Results tagged ‘ San Francisco Giants ’

Getting to Know Matt Williams

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by Noah Frank

When the Nationals arrived in Phoenix at the end of September for their final series of the 2013 season, already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the focus among the press corps had shifted. It was Davey Johnson’s final series as Nationals Manager, and both he and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo recapped the season while looking ahead to 2014.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams' introductory press conference.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams’ introductory press conference.

At the same time, in the other dugout, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson fielded questions about his third base coach, Matt Williams, who was one of the men rumored as a possible candidate for the Nationals’ impending vacancy.

“I think he’d be great,” Gibson said. “He was obviously a good player. We’ve worked closely together since I’ve been a manager. He’s got a good mind for it.”

Gibson has managed the Arizona Diamondbacks the past three-and-a-half seasons, leading them to the 2011 NL West title. Williams was at Gibson’s side throughout his tenure in the desert, moving from first base coach to third base coach upon Gibson’s ascension to the managerial role.

“We’re similar,” Gibson continued. “He’s a fierce competitor. He understands the game. We break it down. He’s a tireless worker and believes in heavy preparation. Never gives in.”

Gibson also noted Williams’ success as a manager in the Arizona Fall League, a training ground for managers as well as players. Williams led the Salt River Rafters to a 17-13 mark in 2012, strong enough for the East Division title. Those Nationals fans that pay attention to the AFL may remember that Washington prospects – including Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole – played on that Salt River squad. That managing experience and first-hand knowledge of players within the organization, along with his shared history with Rizzo in Arizona, no doubt helped Williams’ candidacy.

*          *          * 

There is another side to Williams, though, one which I was able to witness in person as he spoke at a Minor League hot stove dinner hosted by the Fresno Grizzlies (the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) in February of 2011. Williams was set to appear as the guest of honor, alongside fellow Giants legend Will Clark, following San Francisco’s first-ever World Series title. But Clark was held up by bad weather, and Williams instead shared the stage that night with Sergio Romo – then a young reliever who’d not yet ascended to the Giants’ closer role.

The two entertained the crowd throughout the evening, leading into the live auction, benefiting the Fresno Grizzlies Community Fund.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

That auction culminated with a feverish bidding war over the grand prize: a weekend trip to see the Giants in Spring Training. When the auctioneer had reached a tipping point, and one bidder could go no further, Williams unexpectedly stood up and politely interrupted him, asking if he could speak for a moment. He asked the gentleman who had been outbid if he would still be willing to pay for the package at the price he had last offered. When assured that he was, Williams then turned to the dinner organizers to see if two such grand prizes could be procured. When it was determined that they could, Williams turned back to the two bidders to see if each would be agreeable purchasing their respective packages.

The maneuver paid off. Thanks to his ability to think on his feet, Williams helped secure double the donation for the Community Fund.

I relate this story not to suggest anything about Williams’ ability to think on his feet as the next manager of the Nationals. Rather, it underscores his presence of mind to help a good cause, revealing the human side of a man taking on a role where that can all too often be lost.

*          *          *

On the final day of this past Nationals season, after saying my goodbyes and offering well-wishes in the clubhouse following the game, I shuffled out to the elevators to the players’ parking lot at Chase Field. As I stepped through the metal doors, thoughts of another season of baseball the last thing on my mind, one other familiar person stood in front of me, ready to leave the park.

And so, we silently rode the elevator together – Williams and I – before departing on our own paths to Washington.

Highlights: 8.15.13

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8.15.13 – Giants 4, Nationals 3

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren continued his run of solid starts since his return from the disabled list, allowing a single run on three hits over six innings.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jayson Werth collected two more hits and is now batting .331 for the season.

It Was Over When: Down to their last strike, the Giants flipped the script with a three-run home run to snap Washington’s five-game winning streak.

What to Watch for: 8.15.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-67) vs. Washington Nationals (59-60)

 RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.71) vs. RHP Dan Haren (7-11, 4.99)

The Nationals finish up their series against the Giants and their nine-game homestand this afternoon, as they aim to bring their record to an even .500. Jordan Zimmermann won his career-high 14th game of the season thanks to Denard Span, who sealed the victory with a game-saving catch. With Dan Haren on the mound, the Nats look to extend their five game win streak and go for their second straight series sweep.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Anthony Rendon 2B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Dan Haren RHP

SWEEP POSSIBILTIES

The Nationals will attempt to complete their third-ever sweep of the Giants in this afternoon’s series finale. Washington swept a home series from San Francisco in both 2012 (3-0) and 2006 (3-0). The Nationals have also won seven straight home games over the Giants. Washington has likewise won seven consecutive home games over the Marlins and Cardinals, but never reached the threshold of eight straight victories in D.C. over a single opponent.

SEVENTEEN AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN

The Nationals are the only team in the National League with four players with 17 or more home runs. Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, and Jayson Werth all share the team lead with 17 each. Only two other Major League teams – Toronto and Los Angeles (AL) – have as many as four players with 17 or more home runs.

SUMMER’S SCORCHER

Jayson Werth leads Major League Baseball in batting average dating to the beginning of both July and August. Since July 1st, Werth has hit .413. Detroit’s Victor Martinez has the next best average hitting .381 in that span. Since August first Werth is hitting .528 with Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen in a distant second at .474.

Spanning The Ages

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Denard Span has maintained since his arrival in the Nation’s Capital that he takes more pride in his defense than his offense. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, taking extra bases away from Joey Votto and Zack Cozart of the Reds, Carlos Ruiz and Darin Ruf of the Phillies, Jason Kubel of the Diamondbacks, and others.

Perhaps it’s because of all those other plays that we’ve seen over the course of his first season in a Nationals uniform, but when the ball left Hunter Pence’s bat with two on and two out in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, there was a sense of confidence that Span would find a way to track it down. Track it down he did, notching the catch of the year for Washington and securing the fifth straight win for the Nationals.

Like a walk-off home run, the game-saving grab stands out above other tremendous defensive plays more because of its situational importance than the shear athleticism involved. Because of the situation and the location of Span’s catch, it was most obviously evocative of Roger Bernadina’s game-saver in Houston last season. But where does Span’s snag rank among the top game-saving catches in franchise history? We’re letting you decide from among our favorites. Watch them below, then vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.

Span Saves The Day: 8.14.13

The Shark’s Disappearing Act: 8.8.12

Willie Harris Leaves Them Loaded: 4.10.10

Highlights: 8.14.13

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8.14.13 – Nationals 6, Giants 5

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond‘s 17th home run of the season – the longest of the year at Nationals Park (448 feet) – put him into a four-way tie for the team lead.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jordan Zimmermann notched his National League-leading 14th win, extending his career high.

It Was Over When: Denard Span tracked down Hunter Pence’s deep liner in the left-center field gap to save the day, stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base.

What to Watch for: 8.14.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-66) vs. Washington Nationals (58-60)

RHP Tim Lincecum (6-11, 4.18) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (13-6, 3.10)

Rafael Soriano notched his 30th save of the season Tuesday night, tossing a 1-2-3 ninth to seal Washington’s 4-2 win over the Giants. In so doing, he became the sixth player in Major League Baseball history with at least 30 saves for at least three different teams and the Nationals became the sixth different franchise with three different 30-save closers in a least three consecutive years:

30+ saves on 3+ teams:
Randy Myers (Reds, Padres, Cubs, Orioles)
Lee Smith (Cubs, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels)
Jose Mesa (Indians, Mariners, Phillies, Pirates)
Billy Wagner (Astros, Phillies, Mets, Braves)
Doug Jones (Indians, Astros, Brewers)
Rafael Soriano (Rays, Yankees, Nationals)

3+ different closers with 30+ saves in 3+ consecutive years:
Florida Marlins (2004-2007): Benitez, Jones, Borowski, Gregg
Cincinnati Reds (1989-1991): Franco, Myers, Dibble
Atlanta Braves (1997-1999): Wohlers, Ligtenberg, Rocker
Oakland Athletics (2001-2003): Isringhausen, Koch, Foulke
Toronto Blue Jays (2005-2007): Batista, Ryan, Accardo
Washington Nationals (2011-2013): Storen, Clippard, Soriano

In addition, the Nationals have seven different saves leaders in the past seven years:

2007 Chad Cordero (37)
2008 Jon Rauch (17)
2009 Mike MacDougal (20)
2010 Matt Capps (26)
2011 Drew Storen (43)
2012 Tyler Clippard (32)
2013 Rafael Soriano (30)

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Anthony Rendon 2B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

START ME UP

Tonight’s matchup of starters is a rematch of the last time Tim Lincecum pitched in Washington, on July 3, 2012 against Jordan Zimmermann. In that game, the Nationals tagged the former Cy Young Award winner for eight runs, seven earned, in just 3.1 innings of work. Meanwhile, Zimmermann allowed just two runs (one earned) in six solid frames as Washington went on to defeat San Francisco, 9-3.

A WERTHY CONTENDER

Jayson Werth’s .410 batting average since July 1 is easily the best in all of baseball, well ahead of his next closest competitor – Detroit’s Victor Martinez – who clocks in at .384 over the same span. Werth’s .327 season average would rank third in the National League if he had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title (Chris Johnson .337, Yadier Molina .330).

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Ian Desmond’s fourth-inning double on Tuesday was his 50th extra-base hit (32 doubles, two triples, 16 homers) of 2013. No other MLB shortstop has more than 40 extra-base hits this season. With 32 in the bag, Desmond’s next double will match his career high (33 in 2012).

Highlights: 8.13.13

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8.13.13 – Nationals 4, Giants 2

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche‘s two-run shot in the sixth broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Nationals to their fourth straight victory.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tanner Roark earned his second win in four days, allowing one unearned run over two innings of relief.

It Was Over When: Kurt Suzuki‘s eighth-inning sacrifice fly scored Jayson Werth with an insurance run to provide the final margin.

What to Watch for: 8.13.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-65) vs. Washington Nationals (57-60)

LHP Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.75) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 3.52)

The Nationals host the defending World Champions for the opening tilt of a three-game set. Washington swept San Francisco at home last season, going 5-1 overall in the season series. In honor of International Left-hander’s Day, tonight’s pitching matchup includes Major League Baseball’s two winningest southpaws over the last two seasons: Gio Gonzalez (28 wins in ‘12-13) and Madison Bumgarner (27).

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Scott Hairston LF

9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

99 PITCHES, NO PROBLEM

Stephen Strasburg tossed the first shutout of his career in Washington’s 6-0 home win on Sunday vs. Philadelphia, becoming the first Nationals pitcher to post a shutout at the Phillies expense. Strasburg (99 pitches) became just the fourth National to toss a shutout in less than 100 pitches (also: Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, Pedro Astacio).

START ME UP

Steve McCatty’s starting staff is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA (16 ER/57.1 IP) in nine August contests to date. In those nine games, the starting staff has yielded just one homer while posting a stingy .218 batting average against and an admirable strikeout to walk rate of 3.73.

THE POWER OF 3 (AND 5)

When scoring three or more runs this year, the Nationals are 51-14 (.785). Additionally, when the Nationals tally five or more runs, they are a robust 41-4. Conversely, when plating two or fewer runs, Washington is just 6-46 (.115).

Happy Flight Home

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Winning on the road in extra innings is one of the hardest things to do in baseball. In fact, one could argue that it’s the toughest overtime scenario in any major sport. Even reaching that point means you’ve already survived a sudden death situation in the bottom of the ninth, and no matter what kind of rally you put together, your opponent will always have the chance to counter. It is perhaps the biggest factor in baseball’s home field advantage, one that extends far beyond the simple comforts of playing in familiar surroundings, in front of the hometown crowd.

But that’s exactly what the Nationals did on Wednesday, scratching out a 10th-inning run to wrestle a 2-1 victory away from the Giants in front of a raucous San Francisco crowd. Bryce Harper made a pair of crucial catches, Adam LaRoche reminded everyone that he’s still a wizard at first base, and Ian Desmond stepped in following an intentional walk to Ryan Zimmerman to deliver the game-winning hit.

“It’s gonna be a good flight back home,” said Gio Gonzalez, who silenced the Giants offense into the eighth inning, but came away with a no decision. “Today was a great example of how they battled, and we fought all the way to the end.”

Harper led a team effort in a gutty win Wednesday.

Harper led a team effort in a gutty win Wednesday.

Athletes will often say that after things go poorly for them, the first thing they want to do is get back to the same situation in which failed in order to have another chance to succeed. For Harper, that meant a chance to track down Hunter Pence’s ball on the warning track in the sixth inning Wednesday, in an eerily similar spot to the ball he couldn’t corral in the ninth inning Tuesday night, leading to the game-tying run. For Rafael Soriano, it meant another one-run lead entrusted to his right arm less than 24 hours after a blown save in the same spot, with a chance to once again lock down a huge road victory.

“People on the outside don’t really understand what kind of a mental hurdle that is,” said Desmond in regards to Harper’s play in particular. “Whether you run into a wall, or you get caught stealing, whatever it may be, to bounce back from it is a huge mental hurdle. That took some big guts today, a lot of guts from everybody.”

There was, perhaps, some fitting irony that it came down to Marco Scutaro – owner of the longest hitting streak in the Majors this year at 19 games – for the final out. Hitless to that point on Wednesday, Scutaro got a decent piece of Soriano’s 2-2 offering, but the ball came to rest in the leather of Roger Bernadina’s glove, a step onto the left field warning track at AT&T Park, snapping Scutaro’s streak as well as Washington’s four-game slide. For a team that has yet to notch a walk-off win following 12 of them last season, it was as close as the Nationals had come all year to that kind of dramatic, momentum-shifting victory.

“It makes the trip home easier,” said manager Davey Johnson of Wednesday’s result. “This was a good road trip to get through, and I’m glad to be coming home with a win, a tough one.”

And so, a 10-game trip full of trials and tribulations ended on a high note. While the Nationals would have liked to win more than four of those contests, the fourth and final victory may prove to be the most important win of the season so far.

Highlights: 5.22.13

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5.22.13 – Nationals 2, Giants 1 (10 innings)

Stat of the Game: Bryce Harper scored both Washington runs, including the game-winner in the 10th inning. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Gio Gonzalez held the Giants in check all afternoon, departing in the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

It Was Over When: Ian Desmond singled home Harper to break a 1-1 tie in the 10th and lead the Nationals to victory.

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