June 2012

What to Watch for: 6/30

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Washington Nationals (44-31) vs. Atlanta Braves (40-36) 

RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-2, 2.60) vs. LHP Mike Minor (3-6, 6.14)

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

SMOOTH ROAD

At 24-17 (.585), the Nationals own the best road record in the NL. Washington is 8-4-1 in series play on the road in 2012, including a 3-1 road series mark against the NL East.

JUNE BOON

At 15-10 with just tonight’s June sendoff remaining, the Nationals have clinched their third consecutive winning month in ‘12 (14-8 in April, 15-13 in May). Including a 17-10 mark in Sept. of ’11, Washington has posted 4 straight winning months for the first time since landing in D.C. Before the Nationals’ current 4-month win streak, they had only 3 winning months in the previous 25 baseball months dating to August of ’07: June ‘11 (17-10), March/April ‘10 (13-10) and Septeber/October ‘07 (15-12).

D.C.’S 1-2 PUNCH

Washington is 24-6 (.800) in games started by Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez this year. Both Strasburg and Gonzalez are scheduled to receive starting nods here at Turner Field in the next 24 hours.

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What to Watch for: 6/29

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Washington Nationals (43-31) vs. Atlanta Braves (40-35)

LHP Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.09) vs. RHP Randall Delgado (4-8, 4.52)

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi LF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Detwiler LHP

PAST PRESENT FUTURE

The Nationals three-game weekend set at Atlanta marks the final leg of a three-city, 10-game road trip. Washington is 3-4 on the trip (1-2 at BAL, 2-2 at COL), despite outscoring the Orioles and Rockies by 10 runs (40-30). Three of the trek’s four losses have been by one run, the other by two runs. Washington’s visit to Turner Field is its second of 2012, with the Nationals sweeping the other series here, May 25-27.

ADAMANT ABOUT ADAM

With 48 RBI in 74 games, Adam LaRoche is on pace to become just the fourth National ever to tally 50 or more RBI in the literal first half (81 games) of a season. Chronologically, the three Nationals to maintain above a 100-RBI pace through a season’s initial 81 contests were Alfonso Soriano (51) in 2006, Ryan Zimmerman (50) in 2006 and Adam Dunn (59) in 2009. Zimmerman and Dunn eventually reached the 100-RBI plateau in those seasons, while Soriano (95) fell short.

THE FAB FOUR

The four rookies on Washington’s roster — Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Jhonatan Solano — has combined to hit .286 (128-for-448) with 27 doubles, four triples, 14 home runs, 44 RBI a .354 OBP, and a .458 slugging percentage in 497 plate appearances.

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Already All-Stars

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The Washington Nationals have had plenty of All-Star worthy campaigns in 2012, from the stellar pitching atop the rotation and throughout the bullpen, to the comeback year by Adam LaRoche and the breakout campaigns of Ian Desmond and rookie Bryce Harper. But the Nationals are already guaranteed to send a pair of their own to the All-Star Game: two members of the Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

The squad of veterans and active duty servicemen made its triumphant return to Nationals Park on April 3, playing in front of an overwhelmingly supportive crowd in an easy victory over a team of Washington-area celebrities. They have since gone on to play – and defeat – able-bodied competition throughout the season, once again proving that “life without a limb is limitless.” On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that two members of the team will be invited to play in the 2012 Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game in Kansas City on July 8. Third baseman Saul Bosquez and shortstop Matt Kinsey will join celebrities like actor Jon Hamm, U.S. National Soccer Team captain Carlos Bocanegra, NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, and a host of former Major Leaguers for the nationally-televised event.

Matt Kinsey will play shortstop in the Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game.

When Kinsey was first told of the opportunity a couple of days ago by coach David Van Sleet, he thought he was on the wrong end of a practical joke.

“David called me the other day and told me,” explains Kinsey. “I thought he was joking around at first. I’ve never even been to an All-Star Game. So to get to play at it and attend all the events? It’s unbelievable.”

One of the most refreshing parts about chatting with the Wounded Warriors is how grateful they are for the opportunities presented to them. For those of us that work in the game, the magic of stepping out onto a Major League field can wear off as the act becomes routine. Not for Kinsey and Bosquez.

“It gets me every time,” says Bosquez about stepping onto the grass. “It doesn’t even have to be a Major League field – it means so much just for us to be stepping out on the field period. Most of us never thought we would be doing anything like this.”

Kinsey and Bosquez will get the real Major League treatment, too, as they are competing in a trio of games in Wisconsin on Saturday, and have to fly into Kansas City on Sunday morning to make it to Kaufmann Stadium in time for the game. For the duo, who have each been with the team since its inception in the Spring of 2011, it’s all still a bit overwhelming. They marvel at the progress that has been made in just over a year’s time.

Saul Bosquez, who has also been with the team since the beginning, is living the dream.

“To be there at the start, and to see where it’s at now, I would have never dreamed it,” admits Kinsey.

“It’s huge for the both of us and huge for the team,” adds Bosquez. “The best ballplayers are going to be on one field, and we get to play there. It’s surreal. I’m having trouble putting it into words.”

More so than the celebrities, the Wounded Warriors are looking forward to meeting the former players who will be taking part in the game, particularly the likes of Ozzie Smith, Ernie Banks and Mike Piazza. As a shortstop, Kinsey may have to compete with Ozzie, one of his childhood idols, for playing time.

“I don’t think I could quite kick Ozzie out of short,” he laughs. “I’d be happy to play anywhere.”

If the Wounded Warriors have the same effect in Kansas City as they have had on those around the rest of the country the last year, we get the feeling their teammates for the game will be happy to let them shine in the national spotlight.

The Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game will follow the State Farm Home Run Derby and will be televised on ESPN, beginning at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 8.

What to Watch for: 6/28

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Washington Nationals (43-30) vs. Colorado Rockies (28-46)

RHP Edwin Jackson (4-4, 2.91) vs. LHP Josh Outman (0-3, 8.64)

The Nationals will face the Rockies this afternoon in the finale of their four-game series, with the Nats looking to take three-of-four. After two consecutive double-digit run outputs – including two home runs apiece from Tyler Moore, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman – Washington hopes to keep their bats hot with Edwin Jackson on the hill today.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Jackson P

NATS BATS STAY HOT

Tyler Moore mashed three hits and hit his fourth home run to power the Nationals past the Rockies, 11-5, on Wednesday at Coors Field. Washington’s 14-hit attack included eight extra-base hits with home runs from Moore, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. After scoring 12 runs the night prior, the Nationals posted double-digit run totals in back-to-back games for the third time since 2005.

FIRST AT FIRST

The Nationals pace Major League Baseball with 21 home runs hit by first basemen this year, with the White Sox (18) and the Blue Jays (16) in second and third, respecitvely. Among NL clubs, only the Reds (14) sport more than 12 long balls from their first baggers in ‘12. Adam LaRoche (15), Moore (4) and Chad Tracy (2) have accounted for Washington’s aforementioned 20 homers.

In seven complete seasons in D.C., Nationals first baggers have ranked among MLB’s top 10 clubs in home runs just once (fourth with 40 home runs in ‘10) and from 2005-11, the Nationals averaged just 22.3 long balls per season from those playing first base.

EXTRA DESMOND, PLEASE

Ian Desmond has seven hits so far in the Mile High City, six of which have gone for extra-bases (four doubles, one triple, one home run). Desmond leads all MLB shortstops with 35 extra-base hits, with his 21 doubles setting the pace and his career-best 12 home runs good for second behind Jed Lowrie’s (HOU) 14.

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What to Watch for: 6/27

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Washington Nationals (42-30) vs. Colorado Rockies (28-45)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-6, 2.89) vs. LHP Edwar Cabrera (0-0, -.–)

After last night’s impressive 12-5 victory, which produced Gio Gonzalez’s 10th win of the season, and Ryan Zimmerman’s 1,000th career hit, the Nationals look to make it two in a row vs. Colorado. Jordan Zimmermann hopes to receive reasonable run support as he sails into this game with a 2.89 ERA against the Rox rookie pitcher, Edwar Cabrera, making his first Major League start.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. Desmond SS

6. DeRosa LF

7. Moore 1B

8. Solano C

9. Zimmermann RHP

VIEW FROM THE TOP

The Nationals—thanks to Tuesday’s 12-5 win in Denver and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ loss at AT&T Park—now own the best record in the National League. Before today, the Nationals had exclusively held the NL’s best record only three days since coming to D.C. All three dates came in 2008: April 2 (3-0 record), March 31 (2-0) and March 30 (1-0). With the win, the Nationals also remain 3.5 games ahead of the Braves in the NL East standings. Washington has either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 73 of the season’s 83 days. Only the Rangers and the Dodgers (80 each) have more days atop of their divisions in 2012.

FACING NEW FACES

With LHP Edwar Cabrera slated to make his MLB debut tonight for the Rockies, note that the Nationals (2005-present) are 4-4 all-time when opposed by a starting pitcher making an MLB debut. Washington last faced a starter making an MLB debut one week ago today, on June 20, as Stephen Strasburg pitched the Nationals to a 3-2 home win over Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SKIP

One year ago today at Angel Stadium, Davey Johnson assumed the helm of the Nationals by managing his first big league game in over a decade. The Nationals dropped Davey’s first game (L 3-4 in 10 innings), but he had led the Nationals to an 82-73 (.529) record overall (42-37 at Nationals Park, 40-36 on the road) while using 55 players/26 pitchers.

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The Rally Napkin

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Baseball is a game loaded with more odd traditions and superstitions than any other sport. With 162 games in the regular season, everyone goes through boons and swoons, streaks and slumps. And when they want to find a way to keep a hot streak alive, or break out of a cold one, players will try most any type of ritual or routine that they can believe in, in order to help them find the magic that got them to the big leagues in the first place.

The Nationals entered Tuesday night’s game in Colorado having dropped seven of their last 10 contests, posting an average of just 2.5 runs per game. That included just two runs of offense with Stephen Strasburg on the hill in the first of a four-game set on Monday, as the Nats took a rare loss behind one of their top two starters. That sputtering offensive output came despite playing in the rarefied air of Coors Field, the hitters’ paradise, where curveballs come to die.

Enter, The Rally Napkin. With Washington leading 1-0 in the top of the third inning on Tuesday night, Danny Espinosa stood at first base with two outs. Nationals television color-man F.P. Santangelo pointed out a piece of trash from the stands, a white ballpark napkin, that had escaped a fan’s grasp and wisped across the field, coming to rest against Espinosa’s leg. Santangelo dubbed it “The Rally Napkin,” and immediately after he did so, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse came through with back-to-back doubles to put the Nationals ahead, 3-0.

The offense was hardly done there, though. Ian Desmond rapped out four hits, including a trio of doubles, and now leads all Major League shortstops in extra-base hits. Zimmerman, whose double in the third was the 999th hit of his career, came through with his 1,000th in his next at-bat, and later homered. LaRoche, who opened the scoring for the evening with a solo shot in the second, went deep again in the sixth for Washington’s final score. Tyler Moore launched perhaps the longest home run of the year, a back-breaking three-run shot, measured at 462 feet straight into the teeth of the Denver wind.

When the dust had settled, the Nationals had racked up a season high 12 runs. They tied a franchise record with 21 hits. When Mark DeRosa’s ninth-inning double rattled into the left-field corner, they set a new club mark with 11 extra-base hits. They even spawned a new Twitter account. By the end of the sixth inning, Santangelo was holding court on camera with a napkin tucked into his collar.

In a Nationals season full of big moments – and the memes that follow them – it was just the latest to come along. You can be willing to bet tough-luck starter Jordan Zimmermann, who has just three wins despite a stellar ERA of just 2.89, will be looking for some floating paper around Coors Field to spark the offense when he takes the hill Wednesday night.

Hey, whatever works.

What to Watch for: 6/26

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Washington Nationals (41-30) vs. Colorado Rockies (28-44)

RHP Gio Gonzalez (9-3, 2.55) vs. LHP Christian Friedrich (4-4, 5.65)

Tonight, the Nationals take on Colorado in game two of the four-game set in the Rocky Mountains. A win this evening would prevent the Nationals from losing two consecutive series for the first time this season. Additionally, the match-up holds great potential for one of the Nats to set an impressive franchise record.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Gonzalez LHP

ZIMMERMAN CLOSE TO 1,000

With 998 in the bag, Ryan Zimmerman is just two hits shy of recording his 1,000th career hit. While Zimmerman would become the seventh player to record a 1,000th career hit in a Washington uniform, he would be the first to do so exclusively as a National. The first six to 1,000: Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn, Aaron Boone, Cristian Guzman, Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen.

VIEW FROM THE TOP

Despite having dropped three of four, the Nationals remain 3.5 games ahead of both the Braves and Mets in the NL East standings. The Nationals have either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 72 of the season’s 82 days. Only the Texas Rangers (79) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (79) have more days atop of their divisions in 2012.

GIO TAKES TO THE HILL

Tonight vs. Colorado, Gio Gonzalez will attempt to become just the second National (2005-present) lefty to reach the double-digit win plateau. The last, and only other National to do it was John Lannan when he won 10 games in 2011. Like Stephen Strasburg last night, Gio has never faced the Colorado Rockies, but is 3-3 with 2.53 ERA in seven career starts against the NL West.

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Weekly Review (6/18)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Nationals enjoyed a rare mid-homestand off day, as they prepared for their final six games of Interleague Play for the 2012 season. With the break in the action, we took the time to fill you in on some of the top signees out of this year’s First-Year Player Draft. As Washington prepared to host the Rays in the opener of a three-game set on Tuesday, we reflected upon the striking similarities between this year’s Nationals club and Tampa Bay’s 2008 edition. Once the dust had settled from a 5-4 Nationals loss on Tuesday, the team rebounded with an athletic performance that led to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday. The Nationals then went out and won the battle of rookies named Moore, taking the series with a 5-2 triumph on Thursday.

From there, Washington traveled to the Beltway to the north for a rematch with the Orioles. The Nats couldn’t get much going against Jason Hammel on Friday night, falling 2-1 in the series opener. They rebounded behind Edwin Jackson, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, in a 3-1 victory on Saturday to set up a second consecutive series to be decided by a pivotal rubber game. After leading 1-0 much of the way, the Nationals were unable to get the ball to Tyler Clippard for the ninth, as the Orioles rallied in the eighth for their second 2-1 victory of the series.

Mon: OFF

Tue vs. TAM: L, 4-5

Wed vs. TAM: W, 3-2

Thu vs. TAM: W, 5-2

Fri @ BAL: L, 1-2

Sat @ BAL: W, 3-1

Sun @ BAL: L, 1-2

Weekly Record: 3-3

What to Watch for: 6/25

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Washington Nationals (41-29) vs. Colorado Rockies (27-44)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-1, 2.46) vs. LHP Jeff Francis (0-1, 8.56)

The Nationals travel to Colorado to face the Rockies for the first time this season beginning Monday night. The series marks Washington’s return to National League play after five consecutive Interleague Series. Stephen Strasburg will have an opportunity to collect his 10th win, and retake the Major League lead in strikeouts.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

STRASBURG LOOKS TO CONTINUE STREAK

Tonight at Coors Field, Stephen Strasburg will try to become the first National (2005-present) to earn a win in seven consecutive starts. Strasburg has never faced the Colorado Rockies, but is 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA in five career starts against the NL West. In his last career start, his first against the Tampa Bay Rays, he earned the win in the Nationals hard-fought, 3-2 victory on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. He fanned 10 in seven strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks.

BIG EAST

The Nationals finished a string of 32 consecutive contests against clubs from the AL East (18 total, 10-8) and NL East (14 total, 8-6) on Sunday. On May 18, Washington began the daunting 32-game stretch in second place, 0.5-game behind ATL in the NL East standings. The Nationals enter tonight’s lid-lifter in Denver atop the NL East with a 3.5-game lead over the second-place New York Mets.

SMOOTH ROAD

The Nationals are a 31-16 on the road dating to last September 12th. The .660 winning percentage is MLB’s best road mark in that span, just ahead of Texas (30-17, .638) and Baltimore (25-19, .568).

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Surviving The Gauntlet

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The baseball season is full of many tests. This year, the Nationals schedule has them slated to face a total of 20 other Major League squads: the five American League East clubs joining the standard 15 National League teams on the slate. Much of what was considered the “easy” portion of the schedule came early, giving those who doubted the team’s April success grounds for an ominous warning: just wait until May 18.

Ian Desmond has delivered clutch RBI all season long.

That was the day the Nationals began a stretch of 32 straight games (originally 33, but one was postponed due to rain) in which they played every member of both the NL and AL East, including five games against Atlanta and six versus Baltimore. Washington entered that portion of the schedule at 23-15, a half-game back of the Braves and just two games ahead of the Mets, with the Marlins another game behind in a very tight division race. Even though Washington dropped a tough loss on Sunday to close that stretch, they still finished the gauntlet with an 18-14 mark, leaving them at 41-29 overall, three-and-a-half games clear of the second place Mets and four ahead of the Braves. The Nationals also put some distance between themselves and both the Marlins (eight back) and Philadelphia Phillies (nine back).

They have done this with the same formula they have used all season long: excellent pitching and clutch hitting, often from different sources each night. While Adam LaRoche has continued to provide the power and Ian Desmond keeps delivering big, two-out RBI, others have left their marks as well. There was the Stephen Strasburg’s first Major League home run to help beat the Orioles. Bryce Harper’s first Major League walk-off to grab first place back from the Mets. Ryan Zimmerman’s bases-clearing double against Tim Hudson and the Braves. The Tyler Moore show in Toronto.

Tyler Clippard has arguably been baseball’s best closer the last five weeks.

Through it all, though, there has been a larger revelation, one that has come so quietly that no matter how much attention we draw to it, it never seems to be enough. Tyler Clippard has emerged as not only the closer of the Nationals, but one of the best in the game since he has stepped into the role. In addition to a perfect 12-for-12 mark in save opportunities, Clippard has put up the following line in 16 appearances against Eastern Division foes since May 18:

15.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 20 K

To summarize: Clippard has allowed just two hits (and seven total baserunners), while recording 46 of the most important outs of the last five weeks. He has struck out 20, four times the number he has walked, and a rate of better than 11.7 per 9.0 innings pitched. He recorded the final out in 12 of those 18 wins, including three straight on the road at Fenway Park. His seven Interleague saves matched Yankees closer Rafael Soriano for the most in baseball.

Despite Sunday’s blip, Sean Burnett has been terrific setting up in front of Clippard. When roommate Drew Storen returns, the back of the bullpen will only get that much stronger.

While beating Major League teams is never easy, the Nationals do play seven of their final 13 games before the All-Star Break against the Colorado Rockies, owners of the highest staff ERA in the Majors at 5.33, easily more than two runs per game higher than Washington’s 2.95 mark. It might be just the opportunity the pitching-lead Nats need to get their bats going, heading into the season’s second half.

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