Results tagged ‘ Danny Espinosa ’
Here at Curly W Live, we rarely – if ever – discuss politics, despite residing at the epicenter of our nation’s government. We’re far more likely to engage with you in a debate on the latest exploits of George, Tom, Abe or Teddy than any sitting President. But as The District and the country as a whole catches its collective breath following Inauguration Weekend, there is no time better than the present to take inventory of the transformation of our national pastime here in the Nation’s Capital since the last inauguration.
Four years ago, a 23-year-old Gio Gonzalez had just been traded – from the Chicago White Sox to the Oakland Athletics. Stephen Strasburg was halfway through his junior year at San Diego State. And a 16-year-old Bryce Harper had enrolled at Southern Nevada College, but had yet to see a pitch from anyone other than a high schooler.
My, how far we’ve come.
The Nationals became the first team to add 10 or more wins in three consecutive seasons over a span that did not include any strike-shortened campaigns. Coming off their 59 victories in 2009, they improved to 69 in 2010, 80 in 2011 and a Major League-best 98 last year.
Given the previous franchise high-water mark of 81-81 during their inaugural campaign, any winning season at all in 2012 would have marked the best in the franchise’s annals. Needless to say, the Nationals exceeded everyone’s projections, except perhaps for skipper Davey Johnson, who guaranteed a playoff berth all the way back in Spring Training.
But the past was all about potential. The present and future are about raised expectations.
Now, Washington has added defensive wizard and leadoff man Denard Span, the most tested, capable fifth starter in the league in Dan Haren, and one of the game’s premier closers in Rafael Soriano. One could make the argument that each of the Nationals units – the starting rotation, bullpen, catching corps, infield, outfield and bench – rank among the best in the game.
Johnson returns for his second term with a core group of rising stars, many of which are just entering their prime. In fact, 10 players – Danny Espinosa, Gonzalez, Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Drew Storen, Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann – are under team control through at least 2016: four more years.
The last four years of Nationals baseball have brought plenty of change. The next four promise an equal amount of hope.
But whether you identify as red or blue, as long as you’re rocking the Curly W, you’re wearing our colors. And regardless of your interest or involvement in politics, everyone can agree on one self-evident truth: with pitchers and catchers reporting for the 2013 season in just 20 days, it’s good to be a Washington Nationals fan.
The Nationals agreed to terms on a two-year contract with a third year mutual option with free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche on Tuesday. The 33-year-old is coming off a stellar 2012 campaign in which he led the club with 100 RBI and a career-high 33 home runs, earning both the National League Silver Slugger Award and his first career Gold Glove.
A nine-year Major League veteran, the left-handed slugger has hit 20 or more home runs six times, totaling 197 for his career. LaRoche played a key role in Washington’s 2012 NL East title run, playing in 154 games, second only to Danny Espinosa’s 160 appearances. He finished the regular season particularly strong, swatting 10 home runs with a .324/.390/.667 slash line over 30 games in September/October.
LaRoche’s return solidifies the Nationals for the near future in more ways than one. With LaRoche at first base, Washington infield defense ranks among the strongest in the game, with super defenders up the middle in Espinosa and Ian Desmond and another former Gold Glove winner at third base in Ryan Zimmerman. LaRoche also provides a second left-handed power bat to complement Bryce Harper in the middle of the Washington order, providing tremendous balance for a team that ranked fourth in OPS and second in home runs in the National League last year.
Finally, the Nationals will welcome the return of LaRoche’s veteran presence in the clubhouse. A leader on the field and an example off of it for the youngest team in the Major Leagues in 2012, “The Rock” is back, which should be an encouraging sign for Nationals fans everywhere.
The game-ending walk-off is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, as evidenced by five Nationals walk-offs making our Top 12 of ’12 list to this point. A game-ending defensive gem, one that robs the opposing team of a walk-off hit, happens far less frequently. Roger Bernadina’s August 7 play – simply known as “The Catch” – was one such moment that Nats fans won’t soon forget.
Nine games into a stretch of 17 contests in 16 days, the last thing the first-place Nationals were hoping for was a second consecutive extra-inning affair with the 36-74 Houston Astros. But after needing a three-ring circus to end an 11-inning contest the night before, the Nationals and Astros took a 2-2 game into the 12th inning before Danny Espinosa singled home Cesar Izturis to give the Nats a one-run lead. Davey Johnson summoned Tyler Clippard to close out the game, but the righty ran into trouble after a leadoff single and a two-out walk put the tying and winning runs on base for Brett Wallace.
On the fifth pitch of their battle, Clippard grooved a fastball over the middle of the plate and the left-handed hitting Wallace barreled it up, driving the ball deep toward the wall in left-centerfield. With both runners on the move with two outs, the only thing separating Houston from victory was The Shark. Bernadina raced at full throttle toward the alley – then, in a gravity-defying instant, leapt, glove outstretched, and met the ball at its apex before disappearing behind a padded concrete pillar in front of the visitor’s bullpen. After a heart-stopping moment, Bernadina emerged with the ball securely in his glove while reliever Craig Stammen celebrated in the ‘pen behind him. The Nationals won the game, went on to sweep the series from the Astros and cemented “The Catch” as the signature defensive play of the 2012 season.
When the Nationals and Giants matched up in early July in the Nation’s Capital, the series promised to be a stiff test for Washington, facing San Francisco pitchers Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. But after dispatching the first two, handing each their worst loss of the season, the Nationals needed only to beat Cain – who had thrown a perfect game just four starts earlier – to complete the sweep. The teams both donned 1924-era jerseys that night, the fifth of July, in commemoration of the 1924 World Series between Washington and the then-New York Giants, which the Senators had won in dramatic fashion, erasing a late deficit and eventually taking the series in the bottom of the 12th of Game 7.
Cain was in command, as the Giants built a 5-1 advantage entering the bottom of the seventh. But Washington began chipping away, riding back-to-back solo shots from Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and a two-out, RBI-double from Bryce Harper in the seventh to cut the deficit to a single run. The score remained 5-4 until the rookie brigade took over in the ninth, with Tyler Moore doubling, Steve Lombardozzi laying down a sacrifice and reaching on an ensuing error, and Harper coming through again with an RBI-single to tie it up. After an intentional walk and a force at home, Adam LaRoche batted with the bases loaded and one out. He chopped a ball towards the hole at second, where Ryan Theriot fielded the ball and threw to second base for the force out. Brandon Crawford tried to relay the ball to first base to complete the double play, but his throw short-hopped Brandon Belt at first and got away, as Harper crossed the plate with the winning run. Just like 1924, Washington had come from behind for a thrilling, walk-off win.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. A new week brings a new player, as we round out the Nationals keystone combination with a deeper look at Danny Espinosa.
A young player’s second full season is often considered his first real test as a Major Leaguer. After turning heads as a rookie – swatting 21 home runs and finishing sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011 – Danny Espinosa faced the task of a league adjusting to him, challenging his weaknesses. Following some early struggles, the 25 year-old made his own adjustments, finishing the season strong. When the dust had settled, though, Espinosa’s second campaign replicated his first almost as closely as humanly possible.
After 658 plate appearances in 2011, Espinosa logged an identical 658 this season. He walked 11 fewer times in 2012, but notched 12 more hits, upping his extra-base hit total from 55 to 56. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all within .012 in one direction or another of his rookie marks. After falling just three stolen bases shy of a 20-20 season in 2011, he was instead three home runs shy this year, but set a new career mark, swiping exactly 20 bags. He also led the team in doubles with 37, two more than Adam LaRoche and one more than Ryan Zimmerman.
The switch-hitter continued to be more consistent from the right side of the plate, notching an OPS more than 80 points higher, but his home run rate was nearly double from the left side, where he hit 14 of his 17 bombs on the season. Perhaps his most memorable longball of the year, though, came from the right side, powering a dramatic, late-inning comeback to beat the Marlins on August 4 at Nationals Park.
One of the more underrated parts of Espinosa’s game, though, is his defense. Combined with Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and LaRoche, the foursome comprised arguably the strongest infield defense in the National League, if not the entire sport. The rangy, strong-armed second baseman could replace many Major League shortstops and did, in fact, take over that spot for the Nationals when Desmond missed a month with an oblique injury.
Espinosa played some of his best baseball of the year during that stretch, batting .313/.366/.527 with eight doubles, six home runs, 21 runs scored and 19 RBI over a 32-game stretch from July 16-August 15 during which the Nats went 22-10. The middle infielder will hope to build upon his second-half success in his first arbitration year in 2013, the same way that Desmond did in his third full season in the Majors. Washington retains team control over Espinosa through the 2015 campaign.
Washington Nationals (96-62) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (85-73)
LHP Ross Detwiler (10-7, 3.28) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (17-7, 3.69)
With their extra-inning victory Saturday night, the Nationals inched within a single win or Atlanta loss of clinching the National League East. They look to do so – and to win the series against the Cardinals – this afternoon with St. Louis native Ross Detwiler on the hill, pitching in his hometown as a Major Leaguer for the first time.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From catcher Kurt Suzuki, on his two-out, two-run, game-winning hit in the 10th inning following an intentional walk to Danny Espinosa:
“You want to be in those situations…you want to go up there and make them pay.”
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Detwiler LHP
THE NEXT MAGIC MOMENT
Having clinched a spot in MLB’s postseason, the Nationals now turn their attention to winning the NL East…Washington’s magic number to clinch the NL East is ONE game.
The Nationals – via a 4-1 home win over Los Angeles on September 20 – have assured The Nation’s Capital of its first postseason October baseball since the 1933 AL Nationals lost a five-game World Series to the Giants. Those AL Nationals also won AL pennants in 1924 (World Champions) and ‘25. This mark’s the second post-season trip for the franchise, as Montreal lost to the Dodgers in the five-game ‘81 NLCS.
96 CURLY W’s IN THE BOOKS
With four games remaining, Washington has already established a franchise best with 96 wins and needs three wins to match the best mark by a D.C.-based team (‘33 Senators). The Nationals are the first ballclub from the Nation’s Capital to eclipse the 90-win plateau in 79 years or since the pennant-winning 99-win ‘33 AL Nationals. This is the ninth 90-win campaign posted by a D.C. baseball team…from 1913-33, the AL Nationals posted eight 90-win seasons: 1933 (99 wins), 1925 (96), 1930 (94), 1932 (93), 1931 (92), 1924 (92), 1912 (91), 1913 (90).
Baseball is a sport of routines, of countless situations played over and over again. It is a game that, more often than not, rewards those teams that are able to consistently take advantage of the opportunities afforded them to score runs and win games. However, one of the greatest parts about baseball is the likelihood of seeing something you’ve never seen before in each and every game. There are so many different ways for any given situation to unfold that no two games would ever play out exactly alike, even if – by some miracle – the box scores looked identical.
This anachronism played true to form on Saturday night, when the Nationals needed just two swings to take control of their fate, beating the host Cardinals in 10 innings to lower their NL East magic number to one. The first swing happened with no bat and no ball, and was a first for everyone in the ballpark, no matter how much baseball their eyes had seen. Michael Morse stepped into the box with the bases loaded and drove a ball the other way, clearing the right-field wall before caroming off the electronic billboard behind it and back into play. Initially ruled a single on the field, confusion reigned among the Nationals runners on the base paths, with Morse eventually being tagged out sliding back into first. Following a review, the umpires determined correctly that the ball had in fact cleared the wall for a grand slam.
Home runs have been overturned before in baseball since the advent of replay, but none have played out quite the way this one did. Morse, who had stayed at first base during the review, began running the bases when home plate umpire Cory Blaser gave the home run signal. However, he was ordered to go back to the base where he started when the play began. Initially he circled back around second to first, but was eventually sent back to home plate, with Bryce Harper – who began the play at third base and had been in the dugout for several minutes after scoring – summoned to return to the field as well. Upon arriving back at the batter’s box, Morse, not knowing what to do, took a phantom swing, then went into his home run trot, even tossing in his trademark helmet slap as he rounded the bases. Fittingly, a full moon rose from behind the outfield bleachers the next inning, looming over the spot where the ball had left the yard.
The Nationals would not score again until the 10th inning, after the Cardinals had come back to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth. This time, they did so on a play that baseball lifers have seen time and time again, one that anyone who has been following the Nats closely down the stretch over the past few weeks could see coming a mile away. Adam LaRoche, who led the inning off with a single, stood at second base with two outs following a Roger Bernadina sacrifice bunt and an Ian Desmond fly out. With Danny Espinosa at the plate, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk Espinosa, rather than let his reliever, Fernando Salas, face him.
In theory, the move was a shrewd one. Espinosa had found success against Salas in the past. Perhaps he remembered Espinosa’s triple off Salas on April 20 last season. He almost certainly had images of Espinosa’s three-run, walk-off home run that Salas served up in Washington a couple months after that. Perhaps it was as simple as wanting a righty-righty matchup instead of letting a left-handed batter (or switch-hitter, batting left) beat him. But Kurt Suzuki has not been just any right-handed hitter of late.
Since August 25, the Nationals trade acquisition has batted .322 (29-for-90) with a .522 slugging percentage and 20 RBI in just 27 games. He has supported the “Kurt Klutch” nickname he earned at Cal State Fullerton, where his two-out, RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh inning led the Titans to a 3-2 victory and College World Series title in 2004.
While the intentional walk can serve many purposes in the game, a two-out intentional walk means only one thing from the opposing manager: “I’ll take my chances against you.” Better not to do so facing a guy with a “Klutch” nickname. Suzuki ripped a two-run double to the base of the fence in left-center, providing the decisive blow.
The culmination of the two swings have left the Nationals on the brink of their first-ever National League East title which they could wrap up as soon as today. They need a single win (or Atlanta loss) to make it official here, fittingly, on the home field of the defending World Series Champions.
The takeaway moment from Wednesday night’s Nationals-Phillies tilt in Philadelphia will undoubtedly be Jayson Werth’s final at-bat in the top of the ninth. After electing not to throw a foul ball that had made its way to him in the batter’s circle into the crowd, Werth instead paused and lobbed it into the Washington dugout. That sparked a reign of boos from the half-empty Citizen’s Bank Park, easily the most passionate reaction of the entire evening. After Danny Espinosa struck out, leaving runners at the corners with two outs for Werth, the crowd rose to a fever pitch as their former player dug into the batter’s box.
The Phillies had fallen behind early, thanks to a trio of Washington home runs from Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki’s second-inning blast, the Nationals third in their first eight batters of the game, gave Washington 183 home runs on the season, as the club continued to distance itself from the previous franchise record of 178 set back in 2000 in Montreal. It also gave them a 5-0 lead at which the home team slowly chipped away. After single runs in the seventh and eighth innings, the advantage stood at just 5-4 in the top of the ninth as Werth dug in.
He lunged at the first pitch off the outside corner, fouling it away for strike one. He then got buzzed on a fastball up and in from Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus, to the rave reviews of everyone in the stands wearing a P on their foreheads. Werth then uncharacteristically chased a breaking ball off the plate away, swinging through it for strike two as the crowd again roared its collective approval. Lost in the drama of the moment, Kurt Suzuki took off on the next pitch, ball two, stealing second without a throw. The play would prove enormous, as Werth served De Fratus’ next offering straight past the pitcher, the ball bounding past a helpless Jimmy Rollins into center field, sucking the air out of the ballpark and plating both runners to open up a 7-4 advantage.
“That’s a big-time lineup over there,” said Werth of the Phillies, preferring to focus on the significance of the moment within the game rather than the fanfare surrounding it. “To push a couple across to extend the lead at this point in time in the season, emotions are running high, and I was just happy to get the runs across.”
Harper would then drive Werth home on an RBI-triple to provide the final margin, but Jayson’s hit – and the crowd’s reaction to it – provided the highest drama of the evening. They also overshadowed the story that is quietly chugging along, that of John Lannan’s reemergence.
If it weren’t for a throwing error in the third and a bit of bad luck in the fourth, the Nationals lefty may well have carried a shutout into the sixth inning. As it was, he allowed just two runs on five hits in 5.1 innings of work to improve to 4-0 in his five starts since returning to the Washington rotation. And while every game in a pennant race is important, Lannan continues to find himself on some of the biggest stages, tasked with the challenge of leading the Nationals to victory when they need it most.
“I’ve been in that situation here so many times and come up short,” he explained after the game, acknowledging some his own personal struggles pitching in Philly. “I told myself I wouldn’t do that again.”
He described the game as an adrenaline rush from the first inning on, but clearly something about that pressure seems to bring out the best in his game.
“If you don’t want the ball in those situations, you’re in the wrong game.”
It’s only appropriate, on this last day of summer, that we can officially begin to discuss postseason baseball in Washington D.C. no longer as a “likelihood” or a “probability,” but as a reality. That’s the thing about the baseball season – a hot start is great, like the one the Nationals stormed out to by winning 10 of their first 14 games, but in the scope of a six-month marathon, it means very little. All the excitement of holding down first place is fantastic fun, but it does not mean anything until this time of year. There are no cheaply won postseason spots in our sport, and only sustained success over the duration of the spring and summer will lead to those meaningful games in October that Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson and everyone around the organization have been talking about since Spring Training.
Yes, the National League East remains undecided, with a combination of eight Nationals wins and/or Braves losses still needed to determine the division crown. Beyond that lie the fight for home field advantage through the various rounds of the playoffs. These Nationals have taken nothing for granted so far this season, and you can be sure they won’t start now. Nevertheless, one indelible fact remains: there will be postseason baseball in our Nation’s Capital for the first time in 79 years.
“What’s the big deal?” an exuberant Johnson jokingly questioned of the press corps, as fans watching his post-game press conference in the adjoining Lexus Presidents Club cheered his arrival.
The Nationals almost clinched their postseason spot Wednesday night in dramatic, surprising fashion, coming from nowhere to overcome a six-run, eighth-inning deficit, only to fall to the Dodgers, 7-6 in the ninth. While that would have been a game for the ages, long remembered by those who stuck it out to the end, it would have supported the script that is often preached, but not necessarily accurate, about this year’s Washington club, that all of this sudden success is a surprise. In actuality, it is the culmination of years of building the right way, from the ground up, and simply watching the pieces come together at the Major League level all at once. In a sense, it was much more fitting that the history was made thanks to a well-pitched, well-defended game, trademarks of a team that Washington fans have fallen in love with this season.
Drew Storen gave the game and the fans their endearing moment to cherish, as he faced the daunting middle of the Dodgers lineup – Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez – holding a three-run lead in the ninth. The cushion would turn out to be more than enough. Storen painted a perfect, outside corner fastball to freeze Kemp, Wednesday night’s hero. He then handcuffed Gonzalez, the powerful lefty’s bat waving helplessly over a disappearing changeup. Finally, he blew away Nationals nemesis Hanley Ramirez – who owned a career .339 (147-for-433) mark with 27 home runs against the Nats coming into the at-bat – on a nasty slider to end it, pounding his mitt once and high-fiving catcher Kurt Suzuki in celebration.
“I didn’t even think about it until I saw it on the scoreboard afterwards,” said Storen of the clinching moment. “I was just having fun. The crowd was real into it. If you’re not out there having fun in that situation, you shouldn’t be out there.”
And though Storen provided the coup de gras, seemingly everyone chipped in. Ryan Zimmerman opened the scoring with a booming double to the left-center field gap, scoring Bryce Harper in the third inning. Danny Espinosa had an RBI-double of his own, and came in to score on a Suzuki sacrifice fly, the culmination of a hard-fought, professional at-bat. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth each had a pair of hits, with the shortstop stealing one bag and the outfielder swiping a pair. As it has been all year with this team, you never know who the hero will be, and there were many of them Thursday night.
Ross Detwiler, meanwhile, continued to impress, and continued to show why this team has a real chance to make a deep October run. With six nearly flawless innings, in which a solo home run and a pair of singles were the only bumps in an otherwise smooth road to his career-best 10th victory, he quieted the powerful Dodgers lineup to put the Nationals in position to clinch.
“It was great seeing all of them on their feet,” the lanky lefty said of the crowd. “It really gives you the chills a bit to see how into it all of them were.”
Detwiler has consistently gone about his business, and though he is sometimes overshadowed by his teammates, there is no hiding his 6-3 record and 2.76 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break. He also became the fourth Nationals starter to hit double-digits in wins on Thursday, with Edwin Jackson sitting on nine victories heading into his start tonight against Milwaukee.
Speaking of those pesky Brewers, they are suddenly hot, and have clawed their way back into the race for the second National League Wild Card spot. In fact, the final four series on the Nationals schedule – Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Philadelphia again – all bring teams fighting for every game, their postseason lives at stake. Each game will be its own challenge, as the Nats try to wrap up the division. Those battles begin again tonight. But for today, at least, allow yourself to soak in the reality.
This is happening.
Washington Nationals (89-55) vs. Atlanta Braves (82-63)
RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.85) vs. RHP Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.35)
The Nationals and Braves meet for the second of a three-game set for a mid-afternoon, 4:05 p.m. start time in Atlanta. Edwin Jackson looks for another strong outing against the Braves, against whom he allowed just one run over seven innings while fanning nine in his only other head-to-head start this season. The Nats offense meanwhile, looks to stay hot against Hanson, off whom they have plated 10 runs (including four homers) in 11 innings over two starts.
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Espinosa 2B
7. Flores C
8. Lombardozzi LF
9. Jackson RHP
Beginning with an 8-4 win on August 29 at Marlins Park, the Nationals are 12-4 and have hit 24 more home runs than their opposition. In those 16 contests, Washington’s homered 37 times, been taken deep 13 times and outscored Miami, St. Louis, Chicago, New York and Atlanta by 41 runs (97-56).
2ND “HALF” POWER
The Nationals lead the NL and rank third in MLB having hit 82 home runs in the season’s second half. Those 82 post-All- Star break homers are the most hit by the Nationals (2005-pres.) or by any club in D.C.’s 79-year modern baseball history (since 1901), however, they are tied with the 1997 Expos for the franchise mark. The ‘12 Nationals have 18 games to pad their totals.
Collectively, the Nationals infield (excluding pitcher and catcher) has hit an MLB-best 97 home runs this season. The Yankees (92) and Brewers (81) rank second and third on this list, respectively. Individually, Adam LaRoche (29) and Ian Desmond (23) pace their positions in home runs, while both Ryan Zimmerman (fourth in NL, 22) and Danny Espinosa (sixth, 11) rank among the Senior Circuit’s top half at their positions.