Results tagged ‘ Cole Hamels ’

Top 12 of ‘12: #2 – Harper Steals Home

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Top 12 Number 2Years from now, when we look back at the turning point in the history of the Nationals franchise on the field, we may well pinpoint a three-day stretch in early May of 2012. After a hot start to the season, Washington hosted its bitter rival, the five-time defending division champion Philadelphia Phillies, in a much-anticipated weekend set in the Nation’s Capital. With the Take Back the Park campaign in full swing in the stands, the series became known as NATITUDE Weekend. The hometown nine responded on the field, winning in walk-off fashion in the opener, then riding Jayson Werth’s mammoth, three-run home run to a blowout victory on Saturday afternoon.

But while NATITUDE Weekend was the larger turning point in this budding NL East rivalry, the first inning of the series finale provided its signature moment. With the game airing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball – the first such primetime national telecast since the first game ever played at Nationals Park in 2008 – the eyes of the baseball nation were fixed on Phillies ace Cole Hamels as he tackled his first run through the Washington lineup. After two quick outs, he faced 19 year-old Bryce Harper, batting third for the first-place Nats in just his eighth Major League contest. Hamels promptly plunked Harper in the back on the first pitch of the at-bat – an act he would later admit was intentional – sending the rookie to first base. It was a seemingly harmless price to pay for his “message.”

But when Werth singled to left field, Harper motored around second and tore for third, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre, who could do nothing to stop him. After the next batter, Chad Tracy, fell behind 1-2 in the count, Hamels lobbed a pick-off throw to first base and Harper measured out a long secondary lead from third, behind the left-handed hurler’s back. When Hamels repeated his check on Werth, once more casually easing the ball over towards first, Harper took off for home. First baseman Laynce Nix had no recourse to prevent the inevitable, his futile throw to the plate arriving behind the phenom’s slide. With his first career steal, Harper became the first teenager to swipe home since Ed Kirkpatrick in 1964. In so doing, he brazenly defined NATITUDE and set the visceral tone for a season that would end with Washington’s unseating of Philadelphia as champions of the National League East.

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Teenage Dream

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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.

 

A Fan’s Guide to NATITUDE Weekend

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Well, it’s finally here. Welcome to NATITUDE Weekend at Nationals Park, the first three-game set of the year against the rival Phillies. If you are planning to attend any (or all) of this weekend’s games, here’s a handy guide to help arm you with the NATITUDE you need to show the Philly fans who decided to make the trip south to Our Park that Washington is ready to turn the tide both on the field and off.

1. Knowledge is power

Stephen Strasburg was named National League Pitcher of the Month for April.

The Nationals are off to a great start to 2012, and it helps to understand just how good they’ve been so far. As any Phillies fan will tell you, pitching is all-important in building a winner. So far, the Nationals have had the best staff in the game, and by a decent margin at that. Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to start the series opener on Friday, just took home National League Pitcher of the Month honors for April after going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32.0 IP), striking out 34 batters while walking just six over his first five starts of the year. In fact, four of the five Nats starting pitchers – including all three slated to start in this series – have ERAs under 2.00 going into Thursday night’s game. That’s something neither Phillies starters Cole Hamels (2.78) nor Roy Halladay (3.40) can claim.

2. Understand your history

Yes, the Phillies have won five straight National League East titles. You already know this, but you will no doubt be reminded of it several times this weekend. However, were you aware that the Nationals beat Philadelphia, 10-8, in the season series in 2011, including the final five games? Before completing a four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park in September, the Nats won their last home game over Philadelphia in an extra-inning walk-off affair. Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman cleared the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off grand slam.

3. Speaking of walk-offs…

Ian Desmond has played the hero recently for the Nationals at home.

The Nationals enter their series finale with the Diamondbacks Thursday night with a 9-3 home record, best in the division. Four of those victories have come in walk-off style, including Wednesday’s dramatic, two-out, two-run, come-from-behind, game-winning home run off the bat of Ian Desmond. The winning run in those games has been scored by four different players (Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Desmond), so you never know who the hero might be when you come to the ballpark.

4. There’s this guy named Bryce

They may boo him, but every opposing fan will have their eyes trained on home plate when 19 year-old Bryce Harper digs in. The outfielder turned in the first three-hit game of his young career on Wednesday, and is already altering games on defense with his cannon of an arm. Make sure you’re in your seat when Harper bats – you just might witness a piece of history.

5. Root, root, root for the home team

Bring your passion and energy to Our Park to cheer for the Nats. It’s going to be a fun, rowdy environment for sure, so bring your yelling voice. But should you run into some unruly visiting fans, don’t worry about wasting it on them. Let them regale you with stories about their .500 ballclub, and about how good they used to be. You know, in the past. Just take the high road and Ignite Your NATITUDE to support the NL East-leading Nats, the most exciting young team in baseball.

See you at Our Park this weekend!

Ghost Ride the WHIP

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With the postponement of Sunday’s game giving us likely the only consecutive days without Nationals baseball until the All-Star Break, we figured it might be a good time to take stock of the team following the first homestand and point out a few truly ridiculous numbers. For those of you well-versed in your statistics, we’ll make the following disclaimer: small sample size alert. After all, we’re only 16 games into a 162-game season (9.9%), and baseball is all about how trends play out in the long run, not a few handfuls of contests. Nevertheless, the following statistics are rather absurd.

Jordan Zimmermann has been downright historic so far this season.

For this discussion, we take a closer look at WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), a very useful way of determining how effective pitchers are at keeping opponents off the base paths. Since 1901, only 140 pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title have posted a WHIP below 1.00, or an average of 1.25 pitchers per year. Since the year 2000, just 14 have accomplished the feat, three of which came last year (AL MVP/Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander – .920, NL Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw – .977, and Cole Hamels – .986). Needless to say, to be in the company of those select few puts one in rarefied air, among the top pitchers of the generation, if not all time.

Why is this so important? We all know that the Nationals starting pitching has been superb to this point, but for any to notch sub-1.00 WHIP would be quite a feat, something never accomplished by a qualifying starter since the move to Washington in 2005 (Jordan Zimmermann was the closest last season, at 1.15). As it turns out, there are multiple starters out of the five on this year’s staff currently posting sub-1.00 WHIPs. Specifically, there are five of them.

As a number five starter, Ross Detwiler has been better than most number ones.

That’s right, each and every one of the Washington Nationals starting five has allowed an average of less than one baserunner per inning. Ross Detwiler, who ranks second in the National League in ERA at 0.54, has the highest (aka, worst) of the lot at a 0.94 mark. Stephen Strasburg (0.92) and Gio Gonzalez (0.91) rank slightly ahead of Detwiler. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson’s mark of 0.84 is even more eye-popping, and Zimmermann’s 0.71 is downright silly.

For some additional historical perspective, only one pitcher has logged a WHIP of under 0.90 since 1996, which was Pedro Martinez (0.74) in his historic 2000 campaign, widely regarded as the greatest single pitching season in the last generation. That year, Martinez notched a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 217.0 innings pitched while throwing four shutouts for the Boston Red Sox, all in the midst of a hitter-dominated era.

Right now, Zimmermann is ahead of even that pace. Again, we are working off a small sample size, one that is hardly projectable for the remaining 90% of the season. Nevertheless, wow.

Last week, Curly W Live readers voted that the starting rotation has been the most impressive component of Washington’s hot start. So, we ask you now: who has been the most impressive starter so far? The best part about this poll: there are no wrong answers.

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