August 2013

What to Watch for: 8.31.13

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New York Mets (61-72) vs. Washington Nationals (68-66)

RHP Zack Wheeler (6-3) vs. RHP Dan Haren (8-11, 4.66) 

The Nationals have won eight of their last 10, but dropped last night’s series opener to the Mets. Washington will look to get back into the win column tonight, as Dan Haren takes the mound. Haren is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA (4 ER/20.0 IP) over his last three home starts, including a 4-1 win over the Mets on July 27.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Dan Haren RHP

IN THE HUNT

Now with enough plate appearances to qualify, Jayson Werth’s .325 batting average ranks third in the National League, behind just Yadier Molina (.330) and Chris Johnson (.326). Since July 1, Werth’s .380 average has paced the National League, while Victor Martinez (.391) leads the Majors.

ATTENTION: SPAN

By legging out an infield single in the eighth inning, Denard Span extended his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games. During the streak, Span has hit at a .377 clip (20-for-53) with two doubles, two triples, a homer, four RBI, six runs scored and five walks. This is the fifth double-digit hit streak of Span’s career. He has topped his previous career-high 12-game hit streak, accomplished while with the Twins from April 18-May 1, 2012.

SECOND HARVEST

Of the Nationals 6 domestic farm clubs, 4 have secured spots in the Minor League postseason: Harrisburg (Double-A, Eastern League), Potomac Nationals (High-A, Carolina League), Hagerstown Suns (Low-A, South Atlantic League) and the GCL Nationals (Rookie, Gulf Coast League).

Highlights: 8.30.13

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8.30.13 – Mets 3, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Steve Lombardozzi recorded his first career pinch-homer in the eighth inning.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jordan Zimmermann tossed 7.2 innings to earn a quality start, but took the tough-luck loss.

It Was Over When: The Nationals got back within one, but could not push across the tying run with two on and two out in the eighth.

What to Watch for: 8.30.13

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New York Mets (60-72) vs. Washington Nationals (68-65)

RHP Dillon Gee (9-9, 3.69) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (15-7, 3.32) 

Often in baseball, we talk about the intangible benefits of veterans in the clubhouse. They seem to have an effect on the team dynamic by their mere presence, leading by example, letting their play speak for itself.

It’s less often we hear about the tangible benefits of veteran leaders. Sure, they’re frequently the ones making an impact in the box score night in and night out, but their role as teachers for the less experienced players can be easy to overlook.

Yet, if it weren’t for one of those moments of tangible leadership, the Nationals might have had a more difficult time dispatching the Marlins, 9-0, on Thursday night.

On paper, pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s seven shutout innings look about as solid as a manager can hope for from his starter. For the first two innings, though, Miami appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough, as Gonzalez walked three and gave up two hits, striking out just one batter. While he managed to strand three runners in scoring position over the first two frames, his pitch count rose to 43, not a good sign with a depleted Nationals bullpen that threw seven innings Wednesday due to the rain.

Cue that veteran guidance. Dripping with sweat after the two long frames, Gonzalez retreated to the clubhouse and found closer Rafael Soriano waiting for him. The 12-year veteran had noticed something off with Gonzalez’s delivery and had some words of wisdom for the Nationals starter.

“After the second inning, I came up here to change my shirt, and I had Soriano standing right in the entrance telling me, ‘Stay back, your arm is dropping way too low and you are trying to rush,’” Gonzalez recalled. “That meant a lot, especially when he is out there watching.”

Gonzalez made the adjustment. Over his next five innings of work, he gave up just one more hit and struck out seven Miami batters on just 65 pitches. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson flirted with the idea of sending him back out for the eighth, before handing the ball over to Tanner Roark. The rookie reliever made quick work of the eighth and ninth innings, needing just 13 pitches, 12 of which were strikes.

The Nats offense helped alleviate any lingering pressure, with Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond each launching multi-run homers over the left field fence. If the Nationals are to make a run at a National League Wild Card spot, offensive performances like those that have marked their current hot streak will be crucial. But so, too, will the small adjustments like Gonzalez’s, and the veterans that spot the need for them.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

D.C.’S HIT MAN SOON TO BE EXPOSED

Jayson Werth’s .329 batting average would rank a close second in the National League and trail only Yadier Molina (.333) with enough plate appearances to qualify. Werth’s 411 plate appearances to date are only one shy of the 412 presently required (133 games x 3.1 plate appearances per game) to qualify for the NL batting title. The outfielder is batting a Major League Baseball-best .389 dating to July 1.

18 AND UP CLUB

The Nationals are the lone National League club to feature four players with 18 or more home runs. The team’s long balls have been fairly evenly distributed, however, as each of the top four power players in Washington are within just three dingers of one other:

Jayson Werth – 21

Ian Desmond – 20

Bryce Harper – 19

Adam LaRoche – 18

AUGUST HEAT

After struggling offensively for portions of the 2013 season, the Nationals rank third in the NL in runs per game in the month of August. Washington has scored 123 runs in 25 games this month (4.92 per game). Among Senior Circuit entries, only St. Louis (5.19 runs in 27 August contests) and Arizona (5.04 in 25 games) have scored more often per contest than the Nationals this month.

Storen, Jordan Visit MedStar NRH

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On Thursday, Washington Nationals pitchers Taylor Jordan and Drew Storen joined Screech for a visit with patients of all ages at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (MedStar NRH), which specializes in treating patients with physical disabilities.

Drew Storen signed autographs during Thursday's visit.

Drew Storen signed autographs during Thursday’s visit.

“It’s about the third or fourth time I’ve done this,” said Storen, who explained that the day was about more than just signing autographs. “They’re going through the same thing every day and it’s really rewarding to come in and give them a new face to look at and to just talk a little baseball. It’s pretty cool to see how many people are watching our games here.”

During the visit, the players and Screech participated in fun activities that helped with the patients’ rehabilitation process, including hitting a Nationals jersey piñata with a baseball bat, playing catch with a beach ball and throwing tennis balls into an inflatable catcher’s mitt.

“My favorite part is just coming here and making them happy,” said Jordan, a rookie on his first such visit. “They seem to really be big fans, so it’s good to make them happy.”

The children at the hospital were grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of talking to the players about their baseball careers. One young boy was simply eager to share his learning booklet with both Storen and Jordan.

Then, with the professional athletes at their side, they were determined to show their strength and take a swing at the piñata, which was filled with candy and baseball toys.

Screech was on hand to add to entertain the patients as well.

Screech was on hand to add to entertain the patients as well.

The young patients were in for another surprise when Screech walked through the door and then “body slammed” the piñata, as Storen described it. Laughter filled the room as they collected the prizes, while more candy magically spilled from underneath Screech’s cap.

Sporting Nationals gear in support of their favorite team, the adult patients shared their life stories with the day’s special guests while they aimed with power and precision for the inflatable target Screech held. As the players signed Nationals baseball hats, Screech brought the room to life again when he pretended the inflatable catcher was a punching bag that popped right back up.

The visit brought smiles to the faces of patients and players alike. As Storen and Jordan returned to Nationals Park, the patients planned to tune into the night’s game, and were treated to a 9-0 shutout of the Miami Marlins as the Nationals swept the three-game series.

Highlights: 8.29.13

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8.29.13 – Nationals 9, Marlins 0

Stat of the Game: The Nationals swatted three home runs – by Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond – en route to the rout.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Gio Gonzalez allowed just three hits over seven scoreless frames, striking out eight.

It Was Over When: Werth’s team-leading 21st blast, a three-run shot, landed about 20 rows deep in left field.

What to Watch for: 8.29.13

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Miami Marlins (49-82) vs. Washington Nationals (67-65)

RHP Tom Koehler (3-8, 4.45) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-6, 3.66) 

The Nationals endured an hour-and-12-minute rain delay, which forced starter Stephen Strasburg from the game after just two frames, then went on to win a back-and-forth affair, 4-3, on Wednesday night. The victory marked Washington’s second one-run triumph in a row over Miami, as the Nats beat the Marlins for the fifth time in as many home games this season. The Nationals turn to Gio Gonzalez tonight in hopes of their second home sweep over Miami in as many tries.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

7-8-9

The Nationals have won seven of their last eight home games as well as seven of their last eight games overall heading into tonight. Washington went an even 9-9 against the Marlins last season, but can move to 9-3 already this season (3-3 on the road, 5-0 at home) with a win tonight.

20-20 VISION

Ian Desmond, via his 19-homer, 18-stolen bag effort so far, is on the cusp of recording the third 20-homer, 20-stolen base season by a member of the Nationals. The previous two 20-20 campaigns came from Desmond (25 HR, 21 SB) last season and Alfonso Soriano (46 HR, 41 SB) in ‘06.

COASTING TO HISTORY

The Nationals Rookie-level Gulf Coast League entry had their regular-season finale rained out today, so they finished the regular season with a 49-9 (.845) mark. That figure established a domestic record for best single-season winning percentage in Minor League Baseball history, eclipsing the 1979 Paintsville Yankees (52-13, .800) of the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

Up All Night to Get Lucky

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Like the legend of the phoenix…

Even a rookie reporter on the baseball beat will quickly learn the primary difference between a Major League clubhouse after a win and a loss. Following defeat, there is almost total silence, just the hiss of showers in the distance, the shuffling of feat and the murmurs of somber postgame interviews. But following a victory, the clubhouse stereo blares any number of upbeat tunes, often a similar playlist over the course of the season.

Deep into the 11-o’clock hour, following Washington’s 4-3, rain-delayed win Wednesday night over Miami – the second straight single-run triumph over the Marlins – there was a new song pulsing through the home clubhouse at Nationals Park: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” It was probably pure coincidence, but the lyrics seemed to have something of a connection to these Nationals, fighting an expiring schedule and tall mathematical odds in a final push to rise from the dead and claim the last postseason spot.

Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond teamed up to lead the Nationals comeback Wednesday night.

Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond teamed up to lead the Nationals comeback Wednesday night.

We’ve come too far to give up who we are…

As the huddle moved towards Ian Desmond, whose RBI-single provided the game-winning run in the seventh inning, Jayson Werth snuck over to the stereo, pumping the volume back up. Werth, whose homer had tied the contest in the sixth, had been intentionally walked in front of Desmond. The shortstop admitted that “it was probably the right move” for the Marlins to make. But following an hour and 12-minute rain delay, after which the Nationals coughed up their early lead, only to come back and win, you get the sense that maybe it’s worth sticking it out to the end, just to see if this team can get hot enough to find its way back to October.

So let’s raise the bar…

The Cardiac Nats, that scrappy bunch that eked out one- and two-run wins all of last year, seem to have been at least momentarily resurrected. Quietly, Washington has won seven of eight and 13 of its last 18 games. Since the beginning of play on August 9, the Nationals have gained 2.0 games on Cincinnati, 2.5 on Atlanta, 3.5 on Arizona and 6.0 on Pittsburgh, the four teams currently in front of them in the NL East and Wild Card chase.

There is still a lot of work left to be done to even sniff the possibility of claiming one of those spots. It would take a run of epic proportion to do so, and probably some misfortune to befall one of the teams within striking distance. But hey, this is baseball, and you never know what might happen.

We’re up all night to get lucky…

Meet the #NatsCaveCrasher Finalists

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It was a tough task, but we’ve whittled down our field of over 500 entries in our #NatsCaveCrasher Instagram Contest to five deserving finalists. Now, they’ll go head-to-head Saturday at Nationals Park, putting their photography skills to the test for a chance to win that all-expenses-paid trip for two to New York City.

Each finalist will receive a shot sheet of things to photograph and upload to Instagram during Saturday’s game against the Mets and the NatsLive Free Postgame Concert featuring Gavin DeGraw. We’ll then compile each finalist’s portfolio into a gallery here on Curly W Live, where fans will have 48 hours to vote for their favorite. The grand-prize winner will be headed to see the Nationals play the Mets and visit the MLB Fan Cave on September 10-11, while our runner-up will win four PNC Diamond Lounge tickets to a future Nationals game.

Before we host our finalists, though, let’s take a look at what makes these Nats fans worthy of a chance to crash the Cave.

Meet the Finalists:

Andy BatesAndy B.

@batesandy

Hometown: Chevy Chase, Md.

Age: 26

After moving to the DMV in October 2009, Andy latched onto the Nationals as buzz began generating around Stephen Strasburg’s 2010 debut. That 14-strikeout performance was enough to hook this Nats fan for life. Though his favorite player is Bryce Harper, Andy also claims “utmost respect for Jayson Werth’s beard,” untucks his shirt after every Rafael Soriano save and does his best to hit the high notes during A-ha’s “Take On Me” during the seventh-inning stretch.

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Jodie Curtis Nationals PicJodie C.

@jodieraecurtis

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Age: 30

Jodie moved to Washington around the same time baseball did in 2005. Having never had a team to root for growing up in Kentucky, she immediately called the Nats her own. Torn between Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond for who tops the list of her favorite Nationals, Jodie ranks Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS as “one of the best sports moments I’ve ever witnessed in person…I felt like Washington became a baseball town that October night,” she said.

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SueAnn CagleSueAnn C.

@natsfan224

Hometown: Oxon Hill, Md.

Age: 31

Free tickets from participating in a blood drive brought SueAnn to her first Nationals game in 2009. The rest is history has her love of baseball and the Nats has grown exponentially since. She counts the Nationals division clinch last year among her favorite memories and was in the crowd when Michael Morse brought a champagne shower to the left-field stands.

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Nick PalastroNick P.

@nickpalastro

Hometown: Springfield, Va.

Age: 22

Nick’s destiny as a Nats fan was cemented the last time Washington hosted a Major League ball club. His dad was a Senators fan, having attended the last game at RFK Stadium on September 30, 1971 and the Nationals’ first exhibition game on April 3, 2005. Though Nick braved Philadelphia while attending college at Temple University, he’s undaunted in his Natitude — even outfitting the city’s Rocky Balboa statue with a Jayson Werth jersey.

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Jonathan BaldwinJonathan B.

@jonnyb1221

Hometown: Fredericksburg, Va.

Age: 27

Jonathan had never been to a Major League Baseball game before the U.S. Navy stationed him at Washington Navy Yard in 2011. A whim brought him and his wife to Nationals Park for the first time that year, sparking their now-mutual love of baseball and the Nationals. Now, their nightly ritual involves switching on the Nats game, but nothing compares to being in attendance for Jayson Werth’s walk-off in the playoffs. “I will never forget the vibe in the stadium at that moment,” Jonathan said.

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***Voting is now closed. Thank you for your support, click here to see our winner!***

Highlights: 8.28.13

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8.28.13 – Nationals 4, Marlins 3

Stat of the Game: Jayson Werth tied the game with a solo shot in the sixth, becoming the first National to 20 home runs this season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ian Desmond came through with the go-ahead RBI in the seventh, following an intentional walk with two outs.

It Was Over When: For the second night in a row, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano put up zeroes in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to preserve the one-run win.

What to Watch for: 8.28.13

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Miami Marlins (49-81) vs. Washington Nationals (66-65)

RHP Henderson Alvarez (2-3, 3.86) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 3.00) 

A two-run burst in the first inning was enough for the Nationals to secure a victory in last night’s series opener with the Marlins. Stephen Strasburg takes the mound tonight, as the Washington looks for its seventh win in its last eight contests. Strasburg is 3-1 with a 0.73 ERA in five home starts this season against National League East rivals, while Washington is 4-0 at home this season against the Fish.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

MOVE OVER CHUCK

With Tuesday’s 2-1 home win, Davey Johnson earned his 1,352th career victory and moved into a tie for 28th place on the all-time managerial win list with Chuck Tanner. Wilbert Robinson ranks 27th on the same list with 1,397 career managerial wins. Tanner (1,352-1,381, .495) managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves for 19 seasons and is best remembered for piloting the 1979 Pirates’ World Championship campaign.

ATTENTION: SPAN

Denard Span has hit safely in a season-high 10 straight games at a .395 clip (17-for-43) with three walks, a double, two triples, a homer, five runs scored and four RBI. This is the fifth double-digit hit streak of Span’s career. He hit safely in a career-best 12 consecutive games while with the Twins from April 18-May 1, 2012. Bryce Harper is 15-for-37 (.405) with six walks, five doubles, a homer, seven runs scored and six RBI during his current nine-game hit streak. Harper has yet to register a double-digit hit streak at a big leaguer.

DOWN ON THE FARM

The .554 winning percentage (404-325) posted by the Nationals Minor League system ranks third among Major League Baseball’s 30 franchises behind only San Francisco (.574) and Houston (.573). The Nationals system has registered a winning record in each of the last five seasons (2008-12), but has never finished among the top five.

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