Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Rays ’

Weekly Review (6/18)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Nationals enjoyed a rare mid-homestand off day, as they prepared for their final six games of Interleague Play for the 2012 season. With the break in the action, we took the time to fill you in on some of the top signees out of this year’s First-Year Player Draft. As Washington prepared to host the Rays in the opener of a three-game set on Tuesday, we reflected upon the striking similarities between this year’s Nationals club and Tampa Bay’s 2008 edition. Once the dust had settled from a 5-4 Nationals loss on Tuesday, the team rebounded with an athletic performance that led to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday. The Nationals then went out and won the battle of rookies named Moore, taking the series with a 5-2 triumph on Thursday.

From there, Washington traveled to the Beltway to the north for a rematch with the Orioles. The Nats couldn’t get much going against Jason Hammel on Friday night, falling 2-1 in the series opener. They rebounded behind Edwin Jackson, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, in a 3-1 victory on Saturday to set up a second consecutive series to be decided by a pivotal rubber game. After leading 1-0 much of the way, the Nationals were unable to get the ball to Tyler Clippard for the ninth, as the Orioles rallied in the eighth for their second 2-1 victory of the series.

Mon: OFF

Tue vs. TAM: L, 4-5

Wed vs. TAM: W, 3-2

Thu vs. TAM: W, 5-2

Fri @ BAL: L, 1-2

Sat @ BAL: W, 3-1

Sun @ BAL: L, 1-2

Weekly Record: 3-3

What to Watch for: 6/25

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Washington Nationals (41-29) vs. Colorado Rockies (27-44)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-1, 2.46) vs. LHP Jeff Francis (0-1, 8.56)

The Nationals travel to Colorado to face the Rockies for the first time this season beginning Monday night. The series marks Washington’s return to National League play after five consecutive Interleague Series. Stephen Strasburg will have an opportunity to collect his 10th win, and retake the Major League lead in strikeouts.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

STRASBURG LOOKS TO CONTINUE STREAK

Tonight at Coors Field, Stephen Strasburg will try to become the first National (2005-present) to earn a win in seven consecutive starts. Strasburg has never faced the Colorado Rockies, but is 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA in five career starts against the NL West. In his last career start, his first against the Tampa Bay Rays, he earned the win in the Nationals hard-fought, 3-2 victory on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. He fanned 10 in seven strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks.

BIG EAST

The Nationals finished a string of 32 consecutive contests against clubs from the AL East (18 total, 10-8) and NL East (14 total, 8-6) on Sunday. On May 18, Washington began the daunting 32-game stretch in second place, 0.5-game behind ATL in the NL East standings. The Nationals enter tonight’s lid-lifter in Denver atop the NL East with a 3.5-game lead over the second-place New York Mets.

SMOOTH ROAD

The Nationals are a 31-16 on the road dating to last September 12th. The .660 winning percentage is MLB’s best road mark in that span, just ahead of Texas (30-17, .638) and Baltimore (25-19, .568).

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More Moore-Moore

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Thursday night’s series finale between the Nationals and Rays featured one of baseball’s fun little idiosyncrasies, as a pair of rookies sharing the same last night faced off against one another. And while Tampa Bay starting pitcher Matt Moore came in with far more hype and national notoriety, it was the work put in by Washington first baseman Tyler Moore at the plate that swung the momentum of the game.

Tyler Moore out-shined his rookie namesake on Thursday night.

Matt Moore retired the Nationals offense on just eight pitches in the first inning. Meanwhile, his counterpart Gio Gonzalez struggled through his first two frames, totaling 50 pitches. When Moore came back to the mound in the second, he got the first two batters, but the other Moore – Tyler – was patient, took his time, and drew a walk, becoming the Nats first basreunner. Washington would go on to load the bases, and even though they did not score in the inning, the tempo had shifted.

Gonzalez did his part in the third, retiring the side on just five pitches to get Washington quickly back in the dugout, Then, on a hot, muggy night in the District, the Nationals really got after Moore, sending seven men to the plate – including another walk by Tyler Moore – and scoring twice to take the lead. By the time the young lefty was through three innings, his pitch count suddenly stood at 69, and the complexion of the game had shifted.

The Rays had one more chance to steal the game and the series in Washington, tying the contest against Gonzalez with a run in the top of the sixth. With Moore out of the game, thanks to a high pitch count, Joel Peralta was summoned from the ‘pen to face the leadoff man in the sixth – Tyler Moore. And although Moore did not reach base in his final at-bat of the evening, he did grind out an 11-pitch at-bat before finally lining out sharply to right field. His teammates would follow with a two-run rally off Peralta that would prove to be the difference.

While the less-heralded Moore confided after the game that there was nothing specific about his approach – or, for that matter, any notable change in the offense’s approach in general following that lightning-fast first inning – he knew his patience had paid off. In three plate appearances, the rookie had forced Tampa Bay hurlers to throw 22 pitches. Very quietly, as is his style, Moore out-shined his rookie namesake, and the Nationals did what they have done best all season: win another series.

The Nats head to Baltimore Friday night to face the Orioles, one of only five teams to take a series from Washington (15-5-3) in 2012, for the final three games of Interleague Play.

What to Watch for: 6/21

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Tampa Bay Rays (38-30) vs. Washington Nationals (39-27)

LHP Matt Moore (4-5, 4.16) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-3, 2.52)

The Nationals and Rays meet for the rubber game in this series after Washington held on for a hard-fought, 3-2 victory on Wednesday night to snap a four-game losing streak. This is the final game of the homestand for Washington before beginning a 10-game road trip in Baltimore Friday night.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

Espinosa 2B

Harper CF

Zimmerman 3B

Morse RF

Desmond SS

Moore 1B

Nady LF

Flores C

Gonzalez LHP

RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

Washington, having split two games against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, plays its third rubber game of 2012 tonight. The Nationals won their two previous rubber games, 5/3 vs. Arizona (2-1) and 4/11 at New York (NL) (4-0). In 2011, the Nationals finished 9-14 overall in rubber games.

DC’s 1-2 PUNCH

The Nationals are 22-5 (.815) this season in games started by Stephen Strasburg (winner on Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay) and Gio Gonzalez, who starts tonight in the series finale. Gio (11.1 K/9.0 IP) and Rays’ starter Matt Moore (9.4/9.0 IP) are two of eight qualified lefties fanning 1.0+ batter per inning.

2ND-PLACE HOLD-ER

With a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, Sean Burnett pocketed his 52nd hold as a member of the Nationals and moved past Jon Rauch (51) and into sole possession of second place on the club’s all-time list. Only Tyler Clippard (74) has more career franchise holds than Burnett.

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What to Watch for: 6/19

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Tampa Bay Rays (37-29) vs. Washington Nationals (38-26)

LHP David Price (8-4, 3.01) vs. RHP Chien-Ming Wang (2-2, 4.67)

The Nationals look to get back on track as they welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to start another home series. After last weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Nats are hoping to get back on the winning track and expand upon their four-game lead in the National League East.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Wang RHP

NATIONALS LOOK TO GET BACK ON TRACK

The Nationals look to bounce back after being swept at home for the first time in 2012. Washington is 7-5 against the American League this season and can record a winning Interleague record for the second consecutive season by winning at least three of the final six games this week.

DAVEY MAKES IT 30

With tonight’s tilt against the visiting Rays, manager Davey Johnson will have managed against each of MLB’s 30 franchises. In addition, Johnson managed Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist during the 2005 World Cup played in The Netherlands.

ZIMMERMAN NEARING 1,000

With 993 in the bag, Ryan Zimmerman is just seven hits shy of recording his 1,000th career hit. While Zim would be the seventh player to record a 1,000th career hit as a National, he’d be the first to do so exclusively as a National.

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Rays of Hope

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This is a story about a young, exciting team, built from the ground up through great drafts. It is a story about a dominating pitching staff helping lead the way through one of baseball’s toughest divisions. It is a tale of a team that endured injuries to its top outfielder, its franchise third baseman and its closer, yet found a way to keep winning games. It is about a franchise that has never enjoyed a season above .500, but suddenly found itself at 38-26 through its first 64 games, with a reason to believe it could look forward to exciting September – and possibly October – baseball.

This is a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Strasburg has led the game’s best pitching staff.

If the themes sound familiar, well, they should. The parallels between this year’s Nationals team and that Rays squad that shocked the baseball world by winning 97 games and the American League East crown, eventually going all the way to the World Series, are astounding.

To start, there are number one overall picks – David Price and Stephen Strasburg – lighting up radar guns. While Price did not make his debut until late in the season, the staff was led by James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, all 26 or younger. Similarly, the Nationals have their rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson behind Strasburg, with Jackson being the elder statesman at 28. Oh, by the way, where do you suppose Jackson was four years ago, when he was just 24? Sharing the Rays team lead in wins with Shields, as the fourth member of that 2008 rotation.

Tampa Bay also turned in by far the best year the franchise had ever seen without a single player, starter or reserve, batting over .300, finishing 13th out of 14 in the American League in hitting. But great pitching can help make up for a lot. Aside from the aforementioned starters, they also had great bullpen pitching, led by Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54 in 51 appearances), Chad Bradford (1-0, 1.42 in 21 appearances) and J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22 in 64 appearances). As we discussed when the homestand began, the trio of Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen have combined for a 1.65 ERA over their first 87.2 innings pitched this season, holding down the fort until closer Drew Storen returns.

Adam LaRoche has stood alone as the Nationals top power threat.

The Rays survived the gauntlet of the AL East with just one 30-home run hitter, first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit 31. The Nationals top power threat so far has been first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is quietly having a terrific comeback season after spending most of last year on the Disabled List. LaRoche launched his 12th home run of the season Sunday, putting him right on pace for 30 this season.

Then there are the scintillating rookies – Evan Longoria and Bryce Harper – that have energized the fan base, and given each franchise a face recognized around the baseball world. Buoyed by that national support, the Rays had three players selected to the All-Star Game that July, the most the franchise had ever sent to the Mid-summer Classic. The third and final to go (joining Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro) was Longoria, who won the MLB Final Vote campaign. With Strasburg and Gonzalez seeming like strong candidates from the rotation, might Final Vote history repeat itself, giving Washington three All-Stars in 2012?

If the Nationals needed any consolation after one of the toughest weekends of the season, they need only look into the opposing dugout, at a franchise that has become the model after which many wish they could mold themselves. The Rays have averaged 92 wins each of the last four years, led by that core of young players and a strong pitching staff. If they can do it, why can’t the Nationals?

So, is this a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, or is it a story about the 2012 Washington Nationals?

Yes.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Road Tripping

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Hello Nationals fans. I am blogging today from north of the border, where your Nationals are about to wrap up the most successful road trip since arriving in D.C.

The trip began with a three-game sweep of the Red Sox. When Tyler Clippard posted his third save in as many games on Sunday, Washington became the first NL club to sweep a series at venerable Fenway Park since the Braves did so way back in 2002.

While the memories of the Beantown sweep will remain for a long time, my immediate thoughts reside with Jesus Flores, who has taken undue punishment behind the plate. Whether it be foul tips or the inevitable pitch cross-up, Flo’s arms, legs and hands sport bruises representing every color of the rainbow. Yet, he keeps on blocking balls and putting himself in harm’s way. Luckily, there are no mental dings for Flores, however, as his game-calling skills have helped unite a hot pitching staff.

Fenway was not immune to the ever-increasing number of Curly “W” hats, shirts and logos that we have seen on the road. I can also tell you that the players have noticed. I have never seen more Nationals gear for a road series. Yet another bit of evidence that our fans are realizing that this is shaping up as a special summer.

And what about our favorite 19 year-old, Bryce Harper? His play is nothing short of stellar. And, from my seat, it is contagious for teammates and fans alike. While his talents are obvious to all, his energy and undying passion for the game is what sets him apart. Oh, … and his prodigious power! That homer of his to center field on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre will not soon be forgotten.

I am looking forward to this weekend’s upcoming Yankees series at Nationals Park. The Bronx Bombers are playing very well the last three weeks and find themselves currently atop the AL East standings (they’ve also been very helpful in winning five straight from the Mets and Braves). It appears we will miss C.C. Sabathia’s turn in their rotation, but Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova will undoubtedly provide a stiff weekend test.

I have to think tickets for this weekend are the hottest in D.C. this year.

I also urge all fans to plan your departures and arrivals to Nationals Park 45 minutes earlier than normal if you want to see all the action from first to last pitch. Sellout crowds, rush hour traffic (Friday), road construction and previously-scheduled Metro track maintenance will all be part of weekend equation.

While it is easy to focus on the big Yankees weekend, let’s remember that Tampa Bay is set to invade Nationals Park next week. The Rays’ ability to compete and often beat the Yanks and Red Sox in that division is equal parts commendable and inspirational.

Lastly, I am hopeful that our increased fan presence on the road can extend to our series at Camden Yards on the weekend of June 22-24. Let’s have some fun with this pennant race thing!

I hope to see you all at Nationals Park this next week … Don’t forget to Vote Nats!

You Complete Me: Another Look at Edwin Jackson’s Gem

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When Drew Stubbs singled home Miguel Cairo in the top of the second inning of Saturday’s Reds-Nats affair in Washington, it looked like this might finally be the day the offenses broke out and delivered a high-scoring game. Following consecutive extra-inning games, in which the two teams combined for just eight runs in 23 innings, the early sign of life seemed to indicate a shift, the 74-degree first pitch temperature and out-blowing breeze priming the afternoon for an offensive explosion.

Who knew in that moment, with the Reds still threatening to add on in the inning, that Cincinnati would not log another hit the rest of the afternoon against Nationals starter Edwin Jackson. The hard-throwing righty retired 22 of the final 23 batters he faced, polishing off a two-hit shutout by inducing a weak pop to shallow center field from Joey Votto, one of the most feared power hitters in the game.

In many ways, Edwin Jackson's performance Saturday was more impressive than his no-hitter.

Jackson is perhaps best known around the baseball world for his bizarre, 149-pitch no-hitter, which he threw with Arizona against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 25, 2010. He walked eight batters in that contest while striking out just six, but gutted out a marathon performance to earn his place in the baseball history books. In many ways, though, his performance on Saturday in front of 35,489 frenzied fans surpassed his no-no from 16 months prior.

First, there was that lone baserunner after the second inning, a four-pitch walk to Chris Heisey to open the eighth inning. As dominant as Jackson had been, there suddenly appeared to be a crack in the armor, the crowd that had given him multiple standing ovations quieted to a nervous murmur. Tyler Clippard scrambled to get warm in the bullpen as pitching coach Steve McCatty paced out to the mound for a chat. What did the coach have to say?

“It’s your game,” said Jackson, recounting McCatty’s pep talk after the game. “Just get these people out. Throw every pitch with conviction.”

Manager Davey Johnson, the lifelong baseball man, actually found himself nervous in the moment.

“When I’m seeing a gem and we need it, lights out, it makes me nervous,” Johnson said. “I usually don’t get nervous. But when you see something like that – he had a low pitch count, just a dominating game. From a manager’s standpoint, you don’t want anything to go wrong. You kind of protect against all contingencies.”

Jackson got the support he needed from Jesus Flores and the rest of the offense.

After all, even though Jackson was the only National who pitched on Saturday, this game meant something to everyone on the staff. Following those back-to-back extra-inning games, both bullpens were spent, leaving few options for the skippers. Perhaps the biggest number of the night was 92: the total number of pitches it took Jackson to finish what he started, a full 57 pitches fewer than his no-hitter.

Meanwhile, the offense did its part, responding when Jackson needed it to by tying the game in the bottom of the second. Jayson Werth – fresh off his game-winning hit in the fifth hour of the game the night prior – legged out the back end of a double play and eventually scored the game-tying run with two outs to level the score at one apiece. An inning later, Adam LaRoche came through again, following a walk to Danny Espinosa and a single from Ryan Zimmerman, with a two-run double into the right-center field gap. The Nationals would only add one more tally the rest of the way, but it was more than enough for Jackson.

After all, Jackson has had plenty of experience finishing off a masterpiece, going back again to his no-hitter in 2010. For all the grief he has received for that non-conventional feat, Jackson nevertheless got the outs he needed – all 27 of them – while pitching with just one run of cushion the entire game. And who, do you suppose, plated the lone run in that game? Why, Adam LaRoche, of course. His solo shot in the second inning was the lone score in a 1-0 game. Both players have looked very much at home, united once more in Washington in the season’s opening stretch.

Spring Training – Day 1

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Greetings from the unassuming center of the Nationals baseball universe. I say unassuming, as the town that houses Washington’s spring complex is something of a reflection of the team itself heading into the 2012 campaign. For those who have experienced other Spring Training venues before but have never been to Space Coast Stadium, it is a quiet, quaint ballpark on a largely undeveloped strip of land just outside of the sleepy town of Viera.

Baseball has officially begun in 2012.

Smack in the middle of Florida’s east coast, about 10 minutes from the Atlantic, the town of just over 17,000 is unassuming, to say the least. In stark contrast to the history-steeped monuments and cathedrals of Washington, everything is new here. The first developments did not break ground until the ‘90s, and the major commercial development did not arrive until the new millennium. For those used to a standard of city life that may seem boring, but it also means there is plenty of room to grow.

As I checked into the hotel last night, I asked about dinner options in the area. The desk clerks began excitedly rattling off all the new options in town. From Japanese food to Chicago-style pizza, it was true – there was a little bit of everything here. And with all these new options there was an excitement, a hope for what their town was becoming.

Sound familiar? It ought to. The excitement is tangible around camp, as this team comes together for the first time since last year’s inspired September run and an offseason full of exciting new additions. The players have not been shy to admit it, either. Edwin Jackson likened the youth and swagger of this club to what he saw during his time with Tampa Bay in 2008. He won a career-high 14 games that year as part of a young, dynamic pitching staff that led an up-and-coming team all the way to the World Series. For those that have already forgotten – understandable, due to the Rays’ recent success – the franchise had never enjoyed a winning season prior to that year.

Wilson Ramos signs for fans between rounds.

Of course, nobody is running to make proclamations about pennants and World Series appearances. Nothing has been won yet. This is still a team with humble beginning, just now coming into its own. But just like the town that surrounds camp, it is growing up in front of our eyes, and there is plenty to be excited about.

We’ll be chatting more with other members of the team this week as they filter into camp. Many have reported ahead of schedule, though, and are already patrolling the cages, bullpens and practice fields around Space Coast Stadium.

Throughout the spring, we’ll have regular posts from both John Dever, Senior Director of Baseball Media Relations, as well as Principal Owner frequent Curly W Live contributor Mark Lerner.

For now, we’ll leave you with this final thought. Viera means “faith” in Slovak, the native language of the Duda family that first developed the area. It’s hard to think of a more fitting word for this year’s Nationals squad, as preparation begins in earnest this week for a new season.

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