. Tonight was no exception to that occasional issue, and the rest of the pen would give him reason to continue that doubt. Though Matt Thornton would retire all 3 batters he faced after relieving Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard would blow his fourth save in the ninth, and Craig Stammen would have to pitch himself out of a massive jam (self-inflicted) in the eleventh inning.

The Nats’ offense came alive late on Monday, having been silent through six innings, and facing a 1-0 deficit, relied on their power to generate some runs. In the seventh, Wilson Ramos absolutely crushed a home run to the deepest part of the park to put the Nationals up 2-1, ahead of Zimmermann’s melt down. That wouldn’t be the end of it for Washington, though, as the 1-2 combination of Span and Rendon smacked a stand-up double followed with a head-first slide triple to tie the ballgame at three. Jayson Werth would sacrifice Rendon in to give the Nats back the lead in the bottom of the eighth.

Tyler Clippard, in his first save situation in months, was doing just fine, right up until he left a fastball right down Broadway for David Peralta, who responded by clubbing the ball off the fascia in right. Clippard would recover and give up no more ground, but Nats fans can be forgiven for clutching their chests on Monday for the third straight day as the bullpen worked. 

Nats fans can be doubly forgiven for pouring an extra bourbon during the top of the 11th. Craig Stammen was on in relief, and the bases ended up juiced on a pair of walks and a single. Steve McCatty sauntered to the mound to have a word with his pitcher, and whatever he said worked. Stammen got Lamb and Gregorius on gutty strikeouts, and forced a ground out from the pinch hitter Pennington.

It looked like the game was destined for more than 11 innings, as Span and Rendon were retired in order to start the bottom half, but Adam LaRoche delivered his first career walkoff in the form of a 407 foot shot off the second deck in right. 

The Nats had a high-leverage night for their bullpen, and it’s the third straight day they’ve had more than just mop-up work to do. Here’s hoping that Strasburg can turn in a good night, and the bats strike early for the Nationals, giving the relief crew a bit of a respite.

The Nationals

Theatrics not revelatory of drama, Nationals on a roll.

Twice this weekend, the Nationals won in dramatic late-inning fashion. Saturday night, they put a late rally together, having been shut out for the first seven innings, forcing a blown save against the Pirates’ setup man. Adam LaRoche picked up a clutch home run in the eighth, and Bryce Harper’s hustle was crucial in the 9th to cement the victory.

Sunday, the Nationals would repeat the come from behind routine in a game where the win probability chart looked more like a rollercoaster at Six Flags than your typical WPC. What began as a pitchers’ duel, would turn into an intense tit-for-tat. The Pirates would force some errors from the infield, before the Nationals would do the same just an inning later. The Pirates would get to closer Rafael Soriano, working his fourth appearance in five days, and go up 5-4. 

Ordinarily, the story here is “local sports team can’t overcome lousy performance by key member of the lineup.” 

Had the game ended there after the ninth, that would’ve been the narrative device employed by a lot of the media, complete with quotes absolving that performance from coaching staff members, and supportive quotes from teammates. This is how things would have gone had the Nationals not turned it around in the 9th to force extra innings, where they played clutch baseball and eked out a win over the Pirates 6-5.

These late-inning theatrics show a team that’s capable of overcoming the adversity of a 162-game schedule, a team that’s ready to face the grueling challenges of August, September and everything after. 

Some may lament a team that needs to come back from a deficit; no one likes it when a team with high expectations has to battle to live up to them. I would suggest that those fans are living in some sort of peculiar mirror world where baseball is a simple game like checkers or parcheesi, not a grueling sport where three hours games require laser-like focus, and where even the most talented of athletes fail more than they succeed in given situations.

Come from behind wins are the hallmark of a team that has come together into a cohesive whole, cognizant of the every day challenges of the game, and who find reasons and ways to succeed amid the difficulty. This Nationals team is so deep that it can beat you in so many different ways it may not matter if they’re not batting 1.000 and striking out the side with impunity. It’s hard for me to find the excitement in a perfect team the way you find it inone that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

To borrow language from Bull Durham, “Strikeouts are boring, and beside that, they’re fascist.” This isn’t a team that will beat you the same way every time, dominating you in every situation, they’re going to be the team that beats you when you make even the smallest mistake, and the Pirates learned that the hard way this weekend.

Look for these late inning theatrics to continue, and revel in them, Nats fans, for they are the hallmark of a team ready for the postseason, and a team that treats their success not as a given, but as something they must work for, must strive for, and achieve through strength of will and perseverance. Don’t find fault because they weren’t perfect, find success in overcoming that fault, and triumphing regardless.

The Nationals

Fister Remains Dominant, Nats Beat Mets 7-1

The Washington Nationals showed the New York Mets what dominant pitching and a productive offense is capable of on Wednesday night when right-handed starting pitcher Doug Fister led the Nats to a 7-1 win over New York. Fister’s delayed start on the season may have slowed him up slightly in the beginning but he’s now 11-3 in 2014 with signs of slowing down.

Fister gave up six hits and struck out seven batters over seven and one-third innings pitched. He threw 101 pitches (69 strikes) and gave up one unearned run in the eighth inning after cruising through the rest of the game. Fister was so efficient on the mound that the game itself only lasted two hours and thirty one minutes. And these days, a sub-three hour game is rare, so that was a gem in and of itself as well.

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The Features, The Nationals

Nats Drop Series Opener to Phillies 10-4

It was the Washington Nationals’ first game at home since July 20 on Thursday but, unfortunately for them, it didn’t go very well. The Philadelphia Phillies were in town and the night’s starters moved swiftly through the first three innings before the potential pitchers duel took a turn.

Both left-handed starters Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez didn’t make it very far in the Phillies’ 10-4 victory over the Nats but they both fled the game early for very different reasons. While a reoccurring strain of a left flexor pronator haunted Lee, Gonzalez was roughed up pretty bad in the fourth inning leading Manager Matt Williams to pull him. Gonzalez lasted 3 and 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and five runs while walking one and striking out two on 77 pitches (47 strikes). That’s when the night’s game turned into a battle of the bullpens. Continue reading

The Nationals

Nats Squeak By Cubs in 2-1 Victory

Hours before being named to the 2014 National League All-Star team for the second time in two years, Washington Nationals right-handed starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann threw a tough game against the Chicago Cubs and went on to win 2-1 on Sunday afternoon. Right-handed relief pitcher Tyler Clippard ended up with the official win but Zimmermann’s strong efforts helped ensure Chicago’s low run count.

Zimmermann gave up seven hits over six innings while striking out five and walking one batter on 105 pitches (76 strikes). While the majority of Chicago’s 10 hits on the day came off of Zimmermann, the soon-to-be-announced All-Star pitcher and his defense held the Cubs in place.

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The Nationals

Nationals cruise to 13-0 victory over Cubs

Early this morning, the Chicago Cubs completed a five-player trade with the Oakland Athletics, sending their announced Saturday afternoon starter Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics. While Samardzija has a 2-7 record, his 2.83 ERA, 103 strikeouts and 1.20 WHIP are exactly the reason that the A’s were looking to add him to their starting rotation. His absence in Washington was absolutely noted as the Nationals put together 13 runs on 19 hits in an absolutely dominant performance of offensive superiority matched with a pitching outing from Gio Gonzalez that was nothing short of superlative.

Gonzalez threw eight scoreless innings against the Cubs, scattering four hits, and striking out seven. With his off speed pitches working the zone, his pinpoint fastball control completely stymied the little bears. After the game, Manager Matt Williams would point to Gonzalez using all his pitches effectively, calling this a “good sign” in his recovery process. Gonzalez’s 109 pitches isn’t a season high, but is his longest performance since coming off the disabled list. He has now put together 22 straight innings of scoreless mound mastery, something that had eluded Gonzalez during the early season. Williams was quick to point out that his next start will be a challenge, as it will be his first start after such a long outing, and much will depend on Gonzalez’s workouts over the next four games.

There was no part of the Nationals offense that didn’t work today. Every National starter got a hit today (including Gio) and every starter save one (Harper) scored at least one run. Anthony Rendon lead the way with a stellar day, going 3-for-4 with a walk, three doubles, three runs and a pair of RBI. Jayson Werth followed right behind, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI. Ryan Zimmerman lead the Nats lineup with 3 RBI, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles. 

The late spring’s injuries now past the opening day lineup, today’s Nationals squad was brutal to what remained of the Cubs bullpen, starting with Carlos Villanueva. Nueva would last just 2 full innings plus three batters, surrendering four runs in 12 batters. Zimmerman, Harper and Desmond would combine for a run in the second, and then a roustabout third inning would see ten men come to the plate. Anthony Rendon would hit the first of three doubles, followed by an RBI double for Jayson Werth, a fielder’s choice for LaRoche that put Werth at third just ahead of a tag. Ryan Zimmerman hit the first of his two doubles with runners at the corners, and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos would each add an RBI single before a sacrifice and a groundout would end the inning as the Nationals put a six spot up on the Cubs to take a 7-0 lead.

The Nats would get two more in the 6th, off the strength of five hits from the middle of the lineup. In the seventh, they would tack on four more runs as the Cubs bullpen would further implode. Ramos would lead with a double to the right field corner, followed by a Gio Gonzalez single (becoming the last of the Nationals’ starters to grab a hit, and all but Harper would score a run), before Anthony Rendon plow his 3rd double of the day. Filling in late for Adam LaRoche, Kevin Frandsen would get an RBI single, ahead of Ryan Zimmerman’s two-run double.

Anthony Rendon looks to be the leading candidate for the Nationals to send to the All-Star Game as a replacement, as he now leads the Nationals in Slugging Percentage at .489, going ahead of LaRoche’s .486, and while he’s not leading in average, his Tony Two-Bags routine with 21 doubles in 82 games bests his rookie performance. Were I to pick an offensive MVP for the day, though, that honor goes to Zimmerman who went 4-for-5 with 3 RBI, with two doubles. Gio Gonzalez gets the clear MVP slot of the day, though, with his eight innings of absolutely crushing baseball, extending his scoreless streak to 22 innings.

The Nationals face the Cubs for one more on Sunday afternoon at 1:35, with Jordan Zimmermann facing off with Jake Arrieta, before a four-game home-and-home series with AL East-leading Baltimore starting Monday night.

The Nationals

Nationals split series with Atlanta on 3-1 win, Roark’s pitching

The Nationals split a crucial mid-season series against their division rival Atlanta Braves with a win on Sunday in front of just a hair under 40,000 fans present. The 3-1 win put them 1.5 games up on the Braves, and 2.5 games up on the Marlins. While concerns remain against the Nationals’ effectiveness in extra innings games and against the Braves (3-7) as a whole, the Nationals did put up a 4-2 homestand before heading on the road to face the NL Central-leading Brewers.

From the beginning, the Nationals pushed hard against Ervin Santana, and put together a walk and two singles to get their first run in the bottom of the first. Anthony Rendon’s 5-pitch walk was followed by singles from struggling Jayson Werth and surging Adam LaRoche. Ryan Zimmerman would join the RBI party with a deep sacrifice fly to center to give the Nationals a rare 2-0 lead.

Sandy Leon, giving Lobaton a break behind the plate, came up with a solid single to start the Nationals’ half of the fifth inning, catching Freddie Freeman off the hand. After a laborious sacrifice bunt from Roark, Denard Span (now besting Werth in both batting average and slugging percentage) would gather the RBI on a double and make it 3-1. The Nationals would put up an insurance run in the 8th off a double by Anthony Rendon, a groundout from Jayson Werth, and a wild pitch from Luis Avilan that brought Rendon home.  

Tanner Roark put a solid effort in through five innings, but his sixth inning was off the rails. After 20 batters, Roark had thrown 17 first pitch strikes and put up a solid effort. In the sixth, though, all bets were off. A single from Freddie Freeman was followed by a five-pitch walk to Evan Gattis. Justin Upton would park a single to left and end the young starter’s day. At times, Roark was challenged by control, just missing his paint-the-corners targets. He surrendered three walks, and scattered three other hits to go 5 and 1/3 innings, his ERA dropping to 2.79. The Braves wouldn’t put up a fight against Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Rafael Soriano, going down in order after the bullpen took over.

That’s not to say the Braves wouldn’t put up a fight, though, both Chris Johnson and Justin Upton put up a fight against umpires Tim Welke and Mark Carlson. Both were ejected after questioning 3rd strikes.  Manager Fredi Gonzalez also sent in his objections, though he used a certain scatalogical term a few times less than Upton or Johnson.

Afterwards, skipper Matt Williams spoke with reporters, praising Roark’s tenacity despite a few calls that didn’t go his way that might have ended early, citing his strength in adaptability, demonstrated throughout the season. Roark’s ability to hit the first strike was key to his victory today, according to Williams. 

Matt Williams also spoke about some of the narratives that are recurring concerning the Nationals and the Braves, and the Cardinals, to name two teams that have had the Nats’ number this season so far. “I’ve been around the game awhile, the next time we play them, the questions will come. It doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t to [the Nationals], we want to win tomorrow’s game…that’s as far as they look.”  This is a refreshingly healthy attitude, given the tendency for teams and players to dwell on the previous failings and successes, instead of preparing for each of the games with no regard to the superstitions. 

The Nationals head to the road with two of their top bats slumping in Desmond and Werth, and both are due an off-day to let their rest and recuperate, including their mental faculties, Williams was quick to say. Fortunately, though, others are sparking off, with Denard Span (6-for-17) and Danny Espinosa (5-for-14 against ATL) surging forward. After Milwaukee, the Nationals head to Chicago for four games against the cellar-dwelling Cubs at Wrigley, including a double-entry doubleheader next Saturday. 

The Nationals

Nats complete sweep of Phillies on strength of Fister, LaRoche

There are few things more satisfying than beating the Phillies. Doing it to move back over .500 and complete a sweep, though, that has to count for something. The Nationals’ offense came alive in the series against Philadelphia, as the Nationals pounded their neighbor to the north to the tune of 19-6 across three games. The Thursday afternoon match-up was no different than the rest of the series, as the Nationals gave up a run early, fought back to even, then went ahead for good in the fifth on the bat of Adam LaRoche. 

The Nationals’ second sweep of the season featured some stellar performances from their starters, who combined for 20 strikeouts in 3 games, and surrendered just a single walk, across 22 innings. Doug Fister’s fifth start for the Nationals was fairly stellar as he went seven full innings, giving up two runs on four hits, striking out five and walking none. Where he really shone, though, was in the defensive efforts. At one point early in the afternoon, Fister reminded everyone that he used to play first base, and found himself in ballet splits to attempt the completion of a double play. 

Doug Fister's Splits

Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched two perfect innings in relief to pick up a hold and a save respectively, and the Nationals moved to within a game of the lead in the oddly weak National League East. With Atlanta off for travel, the Nationals are in third place behind the Marlins and Braves, both tied for the division lead at the moment. 

After the game, Manager Matt Williams was quick to point out that they have a hard road trip ahead of them, with three games in San Diego (27-33), four in San Francisco (38-21), and three in St. Louis (31-29). Williams said that while this was a great series, there are some serious opponents waiting on the road. Asked if this was a test of the club, Williams was cagey, suggesting that while it may be a test, it wouldn’t be a deciding factor in the season as a whole. 

In addition to the great starting pitching against Philadelphia, the Nationals benefited from leadoff hitter Denard Span’s excellent series, where he went 6-14, with five runs scored, and Ryan Zimmerman’s return, going 4-9 with 2 RBI. The Nationals’ offense has struggled at times due to injury, and the return of LaRoche and Zimmerman over the past series have put the Nationals on a 5-1 tear, with a +26 run differential against Texas and Philadelphia.

The Nationals will return to DC to face Houston and Atlanta starting June 17th.

The Nationals

At the Quarter Season Mark, Nationals Struggling But Not Out

With Gio Gonzalez bound for the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder, he joins Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Doug Fister (returned), Wilson Ramos (returned) as part of the Nationals’ squad of walking wounded at the quarter-season mark. After 42 games, the only welcome surprise is that the Nationals are over .500 and just half a game back of the slumping Atlanta Braves.

Fortunately for Nationals fans, however, this is a team with flexible roles and a lot of “spare parts” that have blunted the pace of injuries visited upon the starting lineup. Usually, this is where I’d start looking for patterns in the injuries, hoping to find some clear path of neglect or overuse, but on that front, you just have to admit that the Nationals have been cursed/snakebit/deeply unlucky. Zimmerman, Ramos and Harper were each injured in standard plays that just went badly awry. Fister had a slow start related to an early season strain, and LaRoche’s quad strain is, at least according to the man himself, feeling “shockingly” good. While the jury’s still out on the severity of Gio’s shoulder trouble, at least this looks like dumb luck and not a horrific trend.

So what’s working right now? As of Sunday, Tyler Clippard has 9 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, representing a much-needed rebound for the Nationals’ bullpen. His early appearances were the source of agita for Matt Williams and Nationals’ fans alike, so a return to his usual level of singular dominance has been excellent. Jayson Werth’s veteran presence in the outfield has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s played in every game – one of just three Nats to do so (Rendon and Desmond are the other two) – and has an .835 OPS to show for the experience.

Tanner Roark’s WHIP of 1.095 after eight starts is nothing to turn up your nose at. While his 3-1 record is tied with Jordan Zimmermann for best record on the Nats, his 20 runs allowed is the lowest on the staff. After just 9 starts, Stephen Strasburg has 70 strikeouts – on pace for more than 300 on the year – which shows that his fastball/changeup 1-2 punch can be utterly dumbfounding for the opposition, and he’s just 6 back of the league lead. 

And what’s not quite working so well? While the bench has performed admirably, especially Danny Espinosa, there are some real problems with the Nationals’ state of play in the field. Ian Desmond has reverted to earlier form at short, making errors of commission that most other shortstops would let through for hits, and that’s something that’s going to have to be fixed. What that means for the young infielder is less than clear at this time. Desmond’s also had a slow start at the plate, and that certainly can’t help his focus.

With Harper out, the Nationals have turned to Nate McLouth and Kevin Frandsen in left. If you’re confused by the concept of infielders playing outfield, welcome to modern baseball, where the rules are made up and the positions don’t matter! But in all seriousness, trading Harper’s exuberant and athletic defense in left for McLouth’s bat and Frandsen’s quick adaptation process is a downgrade of serious concern. In addition the Nationals’ offense is once again in Feast or Famine mode. In aggregate, they stand in the middle of the pack for rush scored and runs allowed, but have been shutout three times, and held to two runs or less in a third of their contests thus far, and have scored more than 5 runs in a third of their game (winning all but one). 

Where are the improvements going to come from? Well, to start, none of the injuries we’ve seen from the 2014 Nationals are season-enders. Ryan Zimmerman is due back in the coming weeks, and though there’s talk of him taking over in left until Harper is healthy, he won’t be the worst Nationals they’ve run out to that position. It’s a warning, in part, to Denard Span, who’s struggled in the leadoff slot. We know Harper’s got the range to play center, and it’s entirely possible that if Zimmerman is hitting, and Span isn’t, an outfield of Zimmerman, Harper and Werth is entirely possible. Zimmerman surely couldn’t be any worse than Michael Morse was. 

As Doug Fister readapts to the big leagues, he will be a vast improvement over the early struggles of Taylor Jordan, and barring another injury, that upgrade will be substantial. A full set of starters will make the bullpen’s job substantially easier, as well. 

This is a ball club that’s still in the thick of it, despite losing their best bat so far this season, their youngest phenom, the face of the franchise, their newest starting pitcher and their power stroke catcher. When you look at their result – half a game back of first, three games over .500, it’s hard to see anything but the potential upside of a healthy squad.

The Nationals

Nationals win see-saw battle with Marlins 10-7

It wasn’t Jordan Zimmermann’s night tonight, but it ended up not mattering. The Nationals’ pre-season ace was haggard tonight in just 1 2/3 innings pitched, surrendering 5 runs on 7 hits and a pair of walks. The outing was definitely the worst Zimmermann’s career, and from the start he just didn’t look fresh. Perhaps it was the aftermath of his flu from the previous week, perhaps it was just a rare off night, but manager Matt Williams was quick with the hook and turned to his long man.

Craig Stammen for 3 1/3 innings of solid work scattering a pair of hits and a walk. Ross Detwiler skated through the sixth with ease, giving the Nats’ offense a chance to make their mark. They would begin their comeback on a Bryce Harper home run – a long overdue towering blast that landed eight rows back in the upper deck over the Robinson sign. Though the call was reviewed, it hooked clearly around the foul pole, moving the Nats to within 2. Anthony Rendon started the fifth with a leadoff triple, and came in on a 6-3 groundout off the bat of Jayson Werth shortly thereafter. In the sixth, the Nationals would give Ross Detwiler a lead, making the Marlins’ pen pay for some critical mistakes including a rather embarrassing fielding error by Dan Jennings. The Nationals would send eight men to the plate in the sixth, combining small ball tactics and some good luck into a pair of runs and their first lead of the night.

The joy would be short-lived in Natstown, though, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia would start the seventh inning with a moonshot of his own off Drew Storen, tying the game at 6. Christian Yelich, who went 3-4 with a pair of walks, would score the go-ahead run for the Fish in the top of the 8th. Both Storen and Clippard were vulnerable tonight, each giving up an earned run in an inning apiece, despite 4Ks in 9 batters. With most of the bullpen used today, the Nationals will be relying on Stephen Strasburg to go deep into the game tomorrow afternoon. But we’re not there yet. No, this story has had a number of twists and turns so far, but the best is yet to come.

Down 7-6 as the bottom of the 8th inning came around, the Marlins decided to turn tonight’s game from merely a dumpster fire into a full-on rolling dumpster fire, and sent beleaguered yet somehow continually employed Carlos Marmol to the mound. While he managed to retire Jose Lobaton, he would plunk pinch-hitter Nate McLouth on the foot, give up a single and an error to Denard Span, and then inexplicably walk Anthony Rendon to load the bases for Jayson Werth.

I can’t imagine why anyone would look at the Nationals lineup and say, “you know, I think the numbers look good here. Let’s walk Rendon. Sure, he’s on a tear, but have you seen that Werth guy? He’s no good, right? I mean, it’s not like he’s walked four times in nine lifetime at-bats against Marmol, right? Wait, he has? Aw man.”

But someone has to dive on that terrible grenade, and sure enough, tonight it was Marmol. Werth tattooed an 0-1 fastball into the visitors’ pen, making it 10-7, and the Nationals improved to 6-2. Tomorrow’s tilt is a 4:05pm start at Nationals Park for the potential sweep. The Nationals have won their second of three series so far this year, and they did it after a five run deficit in the second. Not too shabby. This the kind of game they won in 2012 on the strength of their pen and their offense. Good to see they’ve got it back for 2014.

The Nationals

Nats fall to Braves 2-1 in Home Opener

Nationals Drum Line

Is there anything more wonderful than Opening Day?

The pageantry at Nationals Park celebrating the start of spring and the season is always over the top, and today was no exception. Two of DC’s ladder trucks hoisted a massive American flag over Half Street, a drum line greeted fans as they came from the metro. The red-bedecked masses streamed out of Navy Yard Metro on an overcast Friday morning. An air of optimism was present, and the Braves fans were few and far between. 

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