Results tagged ‘ Ryan Zimmerman ’

Improbabilities and Impossibilities

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by Noah Frank

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” – Vince Lombardi

It is not impossible for the Nationals to make it to the postseason this year. The strange twists and turns of this season have left them looking up a steep hill, at tall odds stacked heavily against them. And while not impossible, the chance of them crashing the party remains highly improbable. Which is to say that they will need a number of improbabilities to swing their way, in succession, to defy those odds.

They got off to a good start on Tuesday.

Facing the prospects of a crushing loss in the opening game of the twinbill against the Braves, the Nationals did something no team has done in Craig Kimbrel’s 225 career appearances, scoring the three runs they needed to erase a two-run deficit to walk off with a 6-5 win. The Baseball Reference win probability chart had the Nats at eight percent to win in such a scenario entering the bottom of the ninth.

Leverage

The comeback was made even more amazing, and the result even more unlikely than the probabilities suggest, considering that Washington had yet to score against the Atlanta closer his 10 prior appearances against them this season. He had converted 37 straight save opportunities, a string that was going to end as soon as the ball left Denard Span’s bat, as his one-out grounder was going to be deep enough to score the tying run. But as Andrelton Simmons – the highest-rated defensive shortstop in baseball – pulled his glove up, the ball skipping untouched through his legs, the Nationals found themselves celebrating an even more unbelievable victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory in game one.

The long odds didn’t end in game one, though. After Tanner Roark, perhaps the unlikeliest figure in this late season charge, delivered seven scoreless frames in the nightcap, Washington clung to a 1-0 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth. The Braves turned to Jordan Walden, who had allowed just one run in eight prior appearances against the Nats, coming on a solo shot by Ryan Zimmerman. The Z-Man took an encore roundtripper to double the lead, then Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche combined to plate two more runs as the Nationals put the game away.

Against the two relievers who had dominated them the most this season, the Nationals suddenly broke through for three runs apiece. Coming in, Walden and Kimbrel had combined to go 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA (1 ER/18.0 IP), four walks, 22 strikeouts and a perfect 7-for-7 in save chances in the season series. On Tuesday, they were 0-1 with a 22.50 ERA (5 ER/2.0 IP), with two walks, no strikeouts and a blown save.

While Washington has no realistic chance to catch Atlanta in the division, the two wins ensured the Braves could not clinch the NL East in Washington this week. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have continued to win in Houston, lowering the Nationals postseason chances to 3.3 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus, heading into play on Wednesday. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost two straight, bringing them back into the picture as well. In order to tie the Reds or Pirates and force a one-game playoff to get to the Wild Card game, the Nationals would need to play out their remaining games with one of the following combinations from their opponents:

Improbabilities

While it seems unlikely that teams like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, clubs which have played well all season, will collapse entirely, any of the top three combinations seem possible. Yes, it would require the Nationals to keep playing at the same rate they have over their last 12 games (in which they are 11-1) against stronger competition, including three games in St. Louis.

These are not probable outcomes. But, then again, after what happened on Tuesday at Nationals Park, we know that improbable does not equal impossible.

Highlights: 9.17.13

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9.17.13 Game One – Nationals 6, Braves 5

Stat of the Game: The Nationals became the first team to score three runs against Craig Kimbrel in his 225 career appearances.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Dan Haren twirled six strong innings of one-run ball and left with a 3-1 lead.

It Was Over When: Denard Span‘s grounder up the middle split the wickets on Andrelton Simmons to score the winning run.

9.17.13 Game Two – Nationals 4, Braves 0

Stat of the Game: Tanner Roark dominated once again, tossing seven scoreless frames en rout to his seventh win, lowering his ERA to 1.08.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ryan Zimmerman blasted his 10th home run in his last 15 games, giving him 25 on the season for the fourth time in his career.

It Was Over When: Washington added three insurance runs in the ninth inning to put the game away.

What to Watch for: 9.17.13 – Game One

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Atlanta Braves (89-60) vs. Washington Nationals (79-70)

LHP Mike Minor (13-7, 3.15) vs. RHP Dan Haren (9-13, 5.02)

After tying a season-high with 18 hits in an 11-2 victory over the Phillies on Sunday, the Nationals look to continue their hot hitting in the first game of today’s twin bill with the Braves. Dan Haren takes the mound for Washington, one start removed from claiming a 3-0 victory over the Mets in which he allowed just one hit and struck out eight in 6.0 innings.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

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. Dan Haren RHP

BEST BALL

Washington owns Major League Baseball’s best record dating to August 9 (25-10, .714). In that span, the Nationals lead the National League in runs scored (191) and run differential (+60). The Nats have won seven of eight series since taking three of four games at Wrigley Field, August 19-22.

HOMER HAPPY

At the completion of play on September 1, when the Nationals departed for their most-recent road trip, Ryan Zimmerman was tied for 38th in the NL with 15 home runs. In the two weeks and 13 games later, Zimmerman has tallied nine long balls and is currently ranked eighth in the NL with a team-best 24 homers. Zimmerman’s nine September homers are tied with San Francisco’s Hunter Pence for the MLB lead. Wilson Ramos (six) ranks third on that same September list, while no other big leaguer has more than five.

STRINGING ‘EM TOGETHER

Denard Span has hit safely in a career-high 26 straight games at a .387 (43-for-111) clip with six walks, five doubles, two triples, two homers, 18 runs scored, eight RBI and five stolen bases. His streak is both the second longest in MLB this year (Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer, 27 games) and in the nine-year history of the Nationals (Ryan Zimmerman, 30-games, April 8-May 12, 2009). Meanwhile, Wilson Ramos has started a Nationals record and MLB season-high 23 consecutive games behind the plate. Ramos is batting .261 (23-for-88) with seven home runs and 24 RBI during his string of starts, which began on August 22 at Wrigley Field. Washington is playing .739 (17-6) ball during that stretch.

What to Watch for: 9.15.13

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Philadelphia Phillies (69-79) vs. Washington Nationals (78-70)

RHP Tyler Cloyd (2-4, 4.56) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (17-8, 3.36)

The Nationals saw their season-high seven-game winning streak come to an end Saturday night, but they can still take the series with a Sunday victory over the Phillies in the teams’ final meeting this season. Washington has already claimed the season series and owns a 26-19 record against their closest geographical division rivals under manager Davey Johnson. Jordan Zimmermann takes aim at his National League-leading 18th win against fellow right-hander Tyler Cloyd.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

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. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

ATTENTION: SPAN

Denard Span went 3-for-5 with a career-high three stolen bases to extend his hitting streak to 25 straight games. Over that stretch, he is batting .387 with six walks, five doubles, two triples, two homers, 18 runs scored and seven RBI. Of Span’s eight multi-hit performances during the streak, he has tallied a four-hit game, six three-hit games, and a single two-hit effort. The streak is both the second longest in Major League Baseball this year (Michael Cuddyer, 27 games) and in the nine-year history of the Nationals (Ryan Zimmerman, 30-games, April 8-May 12, 2009).

NAT WERTH

Jayson Werth currently ranks among the National League’s top five in OPS (second, .933), slugging percentage (second, .536), batting average (fourth, .321) and on-base percentage (fifth, .397). Werth joins Andrew McCutchen as the only NL players to rank among the league’s top five in each of those four categories. Werth has hit better than .300 in July (.367), August (.380) and September (.308).

IRON MAN WITH THE MASK

Wilson Ramos has started a Nationals record 22 consecutive games behind the plate. With today’s start in the series finale against the Phillies, he will surpass Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina for the longest stretch of consecutive games started by a catcher in Major League Baseball this season.

What to Watch for: 9.14.13

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Philadelphia Phillies (68-79) vs. Washington Nationals (78-69)

LHP Cole Hamels (7-13, 3.45) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (10-6, 3.31)

When pretty much everything goes right – the offense, defense and pitching all clicking at once – good things usually happen. The Nationals have had all three aspects of the game working at the same time for arguably the first time all season over the past week, leading to their seven-game win streak entering Saturday night’s game with the Phillies. And if the last week has seemed particularly fun for Nationals fans, there’s a reason why.

Yes, Washington scored in each of the first two innings in three of their last four games. Yes, the Nats have out-homered their opponents 19-0 over the streak. But even more impressively, they have not trailed following an at-bat since the ninth inning of their last loss, last Friday night in Miami.

Really think about that. The only two times the Nationals have found themselves behind in the last week – down 1-0 after the top of the first inning Friday night against the Phillies, and 3-1 after the bottom of the second last Sunday in Miami – they have erased the deficit in the very next half inning, never to trail again. Since the beginning of play last Saturday, Washington has held a lead at the end of 51 of the 63 innings played.

The Nationals would love another quick start tonight, as they face off against Cole Hamels in a matchup of premier NL lefties, with Gio Gonzalez going for Washington. They will need another win to stay within four games in the loss column of Cincinnati, a 7-3 winner at Milwaukee earlier this afternoon.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Ian Desmond SS

5. Bryce Harper LF

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Tyler Moore 1B

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

HOMER HAPPY

Ryan Zimmerman has homered nine times in his last 11 games, and has already matched the club record for home runs in the month of September. Adam LaRoche set that mark last season, but Zimmerman will have 15 more games this month to set a new mark. Zimmerman also now leads the Nationals in homers, something he has done outright only once before (24 in 2007). He also shared the team lead with 14 homers in ‘08.

20-20 VISION

Ian Desmond sits just a single steal shy of recording his second consecutive 20-20 season. He would be the first National to accomplish the feat more than once. Washington’s previous two 20-20 campaigns came from Desmond (25 HR, 21 SB) in ‘12 and Alfonso Soriano (46 HR, 41 SB) in ‘06. Only Carlos Gonzalez (26 HR, 21 SB), Mike Trout (23 HR, 32 SB) and Hunter Pence (22 HR, 21 SB) have already attained 20-20 status in ‘13.

NATS BY THE NUMBERS

Washington has homered in a season-high seven straight games. Jim Lett’s bullpen has tossed 19.0 consecutive scoreless innings. Washington is 14-7 (.667) in games not started by their original starting rotation (Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler) in ‘13. Wilson Ramos has started a Nationals record 21 consecutive games behind the plate and is one game shy of matching the longest such streak of the season (Yadier Molina, 22) in Major League Baseball.

Highlights: 9.13.13

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9.13.13 – Nationals 6, Phillies 1

Stat of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman hit his team-leading 24th home run, his ninth in his last 11 games.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 24 games with a sixth-inning single.

It Was Over When: Wilson Ramos‘ bases-loaded, infield single in the fifth inning scored Jayson Werth from third and Bryce Harper all the way from second.

Highlights: 9.12.13

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9.12.13 – Nationals 7, Mets 2

Stat of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman homered for the eighth time in his last 10 games, tying Jayson Werth for the team lead with 23 on the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tanner Roark improved to 6-0 on the season, following 6.0 innings of two-run ball.

It Was Over When: Anthony Rendon swatted a solo shot in the ninth, as the Nationals out-homered the Mets, 13-0 on the series.

What to Watch for: 9.12.13

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Washington Nationals (76-69) vs. New York Mets (64-80)

RHP Tanner Roark (5-0, 0.94) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (5-11, 5.76)

Much has been made of Ryan Zimmerman’s adjustments at third base since his offseason shoulder surgery, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Though he’s made 21 errors overall, two shy of his career high, the third baseman has committed just four in his last 34 games, while adding to his career highlight reel with some spectacular plays.

On Saturday night in Miami, he made this tremendous play, ranging to his backhand, then spinning and throwing mid-air while falling into foul territory to get the runner at first.

Two nights ago, late in a one-run game, he laid out to stop a hot shot, bounced back to his feet and nabbed a speedy runner by a couple steps.

Then, Wednesday night, he turned in a pair of defensive gems. First, he showed off his reflexes with a great backhand stop, and followed it up with this charging, barehanded grab and throw.

As Zimmerman’s defense has improved, so has his production at the plate. He opened the scoring with a home run Wednesday night, his fifth in his last five games. It is no coincidence that Washington has won each of those games, matching the longest winning stretch for the team this season and elevating the club to a season-high seven games over .500.

“I don’t know if one has anything to do with the other,” said Zimmerman about his offense and defense both improving simultaneously. “But I say it all the time – baseball is contagious.”

Another thing Zimmerman has reminded the media of throughout the season is the tendency for the players on hot or cold streaks to return to the norm by season’s end; that they usually settle around their career numbers. Zimmerman, a career .286/.353/.477 hitter who has averaged 22 home runs over the past seven years, is currently batting .275/.348/.462. His home run on Wednesday was his 22nd of the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

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. Tanner Roark RHP

FIVE FOR FIGHTING

The Nationals have won five straight games and are 7-2 on their current 11-day, 10-game road trip entering Thursday’s series finale. Washington has also won seven-of-eight, 16-of-21, and is 22-9 since entering play on August 16. With 17 games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals trial the Reds by six games, five in the loss column.

DR. JEKYLL & MR. HAREN

After struggling to a 4-10 mark and a 5.61 ERA before the All-Star break, Dan Haren has been better in the season’s second half, flashing signs of brilliance, as he did Wednesday night. Overall, Haren sports a 5-3 record (with a save) and a 3.68 ERA (26 ER/63.2 IP) since the break.

CATCH-22

The number 22 was the number of the night for Washington. Ryan Zimmerman blasted his 22nd home run of the season, which was also his fifth in as many games. Denard Span extended his career-high hitting streak to 22 games with a third-inning double. And Anthony Rendon’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth was his 22nd of the 2013 campaign.

Highlights: 9.11.13

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9.11.13 – Nationals 3, Mets 0

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren limited the Mets to a single hit over six scoreless frames, striking out eight.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ryan Zimmerman hit his fifth home run in as many games and Denard Span extended his hit streak to 22 games.

It Was Over When: Anthony Rendon added a pair of key insurance runs with a two-out, two-run double in the eighth.

What to Watch for: 9.10.13

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Washington Nationals (74-69) vs. New York Mets (64-78)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (16-8, 3.30) vs. RHP Dillon Gee (11-9, 3.53)

On any other night, a shutout backed by five home runs in a 9-0 whitewashing of an opponent would be cause for celebration in any clubhouse. But on Monday night in Flushing, Gio Gonzalez was left wondering what might have been, if only for a couple of measly inches.

After walking Daniel Murphy, the second batter of the game, Gonzalez settled into a groove against the Mets, going on to set down the next 17 men he faced. Meanwhile, the offense continued to pile up runs behind him, as five different Washington hitters went deep, just one home run shy of the club record. By the time he took the mound after the seventh-inning stretch at Citi Field, Gonzalez had a nine-run advantage and just nine outs left to record the first no-hitter in Nationals history.

The Mets had double-switched Murphy – arguably their best hitter, and certainly the one who had done the most damage to the Nationals, batting at a .385 clip (25-for-65) with seven extra-base hits against Washington – out of the game. That left it to pinch-hitter Zach Lutz, who entered the game with all of 11 Major League plate appearances this year and 22 in his career.

Lutz slapped at a first-pitch fastball and hit a soft liner to the right side, just over the first base bag. Adam LaRoche went into an all-out dive, but came up just short of snagging the ball on the fly. As it escaped his grasp, it bounced on the chalk line, then skipped up the right field line, dashing Gonzalez’s hopes for history. The southpaw hardly let it affect the rest of his performance, though, walking just one more batter en route to his second career shutout and the low-hit game of his professional career.

Lutz

“It’s fun to be a part of something like that,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who homered in the first inning for his fourth roundtripper in the last three games. “It makes you want to make a play. Everyone wants to be a part of history.”

As for Gonzalez, what was his first thought when he saw Lutz’s liner escape LaRoche’s reach?

“Foul,” he joked, but later took the greater context in perspective. “It’s a bittersweet moment. You’re happy you got the win. The team did great, everybody looked alive today. It’s just a sad moment when you lose a no-hitter down the line.”

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Ian Desmond SS

5. Adam LaRoche 1B

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Tyler Moore LF

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

THE KING OF QUEENS

Gio Gonzalez allowed just one hit and two walks while striking out eight in his first shutout of the season and second of his career. Gonzalez joins Ramon Ortiz, Jason Bergmann, and Scott Olsen as the fourth pitcher in Nationals history (‘05-present) to take a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The shutout was the 10th by a Nationals pitcher since 2005 and just the second one-hit shutout in Nationals history, along with Jordan Zimmermann’s gem over the Reds on April 26 this season.

BIG (FLY) 5

The Nationals tied a 2013 single-game high by clubbing five home runs, including back-to-back shots by Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman to lead off the game. The Washington club record for one game is six, last matched in back-to-back contests September 4-5, 2012 vs. the Cubs.

ATTENTION: SPAN

Denard Span has hit safely in a career-high 20 straight games at a .410 (34-for-83) clip with five walks, three doubles, two triples, two homers, 14 runs scored and seven RBI. Span’s surge has raised his batting average from .258 to .282, just one point off his career average. Span’s 20-game streak is the longest active streak and tied for the third-longest streak overall in Major League Baseball this season (Cuddyer – 27, Ortiz – 27, Freese – 20).

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