The 2012 season has been a truly special one for Nationals players on the field and for those of us in the front office. But it would have meant nothing without the overwhelming show of NATITUDE from you, the fans. That’s why, this morning, the Lerner family has extended its gratitude to our fans in the Washington Post. Read their message below, and make sure to pick up a copy of the Post for yourself.
The 2012 Washington Nationals season will be one we will never forget! Thank you Nationals fans for your unparalleled support of the team. You dressed in red and Curly W’s, shouted your hearts out, came in the rain and in the blazing heat and, by your actions, let America know that D.C. is a baseball town!
The electric atmosphere at Nationals Park during the last month of the regular season and into the playoffs is precisely what Major League Baseball and D.C. leaders envisioned when they brought baseball back to Washington. The crowds and the excitement along the Anacostia River brought new life to the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood and ignited a new spirit across the Washington community that became known as “Natitude.”
Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, the players, coaches and front office staff made this a season that we will recall with great pride and joy. As thrilled as we all are with being the Nationals League East Division Champions and having the most wins in Major League Baseball during the regular season, we are now more determined than ever to see a World Series trophy return to Washington, D.C.
We look forward to seeing you on Opening Day in 2013. Your enthusiasm was the most memorable part of our great season. The team may have brought the performance, but you brought the passion.
Only 165 Days until Opening Day, 2013. See you there.
The closer you follow baseball, the more you realize how year-round the sport really is. The average American may take notice around Opening Day, then have their fandom tail off as their team is eliminated from contention, perhaps watching the World Series, if they are so inclined. The more passionate follower is more likely to count down the days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, their baseball awareness stretching from mid-February to the end of October. But for the true obsessives (like us), there are compelling games for the Nationals being played even now, as the Arizona Fall League began this week at the Spring Training complexes around Phoenix.
For those unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a prospect showcase, where all 30 Major League teams send some of their top talent, often including players whose regular seasons were limited for whatever reason, to see how they perform in a highly competitive environment. The 30 clubs are combined into six squads, with five MLB teams apiece represented on each. Last year, the Nationals were assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions, with Bryce Harper the most well known representative of the organization. In 2012, they are members of the Salt River Rafters, along with the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies and Blue Jays.
This year’s crop of Nationals prospects includes:
We will be conducting a more thorough Down on the Farm report for many of these prospects this offseason, but wanted to give special attention to one – Matt Skole – whom we have already profiled before here on Curly W Live. The 2012 Nationals Minor League Player of the Year, Skole has busted down the Fall League doors, batting .533/.650/.867 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI through his first four games on the circuit. His early success among some of baseball’s elite prospects helps back up the case that his tremendous 2012 numbers were no fluke. The third baseman batted .292 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs and 104 RBI in just 118 games between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in his first professional season.
Make sure to check in to Curly W Live on Wednesdays throughout the offseason for more on many of the Nationals rising stars. And if you’d like to keep up with the AFL on a daily basis through the end of the season in mid-November, check out the home of the league here, complete with scores, stats, stories and more.
Today, October 16, 2012, Bryce Harper turns 20. Really think about that for a moment. While you’ve heard “teenage this” and “teenage that” all season long, it is truly remarkable to step away from the list of facts and figures and just appreciate everything Harper was able to do at the highest level of the professional game before his 20th birthday. We’ll save the inevitable Mike Trout comparisons for later in the offseason, but for now, take a look back at some of the highlights and vote at the bottom of the post for the one that most impressed you during Harper’s tenure as a Major League teenager.
4/29 @ LAD: Welcome to the Show
Harper didn’t take very long to announce his presence to the Major League world, scalding a double to the wall in his first game in Los Angeles. But perhaps his most memorable play from that first series came in his second game, as he ranged deep into center field and snagged a ball off the bat of Juan Uribe right before slamming into the wall. He held on, and gunned the ball back to the infield, nearly doubling the runner off first base. The catch would set the tone for the all-out, aggressive style Nationals fans would come to know and love throughout the year.
5/6 vs. PHI: Harper Steals Home
Big-time players always seem to shine the brightest on the biggest stages. In his first early test, against the division-rival Phillies on national television, Harper was plunked on the first pitch he saw from Cole Hamels. Some forget that on Chad Tracy’s two out single to left, the rookie went first-to-third, right in front of Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. That set up the play that everyone remembers, as Harper took advantage of a lazy pick-off attempt by Hamels and sprinted home. He slid under the tag of Carlos Ruiz, swiping home for his first Major League stolen base.
6/5 vs. NYM: Teenage Walk-off
In an epic game that featured three game-tying RBI by Ian Desmond, it was Harper who finally delivered the coup de gras. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 12th, he laced a single the other way, handing the Nationals a walk-off win over the Mets. It marked the first Major League walk-off by a teenager since Gary Sheffield’s game-winning hit in 1988, four years before Harper was born.
6/12 @ TOR: Border Crossing
One of Harper’s calling cards on his scouting report was his prodigious power. And while he hit some big home runs in 2012, perhaps none had the awe factor of the one he teed up in Toronto, as the Nationals were busy sweeping a 6-0 road trip. His moon shot, appropriately, drew “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd, and dented the Blackberry ad hanging from the second deck in right-center field at Rogers Centre, punctuating the sign’s slogan: Be Bold. Be bold, indeed.
8/29 @ MIA – 9/5 vs. CHC: A Pair of Two-homer Games in a Week
One of the big early-season questions was whether or not Harper would hit 20 home runs in his rookie campaign. While he was behind pace for a while, he caught fire near season’s end, homering twice on August 29 in Miami, then turning the trick again a week later against the Cubs in Washington. He finished with 22 longballs, fourth on the team behind only Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
9/7 vs. MIA: Don’t Run on Bryce
Even by late in the season, word of Harper’s arm was slow to spread throughout the league. Teams continued to test him, and he continued to come up with huge defensive plays. His eight outfield assists tied him for the lead among National League rookie outfielders, and included this gem, where his bullet home beat Greg Dobbs by 20 feet.
9/21 vs. MIL: Bryce Over Braun
In a 2-1 game against a Milwaukee team still clinging to postseason dreams, reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun stood at second base with one out in the fourth inning. When Aramis Ramirez singled to center Braun sped around third and chugged towards home, and was a mere 50 feet from the plate by the time Harper unleashed the ball towards Jesus Flores. No matter, though, as the rookie delivered a strike and Flores applied the swipe tag on a stunned Braun for the out to keep the Nationals in front.
10/12 vs. STL: Welcome to the Postseason
In the final game of the 2012 campaign, Harper tripled in his first at-bat, then sent this rocket into the right-center field seats at Nationals Park for his first-ever postseason home run. We get the feeling it won’t be his last.
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
These are the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, from his classic essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” which warrants a full read, whenever you are ready to digest the entirety of the end of the baseball season.
Even if you are not ready, though, not ready for baseball to come to such a sudden, screeching halt after riding an express train into October, do not run from it, do not abandon your feelings. Own this moment, as it is now an inescapable part of your team’s history, one that will, over time, earn you respect from fellow Nationals fans and opposing fans who have been through the same. It will make you stronger next year, and in the years after that. When the champagne comes again, it will taste sweeter.
More so, remember the many other aspects of this season that will define it more than the final inning. In a season that began with modestly hopeful predictions, the 2012 Nationals won the most games in baseball. In the fever of the pennant race, that fact was reflected in home-field advantage, but some of its impact was no doubt overlooked in the moment.
As a young, hungry team and fan base, our time began on Opening Day and continued all summer long, as the Nationals held down first place longer than any other division winner, exceeding even the most optimistic of expectations. When the year began, Mike Rizzo explicitly stated that his goal this year was “to play meaningful games in September.” Instead, he and Davey Johnson guided the team into October.
The Nationals played, by far and away, the three most meaningful games in the history of the young franchise in Washington this week, and went toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champions in front of over 135,000 rabid, red-clothed fans. The city and the fan base showed a National audience that they have arrived, that baseball in Washington is a force to be reckoned with.
Fans ignited their NATITUDE well before this week, though, as crowds averaged over 30,000 per game for the first time since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005. Nationals fans proudly took back the park in May during a pivotal series vs. the Phillies. And though the division rival fans to the north chirped mightily all season long, the Nationals came through on the field, wresting the division crown away from the five-time division champs.
In a season full of signature moments (which we will relive in more thorough detail throughout the coming weeks), the division clinch during the season’s final series may not have been the most dramatic, but it was certainly the most meaningful, representing a shift in the NL East balance of power.
Any opposing fan who believes this was a one-year fluke is, at best, blissfully oblivious to what has been built in Washington. With a roster overflowing with young talent just beginning to grow into itself, this is merely the end of chapter one, with many volumes remaining to be written in the coming years. So wear your Curly W’s proudly today and hold your heads up high throughout the winter. Baseball will spring anew again next year, and we will all be a year wiser, a year stronger, and ready to – in the words of Teddy Roosevelt – strive valiantly once again.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
St. Louis Cardinals (2-2) vs. Washington Nationals (2-2)
RHP Adam Wainwright (0-0, 1.59) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 3.60)
Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth combined to provide the Nationals with enough offense to squeeze past the Cardinals, 2-1 in Game 4, setting up a win-or-go-home Game 5 for both teams Friday night in D.C. The pitching matchup of Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez will be a rematch of Game 1 of the series, which Washington won, 3-2, last Sunday in St. Louis.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Game 4 hero Werth, about being in a zone as the crowd of over 44,000 exploded upon his game-winning home run clearing the left field wall:
“It was pretty quiet to me. I didn’t hear a thing.”
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
WALK OFF, WALK ON
Following Washington’s dramatic, walk-off victory in Game 4, the Nationals need one more win over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 to move on to the NLCS. The Nationals walked off 10 times during the regular season and went on to win their next game eight times. Gio Gonzalez has twice pitched the game after a Nationals walk-off, winning both times (4/24 @ SD, 5/5 vs. PHI) with a 0.69 ERA (1 ER/13.0 IP) while allowing just six hits and a walk, striking out 13 in those two outings.
G.I.O. IN D.C.
The Nationals are 24-8 behind Gonzalez this season (plus 1-0 in the postseason), the best winning percentage of a team behind any qualifying starter in baseball. When Gonzalez toed the rubber in a starting role in D.C. this year, the Nationals went 10-4 (.714). Washington has won its last four home games started by the southpaw, with Gonzalez earning the victory each time.
D.C.’S POSTSEASON LEDGER
It’s well known that the Nation’s Capital has one MLB World Championship (‘24) on its resume. Washington, D.C. owns an all-time record of 10-13 in the postseason: 2-2 in 2012 NLDS, 1-4 in 1933 World Series, 3-4 in 1925 World Series, 4-3 in 1924 World Series. The Nationals and Cardinals Game 5 meeting will treat D.C. to just the second winner-take-all contest in 79 seasons of big league ball. On October 10, 1924, the AL Nationals edged the New York Giants, 4-3 in 12 innings, in Game 7 of the Fall Classic.
At the end of the third inning of every home game at Nationals Park, the fans set aside the excitement of the game on the field and turn their attention behind home plate, where the Nationals honor men and women of our nation’s military for their service. Washington is the only club in any professional sport to have such a ceremony at every home game, and the response from the fans – a standing ovation each and every time – underscores the ceremony’s importance in our Nation’s Capital. But at Thursday night’s game, a couple hours before the crowd was sent into a frenzy by Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run, the recognition took on a special meaning.
Melissa Banda – wife of Sgt. Hector Banda of the U.S. Army – and her children, Ethan and Penny, were brought out to the landing of the Lexus Presidents Club. They were shown a video of Sgt. Banda on NatsHD, welcoming them to the game from his post in Afghanistan, where he has been for the past five months. However, the family got a much larger gift when Sgt. Banda himself emerged from behind the Racing Presidents to surprise his family right then and there. It was a truly touching moment, one that neither the Banda family, nor the fans in attendance, will forget any time soon.
Our words can’t do it justice, so watch the video for yourself.
It’s hard to believe, with the season the Washington Nationals have had, that they have not had more walk-off home runs. Other types of walk-offs have come in nearly every shape and form, from singles, to wild pitches, to sacrifice flies. But Ian Desmond’s two-out, two-run shot to beat the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth on May 2, more than five months ago, a seemingly distant memory, was the lone game-winning blast of this memorable 2012 campaign.
Until last night.
If you believe in the cosmic powers of the game, the baseball gods, as it were, this one was foreshadowed. Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game on 10.11.12, Jayson Werth worked an epic at-bat against Lance Lynn, driving the 13th pitch into the visitor’s bullpen at Nationals Park for his 14th career postseason home run. But the bizarre parallels go beyond that sequential string of numbers alone.
On September 8, the Nationals trailed the Miami Marlins by a score of 6-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning at home in D.C. With closer Heath Bell already throwing his warm-up pitches and Werth slated to lead off the frame, a torrential storm descended upon Nationals Park, sending fans scampering to seek shelter from the high winds and sheets of rain. The game went into a delay for more than two and-a-half hours, the dramatic bottom of the ninth put on ice. Finally, the weather cleared, the teams reemerged to the field, and Werth dug in against Bell. They battled through a long at-bat, Werth fouling off three pitches before finally working the count full.
Less than 1,000 fans remained from the original crowd of 28,860, all descending behind the dugouts, standing, yelling, living and dying with every pitch. It had the feel of a high school playoff game, the drama and emotion running on high for those diehards that remained. Werth finally saw a center-cut fastball from Bell and smoked it to the Red Porch in left-center field for a game-tying home run. The Nationals would go on to win in walk-off fashion in the 10th inning.
Ross Detwiler also started that game, with Drew Storen earning the win following his and Tyler Clippard’s scoreless innings. Each reliever fanned the side in that September game. Clippard did so again Thursday night, with Storen punching out a pair.
The same momentum from the pitching in that September game grew in the late innings Thursday night. And once again, Werth delivered, on an at-bat five pitches longer and more surreal, a crowd of better than 44,000 already frenzied fans igniting like a supersonic jet engine as the ball cleared the left field wall.
Enjoy the full at-bat below, the six minutes of tension cut down to a tidy 2:47, to appreciate just how amazing it was. Then click below to listen to Nationals play-by-play man Charlie Slowes, who summoned the memories of that September 8 game before the 13th pitch, and the overwhelming crowd behind him as his prediction came true.
St. Louis Cardinals (2-1) vs. Washington Nationals (1-2)
RHP Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.40)
After Wednesday’s loss, Washington finds itself in the position of needing to win two games in a row at home – something the team has done 23 times this season – to extend its season and advance to the NLCS. The Nationals will send southpaw Ross Detwiler to the hill against Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse, who has been tremendous against most of the league in 2012 but had really struggled against the Nationals, allowing 12 runs (nine earned) in 11.2 innings over two starts.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Nationals Game 5 probable starter Gio Gonzalez on how the team needs to respond over the next two games:
“You learn from that. To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
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 RHP
GLASS HALF FULL
The Nationals won at least two straight games at Nationals Park this season on 16 separate occasions in ’12 (23 overall). Washington also went 16-5-5 (win-loss-tie) in series play this season at Nationals Park. The ‘12 Nationals went 6-2 the contest after being shut out (St. Louis blanked the Nationals, 8-0, in Game 3). Kyle Lohse (7.48) and Game 5 starter Adam Wainwright (7.24) share a collective 7.39 ERA in seven career starts in D.C. The Cardinals have won games in consecutive days at Nationals Park just once: April 30 (9-4) and May 1 (6-2), 2009.
TWO LEFTIES CAN MAKE IT RIGHT
When Game 4 starter Ross Detwiler or Game 5 starter Gio Gonzalez toed the rubber in a starting role in D.C. this year, the Nationals went 21-7 (.750). Detwiler (11-3, .786) and Gonzalez (10-4, .714) posted the top two team winning percentages at home among the Nationals starting staff.
DESI DOING IT
Through three postseason games, Ian Desmond shares the Major League lead in hits (7) with Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips, who has taken four games to amass the same total. Desmond is batting .583 (7-for-12) with a double and two runs scored in his first-ever postseason series.
Take a deep breath, Nationals fans.
It can be easy, when your team’s back is against the wall, playing to keep its season alive, to panic and lose hope. The postseason brings heightened emotions and an extra sense of urgency to every game, so individual wins and losses can seem blown out of proportion. That’s why now is as good a time as ever to remove emotion from the equation for the moment, to step back, and to look at the reality of what lies ahead the next day or two, based on what we’ve learned about the Nationals and Cardinals from the 2012 season.
By the time Major League teams hit the postseason, they have formed an identity. A 162-game regular season lends enough time to form trends and predictable results, a sample size that – while it does not always play out exactly to form – gives the viewing audience an idea of what to expect from a team in the playoffs.
The Cardinals posted a +117 run differential over the course of the regular season, fourth-best in baseball and second in the National League only to Washington’s +137 mark. They went 60-31 in games in games decided by three or more runs, also the second-best mark in the league. This is no doubt a strong indicator of the Cardinals ability to produce prolifically on offense, but it also helps compensate for another, less flattering, team statistic. See, St. Louis went just 28-43 (.394) in games decided by less than three runs, ranking just a hair above Chicago and Houston – two teams that combined to lose 208 games this year – as the worst in the league.
The Nationals had a tendency to win blowouts as well (their 56-26 record in games decided by three or more runs was the best in baseball), but they were also solid in close games, going 42-38 in one and two-run games. Washington also played 20 extra-inning contests, the most in baseball, and were 13-7 in those games (8-5 at home). St. Louis, meanwhile, went just 6-12 in extra-inning affairs.
So far, these trends have largely played out to form through the first three games of the series. The Cardinals have won a pair of blowouts, while the Nationals have taken the lone nail-biter. Postseason experience or not, the large sample seems to indicate that this is the norm, not the exception. And if it is, the Nationals should feel pretty good about themselves, as the head into Thursday (and hopefully Friday) needing wins at home. Especially so, when you consider the following:
Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell pointed out early in the series that all four of last year’s Division Series winners were actually outscored by their opponents in their series. The Rangers (21-16), Tigers (28-17), Brewers (25-23) and yes, Cardinals (21-19) all saw their competition score more runs over the course of their respective series, but all came out on top. Each won at least one one-run game in the series, with three of the teams winning a pair of them. But that 2011 St. Louis team was 45-38 in games decided by two runs or less. They were not the same team that Washington needs to beat twice in the next two days to keep its season alive.
In 4 DS in '11, the winning team was outscored in all of them: 17-28, 19-21, 16-21, 23-25. They lost blow outs, won close games.—
Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 08, 2012
The Nationals have been outscored 22-7 through the first three games of this series, and would likely end up on the short end of the overall run total even if they do take the next two games (after all, they’d have to outscore the Cardinals by an average of eight runs a game to tip the overall balance). The good news is, by doing so, they would actually be the norm, not the exception.
When examining the particulars of the matchups in front of the Nationals, it helps to again stay away from the knee jerk reactions. A quick look at Game 4 starter Kyle Lohse’s numbers (16-3, 2.86 ERA) doesn’t inspire hope. In fact, he posted a 2.62 ERA in 199.1 innings against all the teams in the league that do not call the Nation’s Capital home. But in his two starts against Washington, the Nationals battered him around to the tune of a 6.92 ERA (12 runs, nine earned in 11.2 innings). He did not take the loss in either, but very well could have, leaving with deficits of 9-8 and 4-0 in the two games.
Coupled with the lineup’s success against Lohse, Ross Detwiler’s 8-2 record and 2.59 ERA at Nationals Park reshape the whole outlook of the matchup. Of course, Game 5 would bring a rematch of Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez, a Game 1 matchup that the Nationals won, 3-2, back on Sunday in St. Louis.
All the Nationals have to do is win two games in a row at home, something they’ve done 23 times this season, including against this same Cardinals squad on August 30-31, just over a month ago.
Nationals fans, allow yourself to exhale – if only until first pitch Thursday afternoon.
St. Louis Cardinals (1-1) vs. Washington Nationals (1-1)
RHP Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (7-7, 3.92)
The Nationals split their two road games to begin this best-of-five series against the Cardinals, as they return to D.C. today in what amount to a three-game home series to determine who advances to the NLCS. Former Cardinal Edwin Jackson, who defeated the Phillies in Game 4 of last year’s NLDS, will oppose Chris Carpenter in the first MLB Postseason contest in D.C. in 79 years.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Nationals manager Davey Johnson, on Hall-of-Famer and former Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, who will throw out today’s ceremonial first pitch:
“He’s just an outstanding example of a true professional.”
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. Jackson RHP
WHY OCTOBER 10 MEANS SOMETHING IN THIS TOWN
Exactly 88 years ago, on Oct. 10, 1924, the AL Nationals defeated the New York Giants, 4-3 in 12 innings, to win Game 7 and DC’s lone baseball World Championship. Fittingly, Walter Johnson earned the win with 4.0 scoreless innings of relief. With the score tied in the 12th, the AL Nationals plated the decisive fourth run (which was unearned due to a pair of errors) via an Earl McNeely one-out, RBI-double. The game was played in front of 31,667 at Griffith Stadium.
Edwin Jackson won his final start of the regular season to give him 10 victories for the year, marking his fifth straight double-digit win season. In Jackson’s lone start against the Cardinals in Washington this season on August 30, he allowed one unearned run on just four hits while striking out 10 over 8.0 dominant innings of work in an 8-1 Nationals victory.
The Nationals have won five-of-nine from the Cardinals in the season series, which did not begin until the Nationals 131st game of the season, August 30 in D.C. Thus, nine of Washington’s last 35 contests have come against the Cardinals. The Nationals are 8-1 at home against the Cardinals dating to August 28, 2010. Overall, the Nationals are 16-11 in their last 27 games against the Cards.