Results tagged ‘ Chicago Cubs ’

Weekly Review (4/9)

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

After a long spring, the Nationals made their much-anticipated return to Washington to begin the 2012 season. Following one final game in Florida against the Red Sox at their brand new Grapefruit League home, JetBlue Park, the two teams squared off again in our Nation’s Capital. While the Nationals made a valiant comeback, rallying from a 6-0 deficit to take a late lead, the real story of the day came in the second game played on the field, as the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team soundly defeated a group of D.C. celebrities.

The Nationals hit the road to officially open the season, sending Stephen Strasburg to the hill at historic Wrigley Field for his first-ever Opening Day start. Washington couldn’t break through to provide the heralded right-hander with any run support during his seven strong innings, but rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to steal a 2-1 victory. Meanwhile, as the team enjoyed an off-day on Friday, outfielders Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse were just up the road from D.C. in Bowie, MD on Major League rehab stints with the Harrisburg Senators. Both players looked just fine at the plate, as each homered in a 5-2 victory.

On Saturday, the Nationals continued their come-from-behind ways, trailing by two late before a five-run, two-out rally in the eighth inning keyed a 7-4 victory. Sunday’s game began to follow the same script, as Washington cut a three-run deficit to one on Adam LaRoche’s two-out, two-run shot in the ninth. However, the team’s third comeback attempt in three days came up just shy in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs.

Thu. @ CHC: W, 2-1

Sat. @ CHC: W, 7-4

Sun. @ CHC: L, 4-3

Weekly Record: 2-1

Cleaning Up the Offense

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Sunday brought some good news and some bad news for the Nationals. The bad news: the dream of a perfect 162-0 season is gone, as is their streak of come-from-behind victories. The good news: even though they came up just short against the Cubs on Sunday, the Nats still took two of three at Wrigley to start the season, and head to New York to take on the Mets for a three-game set before heading back to D.C. for the home opener on Thursday.

Ryan Zimmerman appreciates Adam LaRoche's hot start so far this season.

The trends of the first two games continued, as again the offense was dormant early but exploded late. Unfortunately, Washington came up a run shy in the loss, but the team has now scored nine of its 12 runs in the eighth inning or later, after Adam LaRoche’s two-run shot in the ninth on Sunday afternoon. It was the second longball in as many days for the first baseman, who lost most of his 2011 season to injury but has started this season with a bang (or rather, two).

There was a lot of preseason talk about a former Nationals first baseman named Adam – Dunn, that is – heading into the season as a candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year. The way LaRoche has played so far, he seems primed to enter his own name into that debate. He is batting .412 (5-for-12) with the two dingers, three runs scored and four RBI through his first three games, numbers that have to feel especially good after struggling through just 43 games last season.

There was a even a smattering of Nationals red in the crowd at Wrigley enjoying Washington’s series win. Those of you who follow us on Twitter may have already seen this, but we figured it was worth a share with everyone. As if the drama of the last three games wasn’t already enough, hopefully this helps you Ignite Your Natitude. After all, baseball comes home to Washington in just three days.

Also, make sure to check in on Facebook around noon tomorrow, as a few Nationals will be visiting the MLB Fan Cave and taking your questions live. Which players, you ask? You’ll just have to drop by and find out.

Better Late Than Never

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There are two ways that a ball club can improve its performance from year to year. The first is by acquiring players to give themselves a stronger roster – very simply, making the team more talented. The other path to improving a club’s record comes by finding ways win the games it’s not necessarily supposed to win. You know, the ones where there’s a late deficit to overcome, where the offense has done little to inspire confidence, but breaks out of its shell just in time to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Adam LaRoche tied a career high with four hits, including a big two-run home run.

The Nationals certainly added to their talent pool in 2012 by acquiring a couple nice pieces to their starting rotation and getting a number of players back from injury on both sides of the ball. But the story in the early going of the 2012 campaign has been their late-game comeback ability. Through two contests, 10 of the team’s 16 hits and seven of their nine runs have come in the eighth inning or later.

Of course, winning late is nothing new for the Nationals. Seven of their 17 wins in September of last year were of the come-from-behind variety. Much of that same team has been on the field these first two games in Chicago, but there are a couple of noticeable differences, and each has been key in Washington’s victories.

Nationals fans may not have known much about Chad Tracy before this week, but the hero of the season so far is quickly gaining notoriety in D.C. He delivered again on Saturday with another late, two-out hit, plating a pair of runs to put the Nationals ahead for good.

The other big game on Saturday belonged to Adam LaRoche, who not only put Washington ahead early with a two-run home run off the foul pole in right, but also tied a career-best with four hits overall.

Danny Espinosa started the Nats' five-run, eighth-inning rally.

Looking to Sunday’s series finale, the Nationals will hand the ball to Jordan Zimmermann for his first 2012 start. If Washington can give him some early support against Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs, the team will be looking at a franchise first – a three-game road sweep to open the season.

Danny Espinosa – who homered to kick-start the five-run, two-out, eighth-inning rally – expressed appreciation for what his team has been able to do so far, but also wouldn’t mind seeing some of those runs come earlier in the game.

“We want to fight, try to jump out early and hopefully get the lead,” the second baseman said after Saturday’s win. “[But] it’s nice to know that we have the ability to come back, we don’t die, we continue to fight.”

We’ll see which variety of game the team plays in the final game of Opening Weekend.

Past the First Bowie

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With the Nationals enjoying an early off day Friday following their thrilling, 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Opening Day, we decided to make the 20 mile drive northeast from Nationals Park to Price George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Bay Sox. Why, you might ask, would we do such a thing? We wanted to check in on Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse, both on Major League rehab assignments with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, who opened their season in Bowie. We also wanted a chance to see a couple of prospects – Destin Hood and Danny Rosenbaum – play in a real game.

Rick Ankiel taking batting practice in Bowie. He would go on to homer on the first pitch he saw in the game.

While we didn’t get a chance to see Rosenbaum, a starting pitcher whose turn of the rotation lands on Sunday, we got more than our fill of Ankiel and Morse, despite each taking only three at-bats. They each looked healthy enough right from the start. Ankiel swatted the first pitch he saw deep out of the park to the opposite field, and Morse followed with a ringing double off the wall in right-center. Morse saved his best at-bat for last, though, blasting a towering shot the opposite way that hung in the air forever and still got out on a chilly Maryland night.

We also saw prospects Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus each deliver two-hit nights, both using their speed to their advantage. Both put pressure on the defense with bunts and both stole a bag, contributing to the 5-2 victory. While Hood had an off night at the plate, he looked impressive in his batting practice rounds and clearly is a player to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.

Back to big league ball today, as Nationals fans will get their first regular season look at Gio Gonzalez at Wrigley Field. We’ll have more here at Curly W Live following the game.

Open For Business

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Whew. If there was any question of how the Nationals would respond to the pressures of expectation in 2012, they showed some good signs in their first game of the season on Thursday. However, we’ll all have to wait until Saturday before enjoying chapter two.

The quirky schedule gave the team a day off Friday after just the one game. While players might normally want to save that break for a time later in the season, our fans could certainly use the chance to catch their collective breath after a nerve-wracking, gut-checking, come-from-behind victory over the Cubs on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. This is the type of game they should come to expect, though. With the way this Nationals team is built, there are likely to be a good number of well-pitched, tight, low-scoring affairs all season long. And there will be 161 more games in the next 180 days, so brace yourselves.

Stephen Strasburg looked like a seasoned veteran through seven solid innings in his first Opening Day start.

The opener had a bit of everything to make for an exciting affair: great starting pitching, would-be home runs (knocked down by the wind), sparkling defense, and a pair of late rallies, one to tie the score and the other to put Washington in front for good. Many of the offseason storylines were tested immediately. Could the top two spots in the order get on base? Check – Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa combined to reach safely in five of their 10 plate appearances. How would Stephen Strasburg fare in his first Opening Day start? His line – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 K – suggests he was more than up to the task. And what kind of impact could we expect from Davey Johnson’s revamped bench? Look no further than Chad Tracy’s double, which led to Brett Carroll scoring the game-winning run in the ninth. It’s as strong a first impression as Johnson could have hoped for from this group in its collective debut. So on a day when the team managed just four hits, the rest of the pieces came together to get the Nationals that all-important first Curly W.

We need not worry about Ryan Zimmerman, either, whose 0-for-2 (with two walks) performance would have been a 2-for-2 with a pair of home runs, if not for the sharp, gusting wind coming in off Lake Michigan and directly over the center field wall. The third baseman showed just how deep his value really is, though, with two superb defensive plays. He bailed out Wilson Ramos on a pick and swipe tag to catch Alfonso Soriano stealing in the fourth inning, before reversing roles and gunning down Joe Mather at the plate in the ninth (with Ramos applying the nice tag) to preserve the one-run victory.

Jayson Werth couldn't be happier to be reunited with teammate Brad Lidge.

Jayson Werth also had a potential run-scoring, extra-base hit knocked down by the wind early. However, he came up with a great defensive play of his own and battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a bases loaded walk, forcing in the game-tying run in the eighth inning. That’s what team leaders are supposed to do: find ways to contribute, no matter what the circumstance. Werth is one of the best in the game at finding ways beyond the box score to do that. Don’t take our word for it, though. Pick up the first edition of Nationals Magazine when you’re at the ballpark starting next week and read all about it.

There should be no lingering questions surrounding Brad Lidge and his stuff at this point, either. One of Johnson’s fill-in closers (along with Henry Rodriguez), Lidge utterly overwhelmed Reed Johnson with a slider and froze Marlon Byrd with a perfectly painted fastball to end the game. He could be the steal of the offseason for Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo, providing veteran leadership to the back end of the bullpen and the occasional save when called upon.

Nevertheless, it will be great to get Drew Storen back, as it will be to have outfielders Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel in Washington again. Morse and Ankiel are both on rehab assignments with Double-A Harrisburg, which is playing just up the road in Bowie this week.

In the meantime, breathe easy and enjoy the day off. There’s been plenty to talk about, but we’re just one game in. At the end of the day, though, the team is 1-0. And that’s as good of a place as you can be one game into the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season.

One Up, One Down

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It was bound to happen eventually. As good as Gio Gonzalez had looked so far in Spring Training up until Thursday’s contest with the Cardinals, he finally had a bad day. Arguably his best performance of the spring – where he shut out the Red Birds on two hits, striking out two without walking a batter over four innings of work 11 days prior – was wiped from the record books when that game was cancelled due to rain before reaching the fifth inning. Unfortunately for Gio, this is the one that will stick on his stat line, as he absorbed his first loss of the spring in a 9-0 defeat.

It was a good day to remember that these games don’t matter in the standings, something Gonzalez was keenly aware of.

When the Nationals play the Cardinals, there is plenty of red both on the scoreboard and in the stands.

“You’re going to have some of those days,” he said. “The great part about today was that it was Spring Training.”

And if a rough outing in March can translate into a smooth start in August or September against the defending champs, well, the Nationals will certainly take that trade-off. As for the result itself, manager Davey Johnson wasn’t too worried. With the team playing the first of three consecutive road games, the lineup was devoid of many of its regular starters, as players receive alternating days off from the rigors of Grapefruit League travel.

“These are kind of the doldrums of spring,” Johnson explained. “When we come home (to Viera), I’ll be starting guys for nine innings more frequently in the lineup.”

The skipper had a sense of humor about the game as well.

“I don’t want (our guys) peaking too early,” he said, then quipped, “they’re not.”

In other Gio news, earlier this week he learned his assignment as the number two starter, following Stephen Strasburg who’ll toe the rubber on Opening Day vs. the Cubs. The whole point of landing Gonzalez in the offseason trade was to have a power lefty to slot in between the club’s young righties, Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. That appears to be exactly where Gio will fit as the rotation begins its first turn at Wrigley Field in Chicago in just under two weeks.

Gonzalez will follow in the rotation behind Strasburg, who was named the Opening Day starter.

We have one other note from an otherwise largely note-less afternoon. Another oddity of Spring Training came on a routine ground ball from former National Alex Cora in the sixth inning. Cora grounded into a force out, with Minor League second baseman Seth Bynum shuffling the ball to shortstop Andres Blanco at second base. There was nothing remarkable about the play itself, except that #13 (Cora) hit the ball to #13 (Bynum), who made the putout to #13 (Blanco). With the additional Minor Leaguers filling out the roster for the road game, there are often double-ups on jersey numbers, as players keep their assigned jerseys from Minor League camp. Still, it’s unusual to see three players wearing the same number involved in the same play.

The Nationals will play the second of those three straight road games against Houston in Kissimmee on Friday afternoon. Here are the team’s results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – Friday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-11-3

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