Results tagged ‘ Ryan Zimmerman ’
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. Our list continues with the emerging talent up the middle, Ian Desmond.
We’ve written several times in this space about the candidacy of Adam LaRoche as the Most Valuable Player, not just for the 2012 Nationals, but for the entire National League. However, if any Washington position player could challenge LaRoche for that title, it would be the Nationals 2012 breakout star, Ian Desmond.
After flashing signs of his potential during a 2009 September call-up (where he went .280/.318/.561 with seven doubles and four homers in 82 at-bats), the shortstop’s numbers fell short of those levels in his first two full Major League seasons. All of that changed in 2012, though, as the 27 year-old saw his talents at the plate and in the field come together to land him an All-Star selection. Despite playing through an oblique injury that hampered his production towards the end of the season’s first half and sidelined him for nearly a month in July and August, Desmond still posted career highs in hits (150), doubles (33), home runs (25), runs scored (72) and RBI (73). His OPS+ of 126 was higher than Ryan Zimmerman’s, Bryce Harper’s and Jayson Werth’s, ranking just slightly behind LaRoche for the team lead.
For some greater perspective on the caliber of Desmond’s season, consider the following. Despite playing just 130 games, he was one of only seven National Leaguers (and the only National) to post a 20-20 season, joining reigning MVP Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Andrew McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins.
And while his overall numbers were solid in their own right, Desmond seemed to come up biggest whenever the pressure was turned up. Until Werth’s thunderous, walk-off home run ended Game 4 of the NLDS, Desmond’s come-from-behind, game-winning blast with two outs in the ninth inning on May 2 to beat the Diamondbacks was Washington’s lone walk-off home run of the season. The shortstop also drove in 31 of his 73 RBI (42.5%) with two outs, including three from the eighth inning on in a rousing, 12-inning victory over the Mets on June 5.
And then, of course, there was the defense. After committing 34 errors in his first full season in 2010, Desmond cut that number to 23 the following campaign and again down to 15 this year. His improved consistency, along with his proclivity for highlight reel plays, earned him a Gold Glove finalist nomination. Desmond’s pure athleticism and reflexes led to tremendous plays like the one below, also part of that June 5 performance:
He showed off his range as well this year, with diving grabs like this one in September:
Desmond carried his success into the postseason, staking claim as Washington’s most consistent hitter in the NLDS. He batted .368 (7-for-19) in his first taste of playoff action, continuing to emerge as a leader for this young Nationals squad.
As a player just entering the prime of his career, there is no reason to believe Desmond’s 2012 season was a fluke, and if he is able to play a full season in 2013, the Florida native will have a chance to improve upon the benchmarks he set this year. As he enters arbitration for the first time this year, he remains under team control for the next three seasons, giving Nationals fans at least that much time to watch him continue to grow into his full potential.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every signature moment in this 2012 Washington Nationals season has composed its own storyline. With dramatic victories woven throughout the tapestry of a thrilling campaign, it would have been understandable to expect some sort of coup de gras to cap off a season’s worth of celebration. Maybe the Nationals didn’t provide the storybook clinching moment that television producers dream of, with a dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound, as they missed their first chance to wrap up the division title on Sunday in St. Louis. There was a pretty brilliant, sparkling silver lining, though, knowing that the team would return home leading by 3.0 games with three games left on the regular season slate.
That presented the opportunity to clinch the division at home against the five-time defending division champion Phillies, who had thrice celebrated their own glory with wins over the Nationals. But what if Washington didn’t win, and instead had to rely on Atlanta, one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, to lose? Would that turn of events scrub some of the luster from Washington’s shiny division crown?
On Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the division would be decided, Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler refused to allow such a scenario to take anything away from the accomplishment.
“There’s no such thing as ‘backing in’ when you win 96 games,” he declared.
Based on the celebrations taking place on the field Monday night – after the Nationals 2-0 loss to the Phillies became a mere footnote in their 2012 National League East Championship season, thanks to the Braves 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh – the players agreed. While they maintained their composure nearly two weeks earlier, following the clinch of the first postseason berth in D.C. baseball since 1933, they held nothing back upon taking the division.
They jumped around in jubilation, spraying each other with any beverage available. When Mike Rizzo was being interviewed live on MASN, Wilson Ramos emptied an entire bottle of champagne over his head. As soon as players huddled together in the clubhouse in celebration, Michael Morse unleashed a tidal wave of water from a Gatorade bucket into the middle of the fray. By the end of the night, Jayson Werth’s home white number 28 jersey was stained pink from his red undershirt bleeding through the mix of beverages.
“It was kind of odd,” said Werth, of the way the evening unfolded. “We’re getting beat, but we’re celebrating. But this team deserves this. We’ve come a long way.”
This was, after all, what Werth envisioned when he made the decision to leave the team occupying the visitor’s dugout for the final series of the regular season to join the Nationals before the 2011 campaign. He has become a leader on this Washington club, not only taking rookie Bryce Harper under his wing, but guiding the offense at the top of the lineup since his return from a broken wrist in early May. He is batting .308 with a .392 on-base percentage, scoring 32 runs over 53 games during that span, and his ability to continue to set the table will be key for the Nationals in the postseason.
“It’s gratifying, it’s quite an accomplishment,” he said, of winning the division. “We’ve come quite a long way in a very short time, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a good young club. I think we should do this every year.”
Before Werth’s strong stretch drive, and before Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse helped Washington assert itself as one of the National League’s top offensive clubs in the second half of the season, another veteran made his biggest mark on this team. Adam LaRoche carried the club through the early part of the year, on his way to matching his career-high in home runs with 32, sitting just one RBI shy of the century mark with two games to play. For his efforts, he will be rewarded with his first trip to the postseason since 2005.
“It means a lot personally,” said LaRoche as he gazed up from the field at the fans behind the Nationals dugout, still screaming and cheering nearly an hour after the end of the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs.”
Asked if he had forgotten the feeling of clinching, the mix of ecstasy, accomplishment and relief, he admitted that he had.
“You do, when it’s been this long,” he said. “You see the other team celebrate, you want to be out there and be a part of it. There’s a big difference.”
Amid the mess of congratulatory hugs, handshakes and post-game interviews, one tall, shaggy-haired man stood to the side, shivering in the cool fall night, his freshly printed NL East Champions shirt already steeped in celebration. Perhaps no man’s journey to standing on this field, literally soaking in the division title, was as trying as John Lannan’s, who took his first loss in six starts for the Nationals this season Monday night, despite pitching well yet again. It was his first start, the back-end of a doubleheader on July 21, that proved to be a turning point for Washington, stopping the division-rival Braves after they had narrowed the division gap to a game-and-a-half, never letting them pull any closer. Looking up at the fans, he was happy to enjoy every bit of the moment at hand.
“This has been awesome,” he said of the celebration. “These guys (the fans), they deserve it as much as we do. It’s something special. I’m just glad to be a part of it. The win would have been icing on the cake, but as soon as the champagne was popped, it was all forgotten.”
The man who seemed to be enjoying the moment the most, though, may have been Gio Gonzalez, who alternated celebrating with his teammates, family and the fans, ducking in and out of interviews. His Cy Young-worthy season has marked the difference between a team that may have simply been competitive and one that has brought the first division title to D.C. in 79 years. Coming from an Oakland team that never made the playoffs during his tenure, his first taste of such success left him living in the moment, riding the wave of emotion, not worrying yet about the challenges that lie ahead.
“This is unbelievable,” he exclaimed. “I don’t want to wake up, boys. I’m still dreaming.”
Here’s to hoping the dream doesn’t end until November.
Ryan Zimmerman has put together a tremendous 2012 campaign, posting a .327/.391/.590 line with 24 doubles, 21 home runs and 72 RBI in just 85 games since June 24. But his defense will always be his trademark, as he has delivered another Gold Glove-worthy season in the field. In honor of the third baseman’s 28th birthday, we’ve compiled our 10 favorite defensive moments from Zim this season. Enjoy them all again and vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the post.
4/15 vs. CIN: Stick the Landing
Zim snags this bunt attempt out of mid-air on a headlong dive.
5/11 @ CIN: Substance Over Style
Zim knocks down the grounder to third, then traps Brandon Phillips off third and applies the tag as the runner tries to leap back over him.
5/19 vs. BAL: Learn the Hard Way
Zim ranges to the hole, spins and throws home to gun down J.J. Hardy trying to score from third.
7/7 vs. COL: Jump Stop
Watch Zim go into foul ground, spin and throw for a force at second base, all in one motion.
7/21 vs. ATL: Sorry Blue
With runners at the corners, the Nats go 3-2-5 for the double play, with Zim taking out the home plate umpire after tagging Prado coming home.
7/23 @ NYM, Bare-ly Got Him
On a slow dribbler, Zim charges, barehands the ball, throws from an awkward angle and nabs Valdespin at first base.
8/3 vs. MIA: Fish Fry
Charging into foul territory, Zim throws a strike across his body to LaRoche at first.
8/17 vs. NYM: Too Fast for Torres
Zim ranges to his backhand and throws across his body, beating the speedy Torres to first.
8/22 vs. ATL: Chopped
Zimmerman charges Tyler Pastornicky’s chopper off the plate, transfers the ball in one motion and fires to first in time for the out.
9/19 vs. LAD: Tumble and Tag
This heads up play by Zimmerman ended the inning and should have saved the Nats a run.
Washington Nationals (93-61) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (78-76)
LHP John Lannan (3-0, 4.43) vs. RHP Kyle Kendrick (10-11, 3.89)
The Nationals send the second of three consecutive southpaws against the Phillies as John Lannan takes the mound at Citizens Bank Park opposite Kyle Kendrick. Washington has alternated wins and losses over its past eight games after dropping the series opener last night.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From manager Davey Johnson on Steve Lombardozzi getting a shot to start at second base tonight for the first time in a while after starting regularly earlier in the year:
“He was probably playing as good as anybody. His playing time has diminished, but he can play.”
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Lombardozzi 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Lannan LHP
KEEPING SCORE ON THE SEASON
The Nationals currently pace the Major Leagues in run differential. MLB’s top 3: Washington (+139), Texas (+118) and New York (AL) (+106). The Nationals have allowed the fewest runs (556) in MLB.
Washington is 13-10 in September and remains MLB’s only team to have played winning baseball every month this year: August (19-10), July (17-9), June (15-10), May (15-13), April (14-8). Including a 17-10 mark in Sept. ’11, Washington has posted six straight winning months.
Just two RBI shy of the century mark, Adam LaRoche looks to become just the third player to record a 100-RBI season in a Nationals uniform, joining Ryan Zimmerman (‘06, ‘09) and Adam Dunn (‘09-10)…the Nationals mark for RBI in a season was accomplished when Zimmerman drove home 110 as a rookie in 2006. Ryan Zimmerman needs just 6 to reach the 100-RBI plateau. After a slow start offensively, he has tallied 72 of his 94 RBI in his last 82 contests (beginning June 24).
Washington Nationals (93-60) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (77-76)
LHP Ross Detwiler (10-6, 3.10) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (15-6, 3.05)
The Nationals embark on their final road trip of the season following a 4-3 homestand against the Dodgers and Brewers. Southpaws Ross Detwiler and Cole Hamels tangle in the first of a three-game set in Philadelphia, as the Nats and Phillies prepare to play six of their final nine games against one another.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From manager Davey Johnson on resting his regulars down the stretch:
“We’re in a pennant race. You take nothing for granted in a pennant race. We’ve still got to win five games.”
That being said…
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
Just two RBI shy of the century mark, Adam LaRoche looks to become the third player to record a 100-RBI season in a Nationals uniform, joining Ryan Zimmerman (‘06, ‘09) and Adam Dunn (‘09-10). The Nationals mark for RBI in a season was accomplished when Zimmerman drove home 110 as a rookie in 2006. After a slow start offensively, Zimmerman has tallied 71 of his 93 RBI in his last 81 contests and needs just seven to reach the 100-RBI plateau.
ROSS THE BOSS
Coming off a win over the Dodgers on Thursday, Ross Detwiler looks to collect his 11th win of the season tonight against Philadelphia. This will be just his second start of the season against the Phillies, but note that Detwiler has tossed 14.1 straight scoreless innings in his last two starts against the NL East rivals. Moreover, Ross is 7-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 games/12 starts against NL East rivals in 2012.
One year ago today (entering play on Aug. 26, 2011), the (tied for) third-place Nationals trailed the first-place Phillies in the NL East standing by 21.5 games. This year, the two clubs have swapped spots in the standings as Washington holds a 16.0-game advantage over the third-place Phillies in the NL East. Washington is 12-9 against the Phillies since Davey Johnson became manager, including a 4-1 mark in one-run games. Before going 10-8 against the Phillies in ‘11, the Nationals/Expos had won only two season series from Philly the previous 14 years.
DATE IN D.C. BASEBALL
September 25, 1932: Walter Johnson earns his final win as manager of the Senators, a 2-1 decision over the Philadelphia A’s at Griffith Stadium. Johnson’s 1932 Nationals won 93 games, but finished third in the American League, 14.0 games behind the 107-win Yankees.
September 25, 2007: The Nationals edge the Mets, 10-9, at Shea Stadium, but the game’s ending is noteworthy. Up 10-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, Jon Rauch (save) staves off New York’s furious rally by retiring Carlos Delgado (K) and Paul Lo Duca (F9) with the tying run in scoring position.
“The Sun Monster got me.”
Those were Bryce Harper’s words after the natural conditions at Nationals Park colluded with the Milwaukee Brewers to defeat the Nationals 6-2 on Sunday afternoon. With the harsh, mid-afternoon sun bearing down on right and center fields in the middle innings of day games in D.C., any ball hit with a high enough trajectory to clear the top of the seating bowl in the eyes of the outfielders is susceptible to disappearing against the blinding backdrop.
Harper and Jayson Werth took turns battling the brutal glare on Sunday (Sun-day?), mostly unsuccessfully. Harper lost a ball in the mid-afternoon glare that dropped for a double, with the Brewers scoring the first two runs of the game in the fourth inning. He later managed to fight off the sun just enough to make a catch on which he fell to his knees. Just when the Nationals may have thought they had weathered the worst of it, another would-be routine fly ball was hit straight into the sun’s path at Werth, again dropping as the outfielder had no chance to pick up the white ball against the blinding glare. Milwaukee would take advantage again, posting a three-run inning.
But the Sun Monster giveth, and the Sun Monster taketh away. That’s the lesson the Brewers learned on Monday along the banks of the Anacostia.
With the go-ahead run already in, leading 2-1 with two outs (again in the fourth inning), Werth lofted a fly ball out to right-center field. Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez drifted over, but could not find the ball until it was nearly on top of him, diving futilely at the last moment as it clanked off his wrist and dropped to the turf. Two runs scored on the play, but it was after Harper followed with a walk that the Nationals took full advantage. Ryan Zimmerman belted an opposite-field, three-run shot, his 24th of the season, to cap a six-run frame on the way to a 12-2 blowout victory.
Werth acknowledged that the sun tends to be at its brightest this time of year, as well as in the earliest part of the season. We here at Curly W Live are certainly not astronomers, but we find it interesting that such a time would correspond roughly with the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (the latter of which fell on Saturday), perhaps accounting for the sun being on a particular trajectory that ends up blasting right and center fields at these particular times of year. Regardless of the reason, it will be something to keep an eye on, or shade yourself from, as the Nationals face the prospect of either mid- or late-afternoon start times during the postseason.
It was as perfect a day at the ballpark as any baseball fan could have asked for. On a gorgeous, sunny fall afternoon, the Nationals offense was peppering balls all around the yard while Gio Gonzalez methodically shut down a potent lineup on his way to an historic 20th victory in front of a packed house. And then, suddenly, time stood still as the entire fan base, both present and at home, held its collective breath, watching their ace tumble off the mound, lying motionless for a second, face first on the grass.
As it turned out, Gonzalez had just caught his cleat and stumbled, not actually hurt himself. He remained on the ground for the extra beat simply out of embarrassment, but obviously took the events in stride, as whatever he said behind his mitt as the infield, coaches and trainers gathered on the mound caused Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche to break out in laughter. He then doffed his cap to the crowd, bringing an uproarious reaction, then stepped back on the mound and threw a hard breaking ball, inducing a check-swing third strike from Martin Maldonado.
It was a moment befitting Gio’s personality, his wide smile and gregarious nature often at odds with his devastating arsenal of power pitches and fierce competitiveness. By the end of the day, he had the crowd chanting “GI-O,” over his post-game interview, as he gave his thoughts on becoming the first Major Leaguer to win 20 games this season.
His accomplishment was more impressive than just that, though. He became just the second left-hander in D.C. baseball history to win 20, and the first since Earl Whitehill in 1933. When he blew a 95 mile-per-hour, letter-high fastball past Jean Segura in the top of the fifth, he became the first District hurler to fan more than 200 batters in a season since the legendary Walter Johnson in 1916, 96 years ago. With top-five rankings in the National League in wins (20, first), ERA (2.84, tied-fourth), strikeouts (201, fourth), and opponents batting average (.204, first), he has positioned himself as a top contender for the National League Cy Young award.
Meanwhile, the offense showed up in a big way, as Zimmerman, LaRoche and Ian Desmond all went deep in the 10-4 rout. LaRoche’s blast in the sixth capped the scoring for the day and also matched his career high as his 32nd longball of the season. But his blast broke another record, largely overlooked in the moment. It gave the Nationals 179 home runs for the season, breaking the all-time Expos/Nationals franchise record set back in 2000, making this the most powerful team in club history with 11 games still to play.
With the victory, the Nationals also continued to add to their most impressive team statistic of this remarkable rise. Following the 2009 season in which they went just 59-103, the Nats won 69 games, an improvement of 10 wins in ’10. Last season, Washington won 80 games, giving them 11 more wins in 2011 than the year prior. And with their 92nd win of the 2012 season yesterday, they have added 12 wins and counting in 2012, a stunning march from the bottom of the pack to the top, where they currently sit with the best record in the Major Leagues.
They owe much of that success this season to both Gonzalez and LaRoche, so it was only fitting that the two of them delivered the record-setting strikeout, win and home run.
Milwaukee Brewers (78-72) vs. Washington Nationals (91-59)
RHP Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (19-8, 2.95)
The Nationals have split the first four contests of their current seven-game homestand, and are looking to bounce back after last night’s loss to the Brewers. Gio Gonzalez takes the hill for Washington as he attempts to become the first 20-game winner in Nationals history.
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. Gonzalez LHP
VIEW FROM THE TOP
The Nationals own MLB’s best winning percentage at .607 thanks in part to a 42-25 (.627) mark since the All-Star break. Washington currently owns 0.5- and 2.0-game leads over the Reds and Rangers, respectively, in the race for the best record in MLB. The Nationals have either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 154 of the season’s 164 days. Only the Rangers (161) have enjoyed more days atop of their division in ‘12.
Washington is 11-8 in September and remains MLB’s only team to have played winning baseball every month this year: August (19-10), July (17-9), June (15-10), May (15-13), April (14-8). Including a 17-10 mark in September of ’11, Washington has posted six straight winning months.
D.C.’S DYNAMIC DUO
Thanks to DL stints, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have started only 89 games together, but in those 89 games, Washington is 60-29 (.674) and is averaging 5.1 runs per contest (455 runs, 89 games). When Zimmerman and/or Morse are not in Davey Johnson’s starting lineup this season, the Nationals are 31-30 (.508) and averaging 3.5 runs per game.