The 2013 season is not yet over. But the dream of defending the National League East crown, of a repeat trip to the postseason has come to an end.
While the end always stings, it did not come as suddenly or unexpectedly as the end of the 2012 season. And while it may have technically ended at the hands of the Cardinals, there wasn’t much of a sense of any connection between the end of last year and the end of this year. It was simply happenstance that the Nationals should make their lone trip to St. Louis at the end of September, after staving off elimination for weeks, and that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should each squeak out runs against inferior opponents just minutes earlier to create such a scenario.
The odds were stacked against Washington as early as April, when Atlanta built a division lead it would never relinquish. They grew longer with injuries to key cogs in the offense and the rotation, and with the way the National League shook out, a high-80s win total was simply not good enough to knock on October’s door this year.
“It’s tough,” said Davey Johnson after Monday night’s 4-3 defeat. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done.”
This will be Johnson’s last year in uniform on the bench for Washington, which surely adds to that emotion. But there is solace in knowing that he will be back in the front office next season, helping President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo as the club looks to improve in 2014 and beyond.
“I’m not worried about the organization,” he expressed. “The organization’s in great shape.”
Ian Desmond, who has been the first to stand up and face the media in the wake of any tough loss this season, concurred in his assessment.
“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place, with a better group of guys,” he said.
Even as the national media has portrayed Jayson Werth as the emotional leader of this club, and continued to focus on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg as the name-brand stars, it was Desmond who stayed consistently, statistically great the past two seasons, no matter what happened around him.
His final 2012 line looked like so: .292/.335/.511 with 60 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a team-leading 5.0 fWAR.
With five regular season games remaining in 2013, he’s compiled a .285/.337/.463 line with 61 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a 5.1 fWAR, again best on the club.
“For me personally, I just play the game the way I know how to play the game,” he said Monday night. “I don’t turn the dial up. The dial’s already turned up.”
Desmond’s ability to stay healthy has helped him remain consistent in a year of turbulence. That quality is one that Harper, who remained in his full jersey, sitting at his locker well after the conclusion of the game, looks to draw from heading into the offseason.
“I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night,” Harper said, looking ahead to next season, referencing time missed due to injury this year.
But before all attention turns to 2014, Washington can still make life tough on these Cardinals. With two more games in St. Louis, the Nationals can go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the NL Central, perhaps pushing the Cards into the one-game Wild Card.
“We’ve got an opportunity to rain on their parade a little,” said Desmond, well aware of the situation.
And so, with that, we’ll say the words that baseball people never dare to speak aloud.
Let it rain.
Miami Marlins (56-98) vs. Washington Nationals (83-71)
RHP Tom Koehler (3-10, 4.51) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (7-9, 2.96)
Jordan Zimmermann dominated Miami from start to finish Friday night, firing a two-hit, complete-game shutout in an 8-0 blanking of the Marlins. He carried a no-hitter through 5.2 innings before allowing a single to Donovan Solano, brother of Nationals backstop Jhonatan, and struck out nine batters along the way.
In his dominant effort, Zimmermann became the first member of the Nationals franchise (2005-present) to record two shutouts in a single season, after posting a 1-0, one-hit shutout of the Reds on April 26. His two performances give the Nationals four complete-game shutouts this season – also a team record – including Stephen Strasburg (Aug. 11) and Gio Gonzalez (Sept. 9).
The win was Zimmermann’s 19th of the season, most in the National League, with one more opportunity to earn win No. 20 scheduled to come next week in St. Louis. Should he reach that figure, he would join Gonzalez as the only 20-game winners in team history and give D.C. its first back-to-back league wins leaders since Alvin “General” Crowder won 26 games in 1932 and 24 in 1933, leading the American League both times.
1. Denard Span CF
2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
3. Jayson Werth RF
4. Bryce Harper LF
5. Ian Desmond SS
6. Adam LaRoche 1B
7. Wilson Ramos C
8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B
9. Stephen Strasburg RHP
THE CHASE TO 500 K
With 494 in the bag, Stephen Strasburg enters his assignment tonight just six strikeouts shy of reaching the 500-career strikeout threshold. Here’s a closer look at how Strasburg compares to the five fastest starting pitchers to reach 500 career strikeouts (since 1900, special thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau):
Pitcher, IP to 500 K
Kerry Wood, 404.2
Mark Prior, 421.2
Tim Lincecum, 438.0
Oliver Perez, 444.0
Hideo Nomo, 444.2
Stephen Strasburg: 494 strikeouts in 421.1 innings
The Nationals reside in second place in the NL East, 8.0 games behind Atlanta with just eight games remaining in the regular season. For the Nationals to claim a share of the division title, they would have to go 8-0 and hope the Braves go 0-8 the rest of the way. In the Wild Card race, Washington trails Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by 5.0 games apiece, meaning either the Pirates or Reds would have to lose at least five of their remaining eight contests to open the door for a Nationals postseason berth.
40 DAYS, 40 NIGHTS
The Nationals are 29-11 in their past 40 games, the best record in the Major Leagues during that span. Including last night’s eight-run effort, they have scored four or more runs 27 times during that stretch, compiling a 25-2 record.
With an 0-for-4 last night, Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak came to an end just shy of matching the Nationals franchise record set by Ryan Zimmerman four seasons ago. And while we here at Curly W Live observed the baseball tradition of not discussing such a streak while it is in progress, we would be remiss not to revisit it in depth, now that it is over.
Span batted .371/.406/.492 and collected seven stolen bases over the 29 games, raising his season slash line to .282/.331/.383 at the end of play Wednesday. His averages are all now within points of his career norms, and he sits just two steals shy of reaching 20 for the third time in his six-year Major League career. With his solid defense in center field, he has contributed a 3.3 fWAR, fourth-highest on the club, between Bryce Harper (3.9) and Zimmerman (2.9).
Not surprisingly, as their streaking leadoff hitter’s fortunes improved, so did the Nationals record. But the fact that Washington went 22-7 in those 29 games (they lost a 3-2 decision in Philadelphia when he entered the game late, but did not bat on September 2) really shines a light on the difference a productive Span makes at the top of the lineup.
But let’s go back to the streak itself to appreciate where it rests in the history of baseball. When Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games in 1941, he set an immeasurably high bar, perhaps the most untouchable of all records in professional sports. In the 72 years since, the reverence attached to the feat has only grown. So impressive is DiMaggio’s mark that, by comparison, only one man has even surpassed the 40-game plateau in the intervening years. That would be Pete Rose, who strung together 44 games with at least one hit in 1978.
In fact, hitting streaks of any considerable length are exceedingly rare. Most tend to fizzle out in the teens, while anything above 20 becomes noteworthy. Consider that, since 1941, only 30 players in the big leagues have recorded a streak as long as Span’s 29-gamer.
Span’s streak was the longest in the Major Leagues since both Dan Uggla (33) and Andre Ethier (30) both broke the 30-game barrier back in 2011. And, like most quirky baseball items, the streak was not without one notable anomaly: while Span had only a pair of two-hit performances over the streak, he collected three hits six different times and four hits once.
Aside from Rose, Paul Molitor came the closest to the 40-game marker, stretching his 1987 streak to 39 before his next hitless game. Between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Jimmy Rollins recorded a hit in 38 consecutive contests and Tommy Holmes logged a 37-game hitting streak in 1945. In 1949, DiMaggio’s brother, Dom, put together a 34-game run.
Here’s a look at all hitting streaks of at least 29 games since 1941:
40+ games: Pete Rose (’78, CIN) 44.
35-39 games: Paul Molitor (’87, MIL) 39, Jimmy Rollins (’05-’06, PHI) 38, Tommy Holmes (’45, BOS-NL) 37, Luis Castillo (’02, FLA) 35, Chase Utley (’06, PHI) 35.
31-34 games: Dom DiMaggio (’49, BOS) 34, Benito Santiago (’87, SD) 34, Dan Uggla (’11, ATL) 33, Willie Davis (’69, LAD) 31, Rico Carty (’70, ATL) 31, Ken Landreaux (’80, MIN) 31, Vladimir Guerrero (’99, MON) 31.
29-30 games: Stan Musial (’50, STL) 30, Ron LeFlore (’76, DET) 30, Nomar Garciaparra (’97, BOS) 30, Sandy Alomar Jr. (’97, CLE) 30, Eric Davis (’98, BAL) 30, Luis Gonzalez (’99, ARI) 30, Albert Pujols (’03, STL) 30, Willy Tavares (’06, HOU) 20, Moises Alou (’07, NYM) 30, Ryan Zimmerman (’09, WAS) 30, Andre Ethier (’11, LAD) 30, Joe Gordon (’42, NYY) 29, Harry Walker (’43, STL) 29, Ken Boyer (’59, STL) 29, Rowland Office (’76, ATL) 29, Johnny Damon (’05, BOS) 29, Denard Span (’13, WAS) 29.
Miami Marlins (56-96) vs. Washington Nationals (81-71)
RHP Henderson Alvarez (4-4, 3.97) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.40)
Washington opens the final homestand of the regular season against the same foe it began the season with back on April 1, the Miami Marlins. Southpaw and Miami native Gio Gonzalez will toe the rubber for the Nationals on his 28th birthday, looking for his 11th win of the 2013 campaign.
1. Denard Span CF
2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
3. Jayson Werth RF
4. Bryce Harper LF
5. Ian Desmond SS
6. Adam LaRoche 1B
7. Wilson Ramos C
8. Anthony Rendon 2B
9. Gio Gonzalez LHP
DISTRICT FISH FRY
The Nationals have won all six home contests against the Marlins this season and are 12-3 at home against Miami over the past two years. Washington has also clinched just its second season series win over the Marlins, courtesy of an 11-4 overall record heading into the final four contests between the teams this year. Tonight’s Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts (13.0 IP) against Miami this year, while the three announced Marlins starters so far are a combined 0-2 with a 7.27 ERA (14 ER/17.1 IP) in four starts versus Washington.
QUITE A SPAN
Denard Span singled in the seventh inning on Wednesday night to extend his hitting streak to 29 games. He has batted .371/.406/.492 over that stretch, which has included six three-hit games and a four-hit performance. The streak is the longest in Major League Baseball this season and one shy of matching the franchise mark of 30, set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009.
CATCH SOME Z’S
At the completion of play on September 1, Ryan Zimmerman had hit just 15 home runs through his first 122 games of the season. In his last 16 contests, he’s blasted 10 more, and is currently tied for seventh in the National League with a team-best 25 homers. Zimmerman’s 10 home runs this month are the most in MLB (Hunter Pence, with nine, is the only other player with more than six) and have established a Nationals record for the month of September.
When a senseless tragedy occurs, it can be hard to return to a routine; the same can be said for professional athletes, even those playing baseball in the heat of a last-minute postseason chase.
As the Nationals returned to the field on Tuesday, the team made clear that their thoughts were on those affected by the previous day’s events at the Washington Navy Yard. Reminders of the tragedy that occurred only blocks from Nationals Park could be seen throughout the day, from the flags flying at half-staff to the moment of silence before each game of the day’s doubleheader. On the field, the players donned U.S. Navy caps during batting practice and wore their patriotic jerseys featuring the stars and stripes Curly “W” during their win in game one of the doubleheader. But these were more than symbolic gestures – they will directly benefit those affected by the tragedy at the Navy Yard.
The Nationals will auction off the patriotic jerseys from game one, with proceeds benefiting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has a memorandum of agreement in place with the U.S. Navy to provide bereavement support to the families of those who die in service to America. Just as they did after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, TAPS will provide support and care for the families of Department of Defense civilian workers or defense contractors who died in this terrible tragedy. All of them were on duty for America.
Fans can go to nationals.com/auction to purchase the patriotic jerseys beginning Thursday, September 19. In the meantime, fans who would like to support the loved ones of those who lost their lives at the Washington Navy Yard can donate to TAPS at www.taps.org. A $10 donation can also be made by texting TAPS to 50555 (you will be asked to confirm your donation).
Due to the tragic events yesterday at the Navy Yard, last night’s game was postponed and will be made up as part of a split doubleheader, with the make-up game beginning at 1:05 p.m. today.
The Nationals will wear their Patriotic Blue jerseys for the first game of today’s doubleheader. We will hold a moment of silence to remember the victims of yesterday’s tragedy prior to the start of both games. Additionally, in accordance with the directive of the President of the United States, flags at Nationals Park will fly at half-staff beginning today through sunset on Friday.
Today’s games will be played as a split doubleheader, with each game requiring separate admission. Gates will open for Game Two 1.5 hours after the conclusion of Game One or at 6:00 p.m., whichever comes later.
If you had a ticket to Monday night’s postponed game, you may redeem it for today’s 1:05 p.m. game, any other remaining 2013 regular season home game, OR any 2014 regular season Value Game.
For any additional ticket information, please call the Nationals Park Box Office at 202.675.NATS(6287).
All of us here in the Nationals organization were deeply saddened to learn of the tragic events that occurred this morning only a few blocks from Nationals Park. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.
In light of the circumstances, we have decided to postpone tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves. Additional information will be distributed in the coming hours.
The safety of our fans is our utmost priority. As we have throughout the day, the Nationals security personnel will continue to work closely with all levels of law enforcement to reinforce the already high level of security in place at Nationals Park.
Prior to the Third Annual Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic this Sunday, members of the team joined with celebrity participants and Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen to go help their fellow heroes. Omar Miller (CSI: Miami), Brian Dietzen (NCIS) and Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards) joined the Wounded Warrior team on a trip to Ft. Belvoir, where they met with groups of veterans using another sport – golf – to help them reacclimate to life after combat. Much like softball, the sport helps bring a measure of normalcy and serenity back to these soldiers’ lives.
Steve Griner is the head PGA Professional of the Ft. Belvoir Wounded Warrior Golf Program, which currently enrolls about 80 veterans and family members.
“I guess one would say, unfortunately, the numbers keep growing,” said Griner of the program’s enrollment. “But we’re helping more and more people. It’s always unfortunate that there are people that have been injured serving their country. But, if that work has to be done, for me to have a part in that, it’s just inspiring.”
After greeting and getting to know many of the members of the program over lunch, the group took to the driving range to hit some balls. While Stammen, a 3.5 handicap, showed off his talent in a second sport (he even grooved an iron shot left-handed), some of the most impressive hits of the day came from Wounded Warrior Greg Reynolds. The WWAST member is missing his entire right arm, but was still smacking shots deep into the range with just his lead arm to provide the power and stability.
For Dietzen, the opportunity to come out and play on a Major League field was certainly a perk, but the reward of getting to know the stories of the Wounded Warriors and playing with them side-by-side provided a greater gift.
“These guys that go out and do everything for us,” said Dietzen, who had previously worked with wounded veterans during a benefit golf tournament out in Los Angeles. “The very least we can do as a country is look after them when they come home, and that doesn’t just mean give them a job and go back to work.”
Miller has been a part of a USO Tour, much like Stammen and fellow Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler. While he had never worked with wounded veterans before, he realized the significance of the opportunity when it was presented to him, putting this weekend’s events above his own personal schedule.
“I was actually on my way to Vegas for the fight,” said Benson Miller, referencing the championship boxing match taking place this weekend. “And I said, ‘No, you know what? Let me prioritize. This is a lot more important.’ It’s great to come out, hang out, and have fellowship with the guys.”
Stammen, as many know, accompanied the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, on a USO tour last winter. That experience combined with his life as a professional ballplayer and avid golfer made him a perfect candidate to be able to appreciate and understand how both sports can help enrich lives.
“It’s just another way to get away from the aspects of real life, and it puts your mind on something else for about three or four hours,” said Stammen, referencing golf, though he might as well have been talking about baseball.
As for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, Stammen has seen them up close and personal each of the last two seasons, as well as in visits to Nationals Spring Training. He’s looking forward to seeing them again after the Nationals finish their series with the Phillies.
“They’re really good at what they do,” he said of the team’s success. “It’s inspiring what they do, and I think it’s going to be an enjoyable evening for everybody.”
The third annual Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic takes place this Sunday, September 15, following the Nationals home game vs. the Philadelphia Phillies. Each day this week in advance of the game, we will introduce you to two members of the team – one celebrity participant and one of the Wounded Warriors who will participate.
WWCSC Experience: First Year
Best known for his role as Jimmy Palmer on the top-rated show NCIS, Dietzen is making his first appearance in the WWCSC. However, this will not be his first charitable experience with the military, as he has previously participated in a golf tournament benefitting Wounded Warriors. Dietzen plays softball recreationally in a pair of leagues, one with the NCIS crew and another one with a group of friends outside of show business. In addition to the honor of playing with our nation’s heroes, he is looking forward to the experience of stepping between the lines to play tomorrow.
“I’ve walked on a Major League Baseball field, but I’ve never played before. Just being out there, at Nats Park, that’s an amazing, amazing place to be able to have my first time ever playing out there, at the ripe of age of 35. I’m a 35-year-old rookie. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Born: 1984 in Dighton, Massachusetts
WWCSC Experience: Third Year
A veteran of the US Army who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Reynolds underwent a left arm forequarter amputation following his 15-month tour when he was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. Reynolds previously participated in Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic contests in 2011 and 2012. In addition to softball, he also enjoys weight lifting, golf, fishing, baseball, Texas Hold ‘Em and riding four-wheelers.