It is sort of remarkable to think that after all that has transpired over the first two days and three games of the Nationals-Braves series, that Washington actually can salvage a series split later today. But that is exactly the position the Nationals find themselves in, even after:
- Friday night’s epic collapse
- Being throttled by Ben Sheets and Atlanta’s pitching staff in game one of yesterday’s doubleheader
- Watching Bryce Harper limp off in the very same game after fouling a pitch off his left ankle
- Falling behind 2-0 in yesterday’s night cap, which featured…
- John Lannan, he of the 4.89 Triple-A ERA, toe the rubber to try to stem the bleeding.
Even Barack Obama thought there was no hope. But somehow, someway, the Nats dug deep and battled to a 5-2 victory, and now improbably stand on the cusp of making this a no harm, no foul engagement for the top of the NL East standings.
Game ball(s): Lannan. Things still may be cozier in TomKat land than they are between John and the Nats, but Lannan pitched a splendidly professional game leading Washington to victory. What was most impressive is how he settled down after surrendering two runs in the first. It could have gotten ugly, like when that girl you know keeps putting on makeup and she isn’t applying to clown college. Hey, hey! No, no!
Goat(s): The doctor who fixed Ben Sheets. This isn’t how the script was supposed to go for Ben:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The rest of the Nationals team. Yep, in a similar vein to yesterday’s tribute to the Braves hitters, each and every member of the team. Sure, Steve Lombardozzi went 0-5 and stranded five base runners. And Adam LaRoche pulled off the same feat with one less at-bat. Still, the Nationals needed the win in a desperate way and managed to summon the collective fortitude to pull it off. Congrats. I will put down the Mao literature now.
Current Record: 54-39
Collapse. Last night around 8:30, I thought that word would best describe my head hitting the pillow as I fell into a deep slumber, reaping the fruits of several consecutive nights of poor sleep. On the heels of a Ryan Zimmerman three-run home run that put the Nats up 6-0 against the Braves, it never crossed my mind that come the morning, that word would have a wholly different meaning.
Alas, before the sun peaked above the horizon, a check of the box scores revealed the word’s new meaning, a description of Washington throwing away a NINE! run lead to Atlanta in an eventual brutal 11-10 extra inning loss. For once, my lazy gene paid off, shielding me from what has to be one of the worst losses in National’s franchise history. And I’m drawing that conclusion from the Washington Post and a box score. I shudder to think what I would be feeling if the Sandman hadn’t called me.
Game ball(s): The Atlanta Braves hitters. Yep, each and every one of them. You don’t rally from nine runs down, even with the opposition bullpen imploding, without showing a tenacity for winning that is worthy of a game ball. Make that eight game balls.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson. While there were a lot of pigs making a mess in the pen, I will allow Davey’s own words to claim the award: ”Arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed in my life,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. ”I’ve never lost a nine-run lead when it was my part of the game to handle the pitching and it’ll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did.”
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The only consolation I see right now is that in less than five hours, the Nats face off again against the Braves, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. That’s the magic of baseball. Tomorrow usually offers the chance at quick redemption.
Current Record: 53-38
As soon as Stephen Strasburg walked the first two batters of the game, I knew it was going to be a very short day on the mound for the young ace. Although he escaped the first inning unscathed, after a three-run bottom of the third and 67 total pitches in 106 degree heat, Strasburg succumbed to the brutal elements, leaving the game in the hands of Chien-Ming Wang, and that’s never a good thing. Trailing 3-2 at the time, by the time Wang left the game two innings later, it was 7-2 Atlanta and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Game ball(s): Mother Nature and the Atlanta Braves pitching staff. It was a matter of survival yesterday with such extreme temperatures and Atlanta’s staff did just enough to hold on to a 7-5 victory.
Goat(s): Mother Nature and Wang. Congrats Mother Nature! You are the first to take home both a game ball and a goat award from the same game. Guess that’s what happens when Al Gore and Tony Hayward are on the nominating committee. And Wang. What to do about you? I’m sure the Nationals had designs on trading you, but with a brutal 7+ ERA and 2+ WHIP, the only place you really deserve to be shipped to is Triple-A Syracuse. And with the returns of Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen looming on the horizon, I wouldn’t be making dinner reservations too far out in DC if I were Wang.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Adam LaRoche. The notoriously streaky LaRoche had a woeful time at the plate in June, but with yesterday’s 2 for 3 effort, he is now 5 for 16 in his last 4 games with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. Let’s hope this is a sign that a big July is in store.
Current Record: 44-32
Playing in Colorado is always wacky. For all the wonderful things it can do for a struggling offense, it can do just as much harm to a team’s pitching staff. So, after 4 games, 33 runs scored, 25 runs allowed, 15 pitchers used, and a series split, I’m sure the Nationals were looking forward to getting to Atlanta to resume the battle for the NL East crown. Thankfully, the team’s equipment managers did take one memento from the Mile High City to play the Braves, the hot bats which churned out another 15 hits in route to a 5-4 victory.
Game ball(s): Michael Morse. Dot, dot, win. While I’ve been singing the praises of the warming bat of Ryan Zimmerman, just as importantly, Morse’s bat has been coming around, his game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning being his second in as many days. We all saw what a healthy Morse can do last year, and that’s just what Washington needs to sustain the offensive gains made in Colorado, because, alas, MLB simply won’t take to the idea of turning the Rockies pitching staff into the Nats’ Washington Generals.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson. Sounds strange saying this about Davey, but he kept Ross Detwiler in too long, which nearly cost the Nats the win. I’m sure Davey was thinking that Ross had been outstanding for six innings, and after burning through the bullpen in Colorado, he was hoping to squeeze another inning out of him. Unfortunately, when Hotlanta caught up to Detwiler, Davey was too slow to summon the bullpen to the rescue.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Stephen Strasburg. I know I’m looking forward to later today, but with a 4pm start and temperatures expected to rise above triple-digits, I will be watching to see how Strasburg manages his tempo, pitch count, and overall stamina on what will certainly be a very tough day to pitch.
Current Record: 44-31
I could probably write a bit about the grove Washington’s offense has found in Atlanta and how it led to yesterday’s 8-4 win. Or maybe I could speculate endlessly about Stephen Strasburg’s battle against the sticky Atlanta heat. Or I could just let you watch Bryce Harper’s opposite-field shot off of Atlanta reliever Jonny Venters, whose early career dominance has been highlighted by holding 236 lefties to a cumulative .186 batting average and just three home runs. I like tv:
Game ball(s): National’s hitters. With every starter but Tyler Moore getting a hit and the Nats scoring seven or more runs for consecutive games for the first time this season, the offense is beginning to roll. What was most impressive yesterday were that 8 of the team’s 12 hits went for extra bases which bodes well for more future crooked innings.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson, who predictably took less than 24 hours to announce that Chien-Ming Wang would replace Ross Detwiler in the rotation. Hard to argue with the manager of a 28-18 team, but if you asked my parents, you would know why I’m just going to say that I hope it is the right move.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Tom Gorzelanny, who played long-man hero out of the bullpen yesterday, tossing three innings of scoreless relief. After another short outing by Stephen Strasburg, Gorzelanny nearly got a four-inning save and would have if not for Davey’s quick hook after the first hitter reached base in the bottom of ninth.
Current Record: 28-18
Tonight, the Nationals begin a nine-game road trip that will take them to Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Miami. Sitting a game and half back of Atlanta, I can’t help but feel that this string of games away from Nationals Park will be quite telling of the team’s prospects for taking the NL East crown. Even after they return home, they still have to finish their 15 straight games against NL East foes, squaring off against Atlanta (again) and New York. However, for a squad that has been decidedly better at home (15-8) than on the road (9-9), the Nats are going to have to first have to show that they can win big games on the road. Anything less than five wins has to be seen as a harbinger of tougher days ahead in the race to the top of the division.