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2014 Washington Nationals: Denouement

Last month, the Washington Nationals of 2014 completed the 4th best season in DC baseball history, but a second division title — they ran away with the National League East still yielded a first round exit. In the NLDS, they faced the San Francisco Giants, winners of the play-in game and lowest seeded team in NL, but eventual world champions. Four games later, the Nats were eliminated, despite strong pitching. Some strange mental errors and an opportunistic Giants squad overtook the Nats for two reasons:

The Nats bats with four days off did not hit. Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, the two youngest hitters on the team, were able to handle being pitched to low and a way. The rest of the lineup was largely helpless and the manager of the Nats, Matt Williams made no adjustments to the lineup, leaving Harper at 6th throughout the whole series. Questions about that decision-making as well as hitting coach Rick Shu are there to be asked.

Williams decision making has been fairly scrutinized. I don’t mind that he pulled Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 with two outs in the ninth after yielding a walk. Facing Buster Posey for a fourth time with a tired arm wasn’t ideal. It just didn’t work out that Drew Storen did not get it done.

Game 4 proved to be much more baffling as Williams inserted Aaron Barrett into the 7th inning of an elimination game on the road instead of Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen. Stephen Strasburg, who had a decent Game 1 start, was also available, but my view is the best relievers available were the best choice. Williams never called for them and the Nats fell.

Was Williams management of the NLDS a fireable offense? Probably not, but I’m not saying I’d be disappointed; I could get used to spelling “Weird Wuss” with curly Ws, I think. His peers voted him NL Manager of the Year, perhaps in the way that I would suggest Hunter Strickland needs a larger stage, like closer on an NL East team. The Nats were not ready for playoff baseball, likely in part due to their success in the last month of season where the dominated weak NL East teams in the New York Mets and Miami Marlins. That schedule can’t be helped – it’s just the way it worked out. However, sticking to a lineup that wasn’t producing and sticking to bullpen roles rather than game situations is hardly unique to Williams.

Or maybe it was the red jerseys.

Now, let’s review the roster:

THE LINEUP

Denard Span‘s NLDS was a microcosm of the Nats year — when he hit, they tended to win. When he didn’t, they lost. 2014 was his most productive season, setting a modern DC hits record. Unfortunately, he only hit in game 3.

Anthony Rendon put up superstar numbers, led the NL in runs and played third base well. He also hit in the NLDS, going 7 for 20.

Adam LaRoche had a typical streaky season, but still played 140 games, had a .362 OBP, hit 26 homers and drove in 92 runs. He also hit a walk-off against the Arizona Diamonbacks in extra innings. He is done in D.C. as there will be no spot for him with Ryan Zimmerman headed to 1st.

Jayson Werth had another strong season at the plate (.292/.394/.455), but was useless in the NLDS. Really useless. His defense is starting to slip, so perhaps a move to left is in order. He also drives too fast.

Bryce Harper garnered more controversy than he deserved and miss significant chunks of time, but after he returned he was pretty much the same outstanding player he’s been his whole career. He also hit three homers in the NLDS. When he’s healthy he’s awesome.

Ryan Zimmerman
couldn’t stay healthy, first injuring his thumb and then tearing his hamstring. He’s done playing third base on a regular basis due to his arthritic shoulder and will probably move to first next season. He’s still a great hitter and not playing third may keep him in the lineup, though he got injured on the basepaths. He continues to be a consummate professional.

Ian Desmond strikes out a ton and tends to make more errors than he should, especially early in the season. He’s in a contract year and with no viable second baseman on the roster, he’ll probably be resigned and continue to put up 20-20 numbers for a few more seasons, but strike out a ton.

Wilson Ramos stared the season batting cleanup, couldn’t make it out of the first game without a trip the DL. He only played 88 games and runs very slowly. Aside from the WILLLLLL-SSSSSSON chant, a forgettable year in several respects. It’s still worth mentioning that the Nats traded Matt Capps for him.

Asdrubal Cabrera was solid at second base for the most part after being acquired from Cleveland for the stretch run and even had a decent NLDS compared to other Nats hitters (ejection notwithstanding) but is probably on his way out. A decent acquisition though, if only to keep Danny Espinosa out of the lineup.

THE ROTATION

Stephen Strasburg tried to hard to make a slider work, but in an up and down season still tied for the NL lead in strikeouts, pitched 30 more innings and walked fewer. He gave up more hits, but locked in during the stretch. His postseason debut was okay, but poor defense helped lead to an early departure.

Doug Fister
got traded for Robbie Ray and hero to fans of a certain age Steve Lombardozi. Fister went 16-6 in 25 starts with only 24 walks and no stolen bases. He also won Game 3. Good trade Mike Rizzo.

Jordan Zimmermann had a very strong 2014, earning an All-Star bid, being arguably the Nats best pitcher and throwing the first no-hitter in D.C. since the Hoover administration. He had an unflappable demeanor and came within one out of a complete game shutout in Game 2, but he walked Joe Panik when umpire ___ squeezed the zone a bit and got lifted. So close…2015 will likely be his final year in D.C. as he is a free agent after the season and indications are he’s ready for a change of scenary.

Gio Gonzalez can be an outstanding pitcher when he’s trusting his curve ball. When he isn’t, he runs into trouble. Always known for a high pitch count, Gonzalez has had trouble in three starts over two postseasons and is prone to brutal fielding lapses. He’s signed the longest of anyone in the rotation.

Tanner Roark was the player the Nats got for the Cristain Guzman rental. If he never pitches another game, it was robbery. Thirty-one starts, 2.85 ERA, 15 wins. That’s after going 7-1 in 2013.

THE BULLPEN

Tyler Clippard, while pigeon-holed into the 8th inning with a lead spot, continued to be a reliable, durable reliever. He did not fare well when sent into close, but overall remained the most consistent fireman on the team AND WHY WOULDN’T YOU USE HIM IN AN ELIMINATION GAME, MATT WILLIAMS?

Drew Storen had a bounceback regular season that had him return to closing late, but that is overshadowed by his giving up the tying run in Game 1 and even giving up a run in Game 3. Seemingly, he’s next year’s closer though Clippard should get a shot.

Rafael Soriano had a strong first half as closer, but fell off the table and almost off the roster in the playoffs. He’s not coming back.

Aaron Barret – Joe West broke him. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. He shouldn’t have been brought in late in an elimination game.

Jerry Blevins was great against lefties. And only lefties. Why do I know this and #9 doesn’t?

Craig Stammen had some big long relief appearances and continiued to be solid.

Ross Detwiler did not make the playoff roster and did not have the faith of the management. It’s a far cry from 2012 when he made the best start of the playoffs that year. He’s headed out of town.

There is some discussion that next year will be a last shot with the current core as Zimmermann and Desmond are in the final years of their contracts. I expect Desmond will be signed and Zimmermann will follow the money to a city not too far from a rural area. Span’s option has got to be picked up because he provides value on the field or as a trade piece. Who plays second base is undetermined. Werth is showing his age in right and will be hard pressed to match those numbers again. Maybe switch him and Harper in the outfield. An extension for Fister wouldn’t upset me and I’m okay with dangling Gio out to other teams. THe NL East should be more challenging as the Marlins and Mets are showing signs of ascendency. The Phillies are not a factor and the Braves stayed in it longer than they really should have in 2014. More divisional competition may help the Nats out and keep them sharp too.

It’s been over two weeks since the season ended and I still miss it. We’ve got the hot stove, winter meetings and of course the court figths with the Baltimore Orioles ahead, but that’s just not the same being able to turn on Charlie & Dave and listen to a game 5 nights a week.

It’s 152 days until Opening Day.

HIGHLIGHTS

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An up close look at the Delaware Memorial Bridge

US Route 40Interstate 295 - DelawareInterstate 295 - New JerseyPreserving a bridge, one paint coat at a timeThe News Journal
My favorite bridge(s), the Delaware Memorial Bridge which carries Interstate 295 and US 40 between Delaware and New Jersey is being repainted. A photographer went along for the story and took some video in addition to photographs:

The video features the external elevators that I dislike for aesthetic reasons:

The pic referred to in the tweet is one my wife took in 2013 on our way back from a visit to The Jersey Shore.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

All those trips down the Shore are one of the reasons I love those bridge(s), though the novelty of twin suspension bridges is a big part of it too. No, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge doesn’t count — those are fraternal twins. Technically, the Delaware Memorial Bridges are too, as the Delaware-bound span is wider, but that is not distinguishable to the eye. The towers are 440 feet tall.

[flickr : Photos tagged with delmembr/slideshow]

Learn more at Steve Anderson’s phillyroads.com

Highway markers by Shields Up!

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VDOT releases 1949 footage of US 29 in Arlington

us29_va_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation found footage of US 29 (Lee Highway) from Key Bridge to Cherrydale filmed in 1949. VDOT recreated the same drive and combined that and the 1949 footage into one video and posted it on youtube:

us211_va_old_tinyThe 1949 footage isn’t perfect, but still gives an idea of post-WWII Arlington County. Streetcars are visible and along with the billboards that faced Georgetown at the Virginia end of Key Bridge. It’s also noteworthy that there are two US 29 signs visible, but not US 211 which was officially multiplexed with US 29 until 1980 according to the Virginia Highways Project when it was officially truncated at Warrenton. I had previously heard 1984, but I suspect that the completion of Interstate 66 outside the Beltway hastened the demise of US 211 since it was no longer than only continuous route number from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C. This video suggests that the predecessor agency of VDOT and/or Arlington County was disinterested in the US 211 designation near Washington in that designation long before it was technically removed.

In the last frame, beyond the intersection of Kirkwood Road, is a trestle for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. That right-of-way would later be used for Interstate 66, completed in 1982 and the Custis Trail, BeltwayLand’s most challenging bicycle path. Starting that year, the intersection with Kirkwood Road was also the northern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway according to Steve Anderson’s dcroads.net. Since 1959, that part of the GW Parkway has been a spur called Spout Run Parkway.

Highway markers from Shields Up!

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NLDS Game 3: Nats 4 SF GIANTS 1

The 2014 Washington Nationals will play for at least one more night. They kept their season alive with a 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, the first game decided by more than one run in the series.

Doug Fister saved the day, making this reaction (Red Porch Report) to his trade all the more funny. Seven innings of shutout baseball. His opposite number, Madison Bumgarner, made a strange decision on a Wilson Ramos two-strike bunt that led to two runs:

It was crazy to listen to on the radio (I was taking my oldest to a Cub Scouts meeting) and weirder to watch later. That’s two games in this series decided largely in part by poor fielding on bunts. Ramos advanced to second too.

Asdrubal Cabrera knocked Ramos in with a double too.

Bryce Harper had a big day in the field and at bat:

This was after the Natmosphere (including me) was convinced Harper was going to be benched yesterday.

Drew Storen couldn’t keep the shutout in the ninth, giving up a run, but still closed the game. Phew.

A great turnaround for the Nats after the 18-inning game that was longer than a flight from San Francisco to Dulles on Saturday night. Tonight’s game is at 9:07 p.m. on FOX Sports 1, 106.7 FM/1500 AM and of course, MLB Audio.

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Game 2: NATS 1 SF Giants 2

The Washington Nationals 18-inning loss to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night has their season on the brink. Win the next game or go home. In the best case scenario, that happens at least three times.

The Nats were one out away from a 1-0 victory, but Jordan Zimmermann walked Joe Panik on some questionable balls. Matt Williams replaced Zimmermann with closer Drew Storen. It wasn’t a bad decision, it just did not work. Storen gave up two hits, a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval, not exactly scrubs Posey was thrown out trying to score, setting up the longest game in MLB postseason history. Not wanting a tired Zimmermann to face Posey a fourth time is a reasonable position.

It became fashionable to dump on Nats fans for leaving their seats during the 6:23 long game. Some surely went home, while others went to the concourse. Apparently, in the eyes of some out-of-market baseball scribes, this was a moral failing. The temperatures dropped at least 20 degrees since the beginning of the game and the wind picked up. By 10:00 it was quite cold, even more so if you were in the exposed upper deck dealing with the heavy winds.

The game was literally longer than a flight from San Francisco to D.C.:

Maybe the older writers just miss their annual treks to rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal. I hear it isn’t what it was though.

The Nats primary problem, having given up 5 runs (4 earned) over 27 innings pretty clear — they aren’t hitting. Bryce Harper had two hits in game 1. Anthony Redon had 5 hits in game 2. That’s about it. Nothing from the leadoff hitter Denard Span and little from either Jayson Werth or Adam LaRoche. When you don’t get baserunners, the ump show that grants the opposition more strikes on pitches out of the zone is magnified. Not hitting is the problem. That’s why the Nats are on the brink of elimination.

Game 3 is at 5:07 p.m. Doug Fister vs. Madison Bumgarner on MLB Network as well 106.7 FM/1500 AM and MLB Audio.

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Game 1 NLDS: SF Giants 3 Nats 2

San Francisco Giants 3 WASHINGTON NATIONALS 2

I blame the red jerseys. It’s the playoff opener, wear the home whites!

A few mental mistakes too, like trying to get the lead runner on Jake Peavy’s bunt. Peavy pitched better than Stephen Strasburg, who wasn’t lights out, but didn’t lose the game for the Nats either.

There isn’t an embedded video of the game recap, so we’ll just have to post the highlight:



Bryce Harper
hit that home run farther than any other in his career. Sadly, it wasn’t one batter earlier in the previous inning when the bases were loaded. Ian Desmond struck out. He did it again in the 8th.

Harper also had the Nats first hit.

I listened most of the game and watched the last few innings after I got home from work.

Adam Kilgore had a good gamer in The Post:

Thomas Boswell’s column wasn’t good.

I said Nats in 4 and that’s already the best case scenario. Game 2 is at 5:37 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 or 106.7 FM/1500 AM. Jordan Zimmermann vs. Nats-biller, Tim Hudson.

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NLDS: Nats vs. SF Giants prediction

The afterglow of Jordan Zimmermann‘s no hitter last a few days and gave a brief respite for the anxiety of postseason baseball. Thanks J-Zimm. Another welcome distraction from all of this is the discovery of 1924 World Series footage – Watch rare footage of the Senators beating the Giants in the 1924 World Series (DC Sports Bog) | Film of the Washington Senators Winning the 1924 World Series Found! (Library of Congress)

That’s just outstanding stuff. Walter Johnson, the winning run in the only World Series title to date.

There has also been more wonderful Nats coverage than I can keep up with of late.

Today, at 3:07 p.m. on FOX Sport 1 or in my case, MLB Audio, the Washington Nationals host the San
Francisco Giants, who whipped the Pittsburgh Pirates in the play-in game on Wednesday night. The Nats have Stephen Strasburg starting his first playoff game while Jake Peavy starts for the Giants.

I was hoping for the Giants and told my friend David in San Francisco as much which might be hubris. I think it’s the best possible matchup in the playoffs for DC. David offered this in an email:

It is amazing what a big win will do to your attitude. I still believe that the Nationals and the Dodgers are the two best teams in the National League. But I also will note that the Giants played great last night and a 5 game series is short enough for randomness to trump averages. I suspect the Giants will use Bumgarner for Game 3, which means they will get him only once. Although you speak highly of Hudson, he has been lousy over the past month. At 38, end-of-season fatigue is a real thing. His pitches are elevating on him (typical sign of fatigue) and he’s been crushed for it. The best I’m hoping for from him is that he puts in 5 solid innings, gives up less than 2 runs and then Bochy goes to the bullpen. That will be taxing meaning that Peavy and the other likely starter (maybe Petit, maybe Vogelsong) will need to give a solid performance. But it means we get a travel day after going to the bullpen early.

In our favor, I like that Matt Williams has no post-season coaching experience and the Nationals’ last trip to the postseason ended in humiliating disaster. That is something that might creep into the minds of players that remember it. An ESPN analyst last night had a nice quip. He said the Pirates came into the game last night full of excitement and emotion and the Giants came in workmen-like fashion and the result showed. I thought in the 5th inning when McCutchen was stranded at second to end the inning his body language said he (the best player on their team) was a defeated player. I typically discount all the bluster of “playoff experience.” For instance, the most important players in the Giants 2010 championship, such as Posey, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Romo and Brian Wilson had zero playoff experience combined. Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria were the only players that had significant playoff experience and their contributions were mixed. Renteria was amazing and a vital component of their success, Uribe played well and Rowand was a total non-factor. But I really do like the fact that so many players on this team have experience winning elimination games–particularly multiple elimination game scenarios. They have the moxie to lose two games in Washington and come home and play their best ball and force a game 5. Some teams don’t have that–the A’s for instance.

Some other things to put in the doom category: Matt Williams (former San Francisco Giants star) quoted “we have miles to go before we sleep.” You know who else says that a lot? Ted Leonsis, who has never owned a team that advanced past the second round.

There is also the concern that the cowardly, subsidized Baltimore Orioles will exceed the Nats this and any season. And then we’ll have to hear about it from the fanboys in the DC media who uncritically cover a Baltimore team as if it were in DC. Even the ones who aren’t openly in the tank for Baltimore are apologists who ignore that the Orioles and their owner Peter Angelos are currently in default to the Nats. It’s a bad situation made worse.

Memories of the 2012 Nats collapse aren’t far away either. They had the Cardinals down 6-0 and lost 9-7, a bitter defeat as any in DC sports history. At least in my lifetime.

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning though. Back in 2004, I decided to ignore my cynicism and get emotionally attached to the idea that baseball would finally return to The District. Then it did.

Nats in 4.

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jordan-zimmermann-nohitter

Jordan Zimmermann throws first DC no-hitter since 1931 in Nats final regular season game

Monday is the 10th anniversary of the announcement that baseball was returning to D.C. What happened on Sunday morning might be one of top three highlights of that decade — Jordan Zimmermann pitching a no-hitter for the Washington Nationals:

103 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 runner advanced to first on a wild-pitch strike three and then got promptly picked off. Here is the final out, a diving catch by defensive replacement, LF Steven Souza, Jr., as told by four different broadcasters:

That’s a really good call by Bob Carpenter. It was thrilling to watch.

Zimmermann recorded just the third 9-inning no-hitter in D.C. history. Other no hitters (as seen on Washington D.C. Baseball History Facebook group):

Walter Johnson – July 1, 1920 / 9 innings
Walter Johnson – August 25, 1924 / 7 innings, game was called due to rain.
Bobby Burke – August 8, 1931 / 9 innings
Jordan Zimmermann – September 28, 2014 / 9 innings

Ian Desmond hit a second inning homer and that was all Zimmermann needed for run support.

A great game deserves a great gamer:

Thomas Boswell finally saw a no-hitter:

The only two moments that compare to this — Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals Park Opening Night Walkoff in 2008 and Jayson Werth’s Game 4 walkoff in 2012.

So far.

This was an exclamation point to a 96-win season with home field advantage in the NL playoffs. Zimmermann’s performance gives Nats fans a roaring crescendo to the regular season. The tension of the playoffs can wait for several days as it will surely happen, particularly when the opponent is determined by the NL Wild Card play-in game.

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Capitals Winter Classic at Nationals Park reactions

A couple of days ago, the Washington Capitals unveiled uniforms and the rink layout for the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park. On hand were Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby.

I had expected something with the Caps’ “Weagle” logo that combines the letter W with the Capitol dome, an eagle and the tip of the Washington Monument. Instead, they went a completely different direction, going with fauxback that evokes the memories of some minor league teams that called D.C. home (Monumental Network). My initial thought was they reminded me a bit of some of the Washington Senators logos (Sportslogos.net). Thinking a little more, I thought they looked like the kind of fauxbacks you might see in a place like Bannana Republic or some of those other casual fashion stores I don’t shop at, so maybe not a perfect comparison.

They did manage to squeeze in the top of the Washington Monument to the W. As one does.

Overall, they aren’t bad. They went with what I would call “Willard Preacher red” instead of the traditional red. The three stars on the chest and sleeves are a good touch that should be included on the regular uniforms. I don’t mind all the stripes either, though I won’t go as far to say that I like them. They even capitalized CAPITALS!

The design’s reaction has been mixed.

I think they are growing on me, but I’m in no hurry to go out and buy a sweater.

Like other Winter Classics played at ballparks, the rink placement is more about how it looks on TV than maximizing the best possible view for the most spectators. I would think that putting the rink along one of the baselines would probably make the most sense. That being said, if someone wants to help me get tickets, I’ll get over it.

Why did it take so long for this to get made official? Mark Lerner, a Nationals owner and Caps minority owner:

Multi-tasking, man. HARD.

There was of course cross-team tomfoolery

MORE READING
Wednesday Caps Clips: Winter Classic Attire Revealed; Capitals @ Bruins Game DayJapers Rink


For Barry Trotz and wife, transition to Washington centers around son with Down syndrome
The Post

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William F. Yurasko's blog v.15 – Nats, Redskins, Capitals, D.C. life, transportation, not so much Penn State anymore,