Results tagged ‘ Cincinnati Reds ’

The Cardiac Nats Are Back

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Nationals fans who followed the team closely last season were introduced to a term that would carry throughout the year. With the propensity of the team to play close, back-and-forth, stress-filled, ulcer-inducing nail-biters, the phrase “Cardiac Nats” began being thrown around. The 2012 edition of the Nats were 27-21 in one-run games, and 13-7 in extra innings, playing past the ninth a league-high 20 times.

It didn’t take long for the Cardiac Nats to resurface in 2013.

Wilson Ramos blasted a pair of home runs to lead the Nats to a thrilling victory.

Wilson Ramos blasted a pair of home runs to lead the Nats to a thrilling victory.

Just five games into the season, Washington played one of the most gut-wrenching, roller coaster contests in recent memory, watching a 5-1, eighth-inning lead slip away, only to weather the storm and win, 7-6 in 11 frames.

One can only imagine what it would have been like to lose such a game, a thought neither Ian Desmond nor Jayson Werth were willing to entertain afterwards. If the afternoon itself hadn’t been filled with enough drama, the Nationals were coming off the heels of a 15-0 loss the night before, the most lopsided margin of defeat in franchise history since the team moved to Washington.

So what do you do the day after you get beat by 15 runs, then watch a four-run cushion disappear in the late innings? You get back up off the mat.

Desmond, whose pair of errors led to a couple of unearned Reds runs, made sure he took advantage of the opportunity afforded him for redemption leading off the 11th inning. He worked the count to 2-0, then fouled back two consecutive fastballs on big swings. With the count level at 2-2, he destroyed a hanging breaking ball from J.J. Hoover, sending it soaring into the upper deck in left field at Great American Ball Park, an estimated 439 feet from where it left the bat.

Two batters later, Wilson Ramos absolutely demolished his second home run of the game, a 3-2 fastball off the netting behind and above the home bullpen, just to the left of straightaway center field. There are some cheap home runs to be found here in Cincinnati, but Washington’s pair of 11th-inning blasts would have been long gone in any park in the game.

Ramos’ redemption may have been even greater than Desmond’s. After all, his last Major League home run came right here, in Cincinnati, on May 12 of last year, when he tied the game with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Just two frames later, while racing to the backstop to retrieve a passed ball, his foot would plant awkwardly, his knee would buckle, and his season would come to a premature end.

With the Reds scoring again in the bottom of the 11th, trimming the margin back to one and putting the tying run in scoring position, Ramos’ second blast became the difference in the game.

The dramatic Saturday affair also highlighted one of the reasons the Nationals are so good in these types of games. With all the momentum against them, Craig Stammen – arguably the fourth or fifth option in Davey Johnson’s bullpen – came on to deliver two huge innings of relief. He fanned four, including a flailing Jay Bruce to end the game, mixing a nasty, darting two-seamer with his trademark slider.

All of it, the clutch hitting, the big performance from deep in the bullpen, can mean only one thing. The Cardiac Nats are back.

What to Watch for: 4.6.13

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Washington Nationals (3-1) vs. Cincinnati Reds (3-1)

LHP Ross Detwiler (0-0) vs. RHP Mike Leake (0-0)

Washington absorbed its first loss of the season last night at the hands of the Reds, but will look to get back in the win column this afternoon in Cincinnati.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. Tracy 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Detwiler LHP

SPAN’S PLAN

In four games as the Nationals center fielder, Denard Span has registered four hits, a double, five walks and one RBI. Thus, Span owns a .563 OBP from Davey Johnson’s top spot. As recently as 2011, Washington ranked dead last in MLB with a .285 OBP from the leadoff slot. Last year, the Nationals improved to 18th in MLB with a .325 OBP from those batting first in Johnson’s order.

THE 500 CLUB

With 498 in the bag, Jayson Werth is just two RBI shy of reaching the 500-RBI plateau for his career. 92 of Werth’s 495 career RBI have come as a member of the Nationals. 300 of his RBI came as a Phillie, 90 as a Dodger and 16 as a Blue Jay.

PIVOT-AL PRODUCTION

Washington’s double-play combo of Ian Desmond and a freshly-shaven Danny Espinosa combined to go 3-for-8 with a double in Friday’s series-opening setback at Great American Ball Park. Desmond and Espinosa were a collective 1-for-21 during the Nationals season-opening three-game series sweep of the Marlins.

What to Watch for: 4.5.13

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Washington Nationals (3-0) vs. Cincinnati Reds (2-1)

RHP Dan Haren (0-0) vs. RHP Homer Bailey (0-0)

The defending NL East and NL Central champs battle in Cincinnati as the Nationals head out on the road for the first time following a season-opening sweep of the Marlins this week in D.C.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Haren RHP

ZERO TOLERANCE

At 3-0, the Nationals are Major League Baseball’s lone undefeated team. It has been exactly 100 years since the last time a team from the Nation’s Capital was lone big league team without a loss. The 1913 AL Nationals won their first five games en route 90 wins and second place in the American League.

ONE AND DONE

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals (via 2-0, 3-0 and 6-1 home wins over the Marlins) are just the fourth team in MLB history to allow no more than one run in the initial three games of a season. The 1979 Astros (2-1, 6-0, 2-0), ‘69 Padres (2-1, 2-0, 2-0) and ’63 Cardinals (7-0, 4-0, 7-0) were the original three clubs to turn this trick.

HARPER’S DREAM DOZEN

With two more hits in Thursday’s finale, Bryce Harper has now hit safely in a career-high 12 straight regular season games dating to September 24 of last season. The 12-game hitting streak is currently tied with Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki for the longest active streak in MLB. During Harper’s current 12-gamer, which spans 13 contests (he pinch ran in Washington’s 2012 season finale vs. Philadelphia, but did not bat), he is 21-for-45 (.467) with four doubles, a triple, five home runs and 10 RBI. Harper’s OPS during the streak is 1.444 and he has scored 13 runs.

Top 12 of ’12: #10 – Opening Statements

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Nationals Cardinals BaseballWashington notched a dramatic victory on Opening Day in Chicago, but the Nationals saved some magic for their home opener against Cincinnati a week later, as well. Gio Gonzalez, making his first-ever home start in D.C., twirled seven sparkling innings of two-hit, shutout ball and recorded his inaugural Major League hit to boot, becoming an instant fan favorite in the District. Adam LaRoche delivered a clutch, two-out, two-run single in the fifth to push Washington ahead, but the Reds came back with a pair of runs in the ninth to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

But if any air had been let out of a raucous, packed house at Nats Park, Craig Stammen pumped it back up as he came on in the 10th inning. The converted starter, pitching in his first full season out of the Nats bullpen, struck out the side on just 10 pitches, one over the minimum. That set the stage for the late heroics, as Ryan Zimmerman was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, moved to second on a one-out single by Jayson Werth, then to third on a groundout by Xavier Nady. That extra 90 feet proved to be crucial, as Alfredo Simon bounced an 0-1 slider to Roger Bernadina that squirted away far enough from catcher Devin Mesoraco for Zimmerman to scamper down the line and slide in safely with the first walk-off win of the season.

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Year of the Rookie

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When Bryce Harper was called up to the Major Leagues on April 27, he became the favorite in many eyes to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, well before he ever stepped on the field. The hype that has surrounded Harper since his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year-old has been entirely overwhelming and unprecedented in the sport’s history. But they don’t give awards for hype – such honors have to be earned. And, whether Reds and Diamondbacks fans agree or not, Bryce Harper earned the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

Bryce Harper fought off a strong field to win 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

First, some respect for his competition. Todd Frazier was very impressive, coming out of relative obscurity when Joey Votto was injured to post a .273/.331/.498 line, slugging 19 home runs and notching 51 total extra-base hits. Wade Miley, the Arizona hurler, came up huge with 16 wins and nearly a 3.9/1 strikeout-to-walk rate over almost 200 innings in his first full campaign. Both are worthy candidates, and either could have been Rookie of the Year, had it not been for Harper.

To start, there are the now-20 year-old’s overall numbers. He collected more home runs (22) and extra-base hits (57) than Frazier, while also stealing six times as many bases (18/3). His .270/.340/.477 overall line was slightly weaker, but he ripped through September and October at a .330/.400/.643 clip, finishing far stronger in the season’s final month than either Frazier (.176/.235/.257) or Miley (2-2, 5.40 ERA). And perhaps the biggest difference was that Harper did all of this while playing above average defense at one of the game’s toughest positions.

While Frazier actually compiled a negative dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) of -0.2 at first base, third base and left field (according to Baseball Reference), Harper notched a dWAR of 1.4, leading to an overall WAR of 5.0, nearly twice Frazier’s 2.7 total. And while measuring pitcher WAR against position player WAR is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, Miley’s was 3.2, just for frame of reference. The point is, Harper’s all-around excellence defined his season as being greater than a simple look at his slash line.

But if you love raw offensive stats, he led in plenty of categories there, too. Harper paced all NL rookies with 98 runs scored, 17 more than his next closest competitor and 43 more than Frazier. His nine triples were also best, even one more than AL Rookie of the Year winner Mike Trout. Even if you discount the intangibles and individual moments – like his steal of home off Cole Hamels on national television – Harper had an impact on the game in 2012 that few, if any, could match.

All that’s left now is to wonder just how much better he might be next year.

Do You Know Your Enemy?

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There was much speculation as to who the Nationals would be better off facing in the National League Division Series heading into last night’s Cardinals-Braves Wild Card game. With the dust now settled and the team in St. Louis, we’re here to provide an objective analysis of the three National League teams that Washington has the possibility of encountering this postseason and how well the Nats match up against each. First, though, let’s take a look at what the Nationals have working in their favor, regardless of their opponent.

SERIES BUSINESS

For the Nationals to be successful in the postseason, they will need to stick to the same approach they have had all season long: win the series. That has been the mantra since day one, and while a five or seven-game series differs from a two, three, or four-gamer, the principle remains the same. In that vein, the Nationals finished the 2012 regular season with a 32-12-8 series record. In other words, they won 32 of their 52 series outright (61.5%), and earned at least a split in 40 of them (76.9%). Washington was swept only four times all season long, while returning the favor on nine occasions, including three-game sets at Atlanta in late May and at home against San Francisco in early July.

SHOW ON THE ROAD

While Washington’s 50-31 home record was tied for the top mark in the National League, it is their nearly equal 48-33 road mark that stands out. Not only is that the best away tally in all of baseball, but it includes 2-1 records in both Cincinnati and San Francisco and a 5-4 mark in Atlanta. The Nats ability to win away from D.C. will be a crucial factor in how far their October ride will take them.

OPPONENTS

St. Louis Cardinals

88-74 overall, 11.0 GB in NL Central (Second Wild Card)

Nationals record vs. St. Louis in 2012: 4-3

World Champions until they are eliminated, the Cardinals are a dangerous opponent that features the highest scoring offense of any postseason club in the National League. Combined with their veteran rotation and playoff experience, the Cards will not be an easy out, but it’s hard to say how Washington will match up, with both teams winning their home series convincingly during the regular season. The good news: the Cardinals rotation (Garcia: 0-1, 10.13; Lohse: 0-0, 6.94; Lynn: 1-1, 9.82; Wainwright: 1-1, 7.27) has not fared well against the Nats bats. We’ll have more on the Cardinals in a full NLDS preview tomorrow.

Cincinnati Reds

97-65 overall, NL Central Champions

Nationals record vs. Cincinnati in 2012: 5-2

Reds fans will point out that all of the seven matchups between these two teams occurred very early in the season, when ace Johnny Cueto was on the Disabled List. However, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both missed the second series, while Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse for the first matchup and Michael Morse was absent for both. It could be very reasonably argued that the Nationals team the Reds could face in October is significantly better offensively (perhaps defensively as well, with Zimmerman and Harper) than the one that took five-of-seven from Cincinnati in April and May.

San Francisco Giants

94-68 overall, NL West Champions

Nationals record vs. San Francisco in 2012: 5-1

The Giants have improved offensively down the stretch, despite the loss of Melky Cabrera, but will rely on their formidable starting rotation to try to replicate their 2010 World Series run. However, the Nationals have fared particularly well against the San Francisco starters as well, with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong’s worst individual starts of the year ALL coming against the Nats. In fact, add in top starter Matt Cain and the quartet that went a combined 55-36 with a 3.42 ERA (294 ER/772.2 IP) against the rest of baseball managed just a 1-4 record with an 8.80 ERA (30 ER/30.2 IP) against Washington this year.

What to Watch For: 9/16

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Washington Nationals (89-56) vs. Atlanta Braves (83-63)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (19-7, 2.93) vs. LHP Mike Minor (8-10, 4.42)

Gio Gonzalez has a chance to become the first 20-game winner in the Major Leagues this season and the first ever in Nationals history as Washington looks to salvage the finale of their three-game set in Atlanta and head home with a winning road trip. The game is being televised nationally for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, with first pitch at 8:05 p.m.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Espinosa 2B

7. Moore LF

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

VIEW FROM THE TOP

The Nationals own MLB’s best winning percentage at .614 thanks in part to a 40-22 (.645) mark since the All-Star break. Washington currently owns 2.5- and 3.0-game leads over the Reds and Rangers, respectively, in the race for the best record in Major League Baseball. The Nationals have either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 149 of the season’s 159 days. Only the Rangers (156) have enjoyed more days atop of their division in ‘12.

KEEPING SCORE ON THE SEASON

The Nationals currently pace MLB in run differential. The top 3: Washington (+132), Texas (+122), New York (AL) (+95). Washington has also allowed the fewest runs (520) in MLB.

TEENY BOPPER

Nineteen year-old Bryce Harper’s 19 homers hit as a teen are tied for second on the all-time list with Hall-of-Famer Mel Ott. Only a teenaged Tony Conigliaro (24) hit more. Harper turns 20 on October 16.

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Series Business

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As the Nationals prepare for the most important series in their brief history since relocating to the Nation’s Capital in 2005, it is important to look back at what they have done to get themselves to this point in the first place. Led by their quality pitching and clutch hitting, it is easy to lose sight of the way they have steadily chipped away at their schedule to become the first team in the game to 75 wins.

Danny Espinosa opened the scoring Sunday and is batting .312 with seven home runs since July 16.

Washington does not boast the longest winning streak in the majors, or even in the National League this season. That distinction belongs to the Cincinnati Reds, who won 10 straight from July 19-29. The Nats did not earn a three-game sweep this year until taking all three at Atlanta in late May. No, this team has not won in attention-grabbing spurts. They have instead been a slow, steady force with remarkable consistency, one that has lead to the following impressive statistic. In series play in 2012, the Nationals are an eye-popping 25-8-6.

This all started at the very beginning of the season. Despite not achieving a sweep (other than a two-game set vs. Miami April 20-21 in which the third scheduled matchup was rained out), the Nationals won their first six series to open the 2012 campaign. Almost every time they have been faced with a tough test, whether it be the first matchup with the dreaded Phillies over NATITUDE Weekend, three road games in Cincinnati or at Fenway, or sets against the first-place Giants both at home and on the road, the Nationals have stepped forward and won the series.

Jordan Zimmermann faces the Braves for the first time in 2012 Monday night.

Now the Nats face the biggest threat remaining between them and a shot at their first-ever postseason berth, an Atlanta team that sits 5.0 games back entering play Monday night. A large part of the cushion that Washington enjoys as this series begins comes from their 8-4 head-to-head record against the Braves, a product of a 5-1 record at Turner Field. But the Nationals have only split the six games between the teams so far in D.C. If they find a way to take at least two of three this week, they’ll lock up a winning record both at home and overall in the season series with one more three-game bout in Atlanta still to come in mid-September.

For a city that has not seen an honest-to-goodness pennant race in 79 years, this week’s games are as close as the District has come to experiencing that feeling in quite some time. The first matchup will feature Tim Hudson – who has been traditionally tough on the Nats but less so this season – and Jordan Zimmermann, who has yet to face the Braves this season. Perhaps that sort of uncertainty in the outcome is fitting for a series like this one, in which one essentially throws away the history between the two teams. All that matters is the here and now. And all the Nationals can do is what they have done all year long – go out and try to win the series.

The Bucs Stopped Here

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In case you hadn’t heard, Stephen Strasburg is still Stephen Strasburg. The 23 year-old right-hander took on the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday night for the first time since his Major League debut back in 2010. Those who remember Strasburg’s first big league start – and really, how could you forget it? – recall his utter dominance, as he struck out 14 batters over 7.0 innings of work. Not everyone remembers just how that outing ended though. The righty fanned the last seven batters he faced, striking out the side in his final two frames.

Fast-forward to Thursday night. After allowing a leadoff single to Jose Tabata in the first, Strasburg got Alex Presley to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, then struck out Andrew McCutchen, who had been the Nationals albatross all series long, to end the inning. From there, he struck out all three batters he faced in the second inning. Ditto in the third. Just like that, he had done it again, tying his own franchise mark with seven consecutive strikeouts.

Strasburg has struck out 27 Pirates in 13 career innings against Pittsburgh.

Even more impressively though, was that it came against these same Pirates. Doing the quick math, if one goes back to his first start, Strasburg struck out 14 of 16 Pittsburgh batters he faced. Those are numbers reserved for Little League contests or video games, not Major League Baseball games.

Meanwhile, Adam LaRoche continued to crush the ball through the chorus of boos that greeted him at every plate appearance in his former home. For the second time in the series, he used the longball to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. Any short-list of early candidates for National League Comeback Player of the Year must include LaRoche, who leads the team in batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.421), slugging (.582), home runs (6) and RBI (21). To put that in perspective, LaRoche owns a higher batting average, slugging percentage and more RBI than Cincinnati first baseman (and 2010 NL MVP) Joey Votto, who the Nats will see for a three-game set beginning tonight.

Washington, which will need to find an offensive lift here or there from the outfielders replacing Jayson Werth during his time on the shelf, found two of them Thursday night. Roger Bernadina flashed his power for the first time this year, dropping a home run to dead center field to open the sixth inning and get the Nationals on the board. Then in the ninth, with the Nats clinging to a one-run lead, Rick Ankiel found the seats in right for a huge insurance run to provide the final 4-2 margin of victory.

Strasburg will deservedly dominate Friday’s headlines, just as he did the Pittsburgh lineup, but the complete team effort was just the type of game a team that had dropped six consecutive road games and three straight overall needed before heading to face a tough opponent in Cincinnati. It was also a nice reminder that as historically good as everyone in the rotation has been, Strasburg will continue to set the bar.

You’re up, Gio.

Five Astounding Facts

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The Nationals began their 2012 campaign exactly two weeks ago, at the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field. Since then, they have packed as much gut-wrenching, will-testing excitement into the beginning of their season as any fan could hope for. If you still have fingernails left, scroll down and take a look at five of the most astounding facts of the young season so far, then vote for your favorite in the poll at the end of the post.

The display put on by Jordan Zimmermann and company is no mirage.

Make Your Best Pitch: The Nationals Staff

The pitching staff has a collective 1.92 ERA through the first 13 games, more than a half-run better than the next closest team in the league. Nats pitchers have allowed just two home runs while striking out 121 batters in 122 innings, both best in the game. Edwin Jackson – the author of the most impressive individual outing of the year to date – has the HIGHEST ERA in the rotation at 2.57, which also includes Stephen Strasburg (1.42), Jordan Zimmermann (1.29) and Ross Detwiler (0.90). Fellow newcomer Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, has been downright unhittable at home in D.C. His modest line through two starts at Nationals Park: 14.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 15 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP.

Crazy 8’s: Runs in 8th inning or later

Washington has scored 17 of its 49 runs this season (35% of the offense) in the eighth inning or later. The Nationals used the eighth inning to power themselves to victory once again on Wednesday, scoring the decisive pair of runs to flip a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 victory.

One-Run Fun: Plenty of one-run games

The Nationals have played 13 games so far in 2012. Eight of those contests have been decided by a single run, with Washington owning a 5-3 record in such

affairs. Washington did not play its eighth one-run game in 2011 until May 12, the 37th game of the season. The experience gained from these pressure-packed battles should serve the club well as the season unfolds.

The first two weeks of the season have been nothing, if not exciting.

Comeback To Me: Come-from-behind wins

The Nationals have trailed early and come from behind in half of their 10 wins thus far. That’s right, five of the team’s 10 wins have been of the come-from-behind variety. In fact, the team has led at some point in all but two games so far – the near-comeback on the third day of the season against the Cubs, after trimming a four-run deficit to one, and the near-sweep of Cincinnati, when Washington climbed out of a five-run hole to force extra innings, only to fall in 11 frames.

First!: Quickest team to 10 wins

As Henry Rodriguez took just seven pitches to close out the Astros in the ninth inning on Wednesday, the Nationals finished off their 10th win before the Texas Rangers could put away the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That meant that Washington was the first team in Major League Baseball to hit the double-digit win mark. As the Dodgers lost Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Nationals own the best record in the National League.

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