August 2012

What to Watch For: 8/31

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St. Louis Cardinals (71-60) vs. Washington Nationals (79-51)

RHP Adam Wainwright (13-10, 3.63) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (16-7, 3.28)

The Nationals have bounced back from their five-game slide to win two straight, including last night’s 8-1, series-opening victory over the defending World Series Champion Cardinals. Gio Gonzalez looks to follow-up on Edwin Jackson’s strong outing in the second matchup in the four-game set.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
According to Elias, last night marked Edwin Jackson’s sixth consecutive start in which he had more strikeouts than innings pitched. It’s the longest streak of his big-league career and the third-longest streak of its kind in MLB this season. Jackson is the first former Cardinals pitcher to reach double-figures in strikeouts in a win against St. Louis since Steve Carlton did so in Philadelphia on August 11, 1984.

NOT-SO-GRAND CENTRAL
Although he has never faced the St. Louis Cardinals, Gio Gonzalez is 4-0 with a 3.22 ERA in seven starts against the NL Central in 2012. Note that at .118, Gio ranks fourth among MLB starters and second in the NL in batting average against with two strikes. He trails only matt Cain (.100), Yu Darvish (.102) and Felix Hernandez (.109).

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A Leader Down the Stretch

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All season long, the Nationals have been content to defer the spotlight. As Showtime selected the revamped division-rival Miami Marlins to feature in their reality series The Franchise, the Nationals quietly went about winning ballgames and building a lead in the National League East. With all the focus on the return of Stephen Strasburg, starter Jordan Zimmermann set out his slow and steady path towards a breakout year. And despite all the attention paid to Bryce Harper’s debut season, fellow rookies Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi have played their own, integral roles in the club’s success thus far.

Jackson seems to have only gotten stronger as the season has gone along.

And so, it is only fitting that Washington’s best pitcher of late has gone largely unnoticed, quietly dominating under the radar of the national spotlight. After his latest masterpiece – an eight-inning, 10-strikeout, 122-pitch performance against the same Cardinals team he helped to a World Series title last year – Edwin Jackson has emerged as one of the strongest arms in the rotation heading down the stretch. After struggling with his command in the middle of the season, Jackson has been more aggressive of late, throwing his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter and hard, diving slider for strikes.

“It’s just a matter of being comfortable with it at the end of the day,” Jackson said on Friday of his willingness to attack the zone the night before. “You just have to go out and pitch with confidence.”

Jackson has plenty to be confident about. After touching the double-digit strikeout plateau five times in his first nine years as a professional, he has achieved the feat in each of his last two home starts, mixing in eight K’s in the road start between them. All told, the right-hander has fanned 29 batters in his last 21.0 innings pitched, allowing only 13 hits over that span. In the month of August, during which he went just 2-3, he punched out 49 in a span of just 37.2 frames. He also eclipsed 100 pitches in all six of those outings, and has done so eight straight times he has toed the rubber for the Nats, proving his durability time and time again.

When Jackson throws all three of his pitches for strikes, as he did Thursday night, he is hard to beat.

In fact, after the Nationals dragged into extra innings against the Houston Astros on consecutive nights August 6 and 7, Jackson was made available to come out of the bullpen the next day, if need be. On August 20, as Washington battled into the 13th inning against Atlanta. With relief options already exhausted, Jackson trotted down to the bullpen to warm up for the top of the 14th, just over 48 hours after he threw 103 pitches against the New York Mets. On a team full of young players, he is setting the example, through his late-season play as much as his warrior mentality, of what it takes to be a champion. As for the credit, he leaves that for others to worry about.

“Whoever (the media) wants to put in the spotlight, that’s their prerogative,” he says. “As far as we’re concerned in here, on your day, everybody has to be a superstar. All we want to do is go win games any way we can.”

Jackson has shown his willingness to do just that – make sure the team wins by any means necessary. If the rest of the Nationals can follow his lead, it should be an exciting September and beyond.

What to Watch For: 8/30

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St. Louis Cardinals (71-59) vs. Washington Nationals (78-51)

LHP Jaime Garcia (3-5, 4.15) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (7-9, 3.72)

The Nationals return home coming off an 8-4 win Wednesday night in Miami to open a season-long, 11-game homestand with four games against the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals beginning Thursday night in D.C. Former Cardinal Edwin Jackson faces his old team for the first time since winning a ring with them last season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

By hitting a pair of homers Wednesday at Marlins Park, Bryce Harper became just the third teenage center fielder to register a multi-homer effort. Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. (twice in ‘89: May 30 at NYY and July 5 vs. MIN) and Chicago’s Brian McCall (September 30, 1962 at NYY) predated Harper.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Tonight, Edwin Jackson will face off against the club he spent part of the 2011 season with, eventually earning a World Series ring with the Cardinals. He helped St. Louis earn a postseason spot by going 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 games/12 starts with the Cards. From there, he went 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four October starts. Edwin earned the win, with the Cardinals facing elimination, in Game 4 of NLCS. As he makes the start tonight, note that he is winless against five franchises during career, one of which is St. Louis.

WORTH NOTING

The Nationals are 7-2 in their last nine games at home against the Cardinals. However, Washington is just 1-10 at the newest version of Busch Stadium since 2008. Washington has won five of the last seven one-run games in the series. None of Washington’s five current starting pitchers have ever earned a win at the Cardinals expense. Sean Burnett bested the Cardinals on June 29, 2004 at PNC Park to notch his first big league win. Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein served as Triple-A Memphis hitting coach in ‘07 and assisted Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa at the 2005 All-Star Game at Detroit. Eckstein is also the older brother of SS David Eckstein, who was named World Series MVP in 2006. MASN’s Bob Carpenter is a St. Louis native who spent 10 seasons broadcasting Cardinals baseball on radio and TV. WFED’s Charlie Slowes began his broadcasting career at St. Louis’ KMOX, where he performed various on-air duties during broadcast of the Cardinals, the NFL Cardinals, the Blues and St. Louis University basketball from 1984-86.

DATE IN D.C. BASEBALL

August 30, 2010 – Ryan Zimmerman’s game-winning, three-run home run in the third inning triggered a 9-3 win at FLA. The blast broke a left-field electronic scoreboard that was left reading “Sun Life Stadiu” (the “m” was suddenly missing).

August 30, 2011 – The Nationals pounded out 12 hits, eight of which went for extra bases (four doubles, four home runs), in a 9-2 victory at Atlanta. In the win, Livan Hernandez worked 7.0 innings of two-run ball to register his 44th and final victory as a member of the Washington Nationals.

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The Face and the Foundation

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Simply being an organization’s first-ever draft pick is hardly enough to make someone the face of the franchise. Even ascending to become a star in the league, winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, is still not sufficient on its own to bestow such a title. Sure, Ryan Zimmerman has achieved all of the aforementioned accolades, but it is his work off the field that has cemented him as the cornerstone of the organization, and is a big part of the reason why the Nationals felt it was crucial to offer him a contract extension through at least the 2019 season.

MLB Network will air Zimmerman’s story this Saturday evening.

Many Nationals fans already know about the extensive efforts Zimmerman has put into creating and fostering the ziMS Foundation, to help find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. His own mother has been afflicted by the condition since Zimmerman was a teenager, so the cause is very much a personal one for him. However, outside of the Nationals family, Zimmerman and his work are not necessarily that well known. Hopefully that will change this Saturday, when MLB Network will air the hour-long feature MLB: My Life on Zimmerman and his family, as well as the foundation he created.

“I’m not really a guy who puts that much out there (about the ziMS Foundation),” said the soft-spoken Zimmerman on Thursday afternoon. “So doing the show was kind of a new thing for me. It was uncomfortable at times, because I’m not used to doing things like that. But it was a new experience and I had a lot of fun doing it. “

The feature will take fans back to the Virginia Beach, where Zimmerman spent his youth, as well as to his alma mater, the University of Virginia. While Zimmerman himself has yet to see the finished product, he was encouraged by the experience and hopeful that fans will learn more about the work he has put in away from the diamond.

They were great to work with,” said Zimmerman of the MLB Network crew. “Hopefully, in the end, it will bring some good publicity to the (ziMS) Foundation and help people learn more about it.”

Watch a preview of the feature below, and be sure to catch the episode in its entirety when it airs on MLB Network on Saturday, September 1 at 6:30 p.m.

Twice As Bryce

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The Nationals needed a spark. They needed something, or someone, to step forward and deliver a big hit to kick-start a struggling offense that had scored just six times in a five-game losing streak. Fittingly, they got it from a player aiming to right his own course this season, looking to finish the regular season strong.

Bryce Harper hit a pair of home runs Wednesday night to back Ross Detwiler and the bullpen in an 8-4 victory in Miami. His second home run (seen below) will be the one that most folks remember from the contest, as it made him just the third teenage center fielder ever to log a multi-home run performance, not to mention the fact that it drilled a seat in the sixth row of the upper deck in right-center field. But it was the rookie’s first dinger that opened the floodgates for the rest of the Nationals offense. After going 0-for-9 the first time through the lineup against Marlins rookie starter Jacob Turner, Harper’s blast (which followed a leadoff single by Jayson Werth) was the second hit in a string in which six of seven Nats hit safely.

During that sequence, Michael Morse scorched a ball that would have been a home run in nearly any other ballpark, settling for a triple. In all, six different Washington batters tallied multi-hit games, and catcher Kurt Suzuki checked in with his first home run in a Nationals uniform, padding the lead in the ninth inning. The offense finished the night with 14 hits, a needed jolt as the team gained a game back from the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. Washington leads the division by 5.0 as they open an 11-game homestand with four games against the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night in D.C.

With 33 games remaining in the regular season, 21 of them right here on the shores of the Anacostia, it will be interesting to see which players step forward to carry the Nationals to the finish line. Adam LaRoche came up huge in April and May with much of the heart of the lineup injured. Ryan Zimmerman and Morse each went on tears in June and July to keep the team atop the division. And recently, Werth has been on fire since returning from his broken wrist to carry the load. With seven games against the Cardinals, three against the newly revamped Dodgers and three more with Atlanta still to play, Washington will need its big bats to step up once again. If Wednesday night was any indication, this team looks ready to get after it down the home stretch.

What to Watch For: 8/29

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Washington Nationals (77-51) vs. Miami Marlins (59-71)

LHP Ross Detwiler (7-6, 3.25) vs. RHP Jacob Turner (1-2, 6.87)

The Nationals wrap up a quick, two-game series with the Marlins, sending lefty Ross Detwiler to the hill in Miami. Despite dropping their last five contests, the Nationals still owns a 4.0-game lead in the National League East over the second-place Braves.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

ONE FOR THE ROAD?

The Nationals have lost five straight games, matching their longest win-drought of the season (also April 26-May 1), and have scored just six runs during that stretch. Incidentally, Washington answered that five-game slide by winning four straight and seven of its next 10. All but two of MLB’s 30 teams have suffered losing streaks of at least five games in 2012, with Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees being the exceptions. The Nationals must win tonight’s series finale at Miami to avoid their first winless multi-city road trip since going 0-6 from May 25-31, 2009 (0-3 at NYM, 0-3 at PHI).

GATEWAY CITY MATCHUP

Two greater St. Louis natives will matchup when Ross Detwiler (Wentzville HS) and Jacob Turner (Westminster Christian Academy) take the hill for their respective clubs tonight in Miami. Detwiler is 1-0 and has fired 12.0 scoreless innings against the Marlins in four career games (one start). His lone start came on April 20, 2012 in a duel with Carlos Zambrano in which Detwiler fanned seven batters while allowing three hits in 6.0 IP in Washington’s 2-0 victory.

ROGER THAT

Roger Bernadina’s name wasn’t called last night in Miami, but it’s not for lack of production. Bernadina is 12-for-21 since August 9th and is batting .403/471/.468 in 35 games since July 18th.

TODAY IN DC BASEBALL

August 29, 2010: The Nationals doubled up St. Louis, 4-2, in D.C. to take three-of-four in the series. John Lannan worked 7.2 innings of one-run ball and his second-inning double plated the game’s initial two runs. The series win was Washington’s first over the Cardinals in over three years.

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Down on the Farm: Zach Walters

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One of the names flying under the radar a bit in the Nationals Minor League system is switch-hitting infielder Zach Walters. Rated as the organization’s 12th-best prospect by MLB.com entering the season, Walters was acquired straight up from Arizona for right-hander Jason Marquis shortly before the 2011 non-waiver trade deadline. Originally a ninth-round selection from the 2010 First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks, the infielder had not played above the Low-A Midwest League until coming over to the Nationals organization. That didn’t stop Washington from immediately promoting Walters to High-A Potomac, where he finished out the year with solid numbers, earning himself a call to the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase.

Walters had moved up two levels in the Nationals system this year.

That performance earned him a couple of auditions as an extra man, joining the big league club for a few Spring Training games this March. On one notable occasion, Walters accompanied the club on a trip to St. Lucie to play a night game against the New York Mets. After entering the game off the bench in the late innings, Walters made a highlight-reel diving stop up the middle, capturing the attention of the press corps. However, shortly afterward he broke the hamate bone in his right hand, costing him the end of his spring and the first couple weeks of his season.

“It’s been a struggle,” explained Walters of the injury that stalled him early in the year. “Being hurt, you want to get back on the field as quickly as possible, even when you aren’t ready sometimes.”

The Cheyenne, Wyoming native got off to a slow start as he rehabbed from the injury, opening the year just 1-for-22 with 10 strikeouts at Potomac. But he recovered nicely and had a nine-game hitting streak going when he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg in mid-June. The infielder continued to produce with the Senators, posting a .293/.326/.518 slash line with 21 of his 48 hits going for extra bases in his 43 games played, all at shortstop. That was enough to earn him a second in-season promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, where he is currently playing. Once he processed his time on the Disabled List, Walters was able to make the most out of the experience.

Walters’ versatility compares to Steve Lombardozzi, while his athleticism is reminiscent of Ian Desmond.

“I feel like it was a blessing in disguise,” he says of his early-season speed bump. “I got a chance to go over some little things and really appreciate being out here on the field.”

Still just 22 years of age, Walters does not have any one particular skill that jumps off the page, but he is solid across the board. Standing an athletic 6’2” and just under 200 pounds, the University of San Diego product’s best trait might be his maturity, both on and off the field. While his skill set and versatility profile more like Steve Lombardozzi’s, his build and athleticism are more evocative of that of current Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. That combination of a solid work ethic, combined with an appreciation for his new organization have helped Walters move quickly through the system and raise his stock as a prospect.

“I’ve been thankful for everything this year,” said Walters. “It hasn’t been ‘work’ at all.”

What to Watch For: 8/28

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Washington Nationals (77-50) vs. Miami Marlins (58-71)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-5, 2.85) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (9-12, 5.07)

The Nationals head to Florida after their second day of rest in the past five calendar days as they open a short, two-game set in Miami. Shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Michael Morse both return to the lineup as Stephen Strasburg looks to get Washington back in the win column against the division-rival Marlins.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

STRAS THE STOPPER

Stephen Strasburg looks to end Washington’s four-game losing streak tonight against Miami, a club against which he has fired 27.0 consecutive scoreless innings, spanning four-plus starts. This is the second-longest streak among active MLB pitchers, joining teammate Gio Gonzalez and his 27.2 scoreless innings streak against Cleveland. It is also the longest such streak in Nationals (‘05-present) history. Strasburg has worked at least 6.0 scoreless innings in five of seven career starts against the Fish.

PINCH ME, I’M DREAMING

Nationals pinch-hitters are collectively having one of the finest seasons since pinch statistics began being compiled by STATS, Inc. in 1974. In 2012, Davey Johnson’s pinch hitters are batting .315 (46-for-146) with 12 doubles, a triple, three home runs, 21 RBI, 19 walks and five HBP. Last year, Nationals pinch hitters batted .186 (38-for-204) with just five extra-base hits. Using pinch-hit numbers, Washington ranks among the best of the 538 individual National League clubs beginning in 1974 in batting average (second overall, .315), on-base percentage (third overall, .409), slugging percentage (ninth overall, .473) and OPS (third overall, .882).

NOTABLE NOTES OF NOTE

Ryan Zimmerman’s 16 career homers against the Marlins are tied with Atlanta for the most he’s hit against another club. The Nationals won their final two series at Sun Life Stadium, but have lost their initial two at Marlins Park. Via a 10-8 mark in ‘07, the Nationals/Expos franchise has won only one season series from the Marlins since ‘98. With a 3-1 win on Sept. 28, 2011, Stephen Strasburg (win) and the Nationals helped end Florida’s tenure at Sun Life Stadium. Roger Bernadina recorded the final hit and RBI in the venue’s 19-year MLB history.

DATE IN DC BASEBALL

August 28, 2008: Cristian Guzman becomes the first Washington, DC.-based big leaguer to hit for the cycle (sequence: HR, 1B, 2B, 3B) in front of fans in the Nation’s Capital. Before Guzman’s feat, six players representing the AL Nationals, Senators, expansion Senators or Nationals hit for the cycle, but all six came on the road. Guzman’s cycle was the seventh to occur in D.C. since 1900, the first in nearly 61 years, since Detroit’s Vic Wertz ran the gamut on September 14, 1947 at Griffith Stadium.

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What to Watch For: 8/26

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Washington Nationals (77-49) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (60-67)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.54) vs. LHP Cliff Lee (2-7, 3.78)

The Nationals look to salvage the third and final game of this set as they send right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to the hill against Phillies southpaw Cliff Lee.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa SS

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Moore LF

7. Flores C

8. Lombardozzi 2B

9. Zimmermann RHP

SUNDAY’S TO-DO LIST
Washington enters today’s finale at Philadelphia needing a win to avoid their first four-game losing streak since June 15-19. A Nationals series-ending win is also required to avert being swept for the fourth time this year. To date, only the Dodgers (three-gamer on road, April 27-29), Marlins (three-gamer on road, May 28-30) and Yankees (three-gamer in D.C., June 15-17) have swept the Nationals.

THE STOPPER
Jordan Zimmermann toes the rubber, looking to end Washington’s three-game losing streak today vs. former Expo Cliff Lee. He faces the Phillies for the third time in 2012, having gone 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA (4 ER/12.0 IP) to date. Note that Philadelphia starter Cliff Lee has tossed scoreless ball in three of six career starts against his original organization.

MURDER BY NUMBERS
Since the All-Star break, the Nationals are 28-4 when scoring three or more runs. When scoring less than three, Washington is winless in 11 games in the season’s second “half.”

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What to Watch For: 8/25

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Washington Nationals (77-48) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (59-67)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (16-6, 3.23) vs. RHP Roy Halladay (7-7, 3.95)

The Nationals dropped their series opener in Philadelphia, but turn to ace Gio Gonzalez to get them back on track Saturday night. With the Braves losing for the second straight night in San Francisco, Washington enters the day with a 6.5-game lead in the NL East with 37 games to play.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Bernadina LF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before Friday’s 4-2 setback at Citizens Bank Park, Washington had won six consecutive series openers (not coincidentally, the Nationals were 5-0-1 in those six series) since July 31, when these same Phillies won, 8-0, at Nationals Park. With last night’s defeat, the Nationals have dropped four of their last five games against the Phillies.

GIO AND DOC
Gio Gonzalez looks to win his fourth straight start tonight, as he faces the Philadelphia Phillies for the third time in 2012. Gio is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA (1 ER/13.0 IP) in his two starts against Philadelphia this year. Opposing him is Roy Halladay, who is 0-1 against Washington this year. The Nationals are 2-6 in games started by Halladay since he joined Philadelphia, but have won the last two (8/21/11 in D.C., 5/22/12).

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