Results tagged ‘ Cardinals ’

Taking stock of the Nats’ dwindling playoff hopes

By Andrew Simon

The Nationals saw a victory slip through their fingers in agonizing fashion on Thursday against the Giants, who snapped their five-game winning streak and put a damper on their flight to Atlanta for Friday’s series opener against the Braves.

On one hand, the Nats had righted themselves after a sweep by the Braves and closed their homestand on a 5-1 run. Catcher Kurt Suzuki felt the momentum was still there.

“We won two series in a row, going to Atlanta feeling good about ourselves,” he said. “Hey, you never know.”

With baseball, one never does know. Strange things happen. But at this point in the season, with the Nats clinging for dear life to the fringes of the playoff chase, every game takes on monumental importance. Washington can’t afford to have many more slip away.

Just how dire is the situation?

At 59-61, the Nats trail the Reds by 9 1/2 games and the D-backs by 3 1/2 for the second NL Wild Card spot (the Cardinals hold the first Wild Card and are only a half-game in front of Cincinnati). Odds calculated by Baseball Prospectus give the Nats a 1.7 percent chance to make the postseason, while the website coolstandings.com figures about the same, at 1.9 percent.

Of course, teams have come back from long odds before. Take the breathtaking 2011 season, which came down to the final day. The Rays’ playoff odds dipped as low as 0.5 percent on September 3, while the Cardinals’ chances fell to 1.1 percent on Aug. 27. Both teams stormed back to claim Wild Card berths, and St. Louis won the World Series. Even if it’s faint, there is hope.

If the Nats were to stage their own miraculous comeback, what would it look like? They have 42 games remaining, one more than the Reds. Putting aside the D-backs and assuming the Reds remain the team to catch for the second Wild Card, here are a handful of scenarios that would result in a tie:

Reds go 25-16 (.610)… Nats go 35-7 (.833)

Reds go 21-20 (.512) … Nats go 31-11 (.738)

Reds go 20-21 (.487) … Nats go 30-12 (.714)

Reds go 16-25 (.390)… Nats go 26-16 (.619)

There are several other factors to keep in mind as Washington tries to make this a reality.

  • The Nats still haven’t won more than five straight all season and they have only three four-game winning streaks. Their best 10-game stretch is 7-3, and they’ve done that only a few times.
  • They have limited chances to gain ground directly. Their season series with Cincinnati is finished. They do close their schedule with three against St. Louis and three against Arizona, games that could wind up being do or die.
  • They just finished a nine-game homestand, part of a stretch in which they played 20 of 25 at Nationals Park. That leaves them with 26 road games and only 16 home contests remaining, not good news for a club with a 23-32 road record.
  • They will need to take advantage of their 23 remaining games against the Mets, Phillies and Marlins, the three teams behind them in the division. The Nats are 20-14 so far in those season series. They also get four against the 52-68 Cubs. On the other hand, they’ll need to figure out a way to beat the Braves over six more meetings after starting 3-10 against them.
  • The Reds play 23 of their final 41 at home, where they are 37-21. About half of their remaining schedule is against teams with winning records, including four against the D-backs and seven against the Cardinals. The D-backs play 24 of 43 on the road, where they are 26-31, but have only 14 left against winning teams.

NLDS Game 1 lineups

Adam Berry here at Busch Stadium, pinch-hitting for Bill Ladson. For more news and notes and in-game updates, check out Nationals.com and follow me on Twitter @adamdberry.

Just a reminder this game begins at 3:07 p.m. ET and will be televised on TBS. Head over to Nationals.com for a bunch of stories and columns from the MLB.com staff here in St. Louis.

No surprises on either side, but here’s who will be taking the field for the Nationals’ first playoff game on this chilly St. Louis afternoon…

Nationals
Werth RF
Harper CF
Zimmerman 3B
LaRoche 1B
Morse LF
Desmond SS
Espinosa 2B
Suzuki C
Gio Gonzalez LHP

Cardinals
Jay CF
Beltran RF
Holliday LF
Craig 1B
Molina C
Freese 3B
Descalso 2B
Kozma SS
Wainwright RHP

Suzuki benefiting from hitting work with Eckstein

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — For his first two weeks in a Nationals uniform, Kurt Suzuki’s role with his new team was one-dimensional. Manage the Nats’ young and talented pitching staff, and any offense that came with it would be considered a nice bonus.

After being traded to the Nats on Aug. 3, Suzuki batted just .180 (9-for-50) in his first 13 games. His work with the pitchers was fine, but eventually the Nats were going to want more offensive production from the bottom of their order.

“My job is to get the pitchers through the game and give us a chance to win,” Suzuki said. “Whatever I do offensively, I’m happy with, but when you contribute to both sides of the ball on the field, it definitely makes for a good game.”

Now, though, Suzuki has found his stroke at the plate and carries a six-game hitting streak into Monday’s series-opener with the Cubs. The 28-year-old backstop played a critical role in Sunday’s 4-3 series-clinching win over the Cardinals, going 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the fourth and an RBI-single in the sixth.

“Suzuki’s been good, he’s been swinging the bat better,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Today, he was outstanding. For some reason, I think he’s had pretty good success against [Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook]. He was 3-for-6 with a home run, and you could tell from that first at-bat with runners in scoring position. The ball hit him in both legs — he didn’t argue, he wanted to stay there and hit.”

Johnson has repeatedly credited Suzuki’s work with hitting coach Rick Eckstein this week, and did so again on Sunday.

“Well I thought when he first got here, he actually had a little bigger swing,” Johnson said. “He was kind of swinging up on the ball, a little longer swing. Eckstein’s done a good job.

“We had him in Cuba in the Olympic qualifier [in 2006] and he swung the bat really good there. We liked him a whole lot. I had both him [Red Sox catcher] Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and I liked Suzuki. He caught the last game over Saltalamacchia. So I liked him at an early age. He had a nice, short, quick stroke then, but when he came over, he was a little long. He’s getting back to it.”

With his quicker swing, Suzuki has went 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs and five RBI over the course of the six-game hitting streak.

In addition, the adjustments have also made for a helpful approach that has helped Suzuki feel more free at the plate.

“That’s what we’ve really been doing, just take the effort out of the swing and just kind of be nice and easy, free and easy,” he said. “The less tension you have, you’re going to definitely be a lot quicker.”

Game 153: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog. The Nationals go for the series win against the Cardinals today at Nationals Park, where it’ll be Stephen Strasburg vs. Jake Westbrook. As always, follow along on Nationals.com throughout the game.

It was an awfully quite Nationals clubhouse this morning, understandable considering last night’s grueling 10-9 loss to the Cardinals. Unprovoked, Davey Johnson began his post-game meeting to the media with, “Well that had to be the longest nine-inning game I’ve ever been involved in.”

That sure wasn’t an understatement, as the three-hour, 29-minute game saw 24 hits between the two teams and a combined 11 pitchers used. Even a four-run first inning wasn’t enough for the Nats, who relinquished their lead after a four-run Cardinals fourth inning and again after St. Louis scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

Today, Strasburg looks to clinch the series for the Nats while making what should be one of this last two or three starts of the season. That was the number Johnson gave earlier in the week, and as inexact as it seems, the Nats have remained consistent with their approach to Strasburg. Johnson has said there is a plan in place, even if it hasn’t been disclosed to the media.

The good news for the Nats is that after exiting last night’s game in the ninth inning with hamstring cramps, Jayson Werth is back atop Washington’s lineup today. Adam LaRoche does get what appears to be a day off, though.

An update on Bryce Harper is coming in the notebook, and until then, here are the rest of today’s lineups.

Cardinals (72-61)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. David Freese 3B
  6. Bryan Anderson C
  7. Pete Kozma SS
  8. Daniel Descalso 2B
  9. Jake Westbrook RHP

Nationals (80-52)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Michael Morse LF
  5. Chad Tracy 1B
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Kurt Suzuki C
  9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

Johnson addresses Storen’s slower delivery after loss

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Drew Storen pitched more than one inning for the first time this season in Saturday’s 10-9 loss to the Cardinals.

Storen allowed one run on two hits and was tagged with the loss, dropping him to 1-1. Storen threw 19 of his 23 pitches for strikes, but his allowing Allen Craig to steal second base after a leadoff single in the ninth put the ultimate winning run in scoring position.

“He was slow to the plate last year, but this year — boy, he’s very deliberate,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I think he’s over two seconds on some of those deliveries. That cost him tonight.”

Being slow to the plate is an issue Johnson has addressed multiple times this season, noting the slower deliveries of particularly his younger pitchers. The Nats have allowed 132 stolen bases, 12th-most in the league, but their stolen bases-against percentage of .858 trails only the Pirates for the highest in the league.

“He’s got to quicken up just a little bit,” Johnson said of Storen. “With that move, anybody can steal. It seems to me last year, he was 1.5 [seconds]. I saw a couple of them today over two seconds.”

For his part, Storen didn’t recognize the issue, adding that he was OK with the pitches he threw.

“I don’t know,” Storen said when asked if he’s slower to the plate this season. “I’m concentrating on throwing good pitches. That’s something I need to work on and something, I guess, I need to make an adjustment on for next time.”

Werth exits with hamstring cramp, “hopefully it’ll be nothing”

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Jayson Werth exited Saturday’s 10-9 loss to the Cardinals prior to the ninth inning with a hamstring cramp.

With the score tied 9-9 as the Nationals took the field, Eury Perez — called up earlier in the day as rosters expanded to 40 players– made his Major League-debut in center field as Werth remained in the dugout. Werth finished the game 1-for-5 with one run scored and two strikeouts, lowering his batting average to .313.

Perez never got to bat, though he did field a fly ball for the final out of the ninth.

“It just felt intelligent not to play any longer, so [manager Davey Johnson] took me out,” Werth said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve cramped up during a game, so hopefully it’ll be nothing and I’ll be back by [Sunday], but we’ll see. I don’t think it’s too serious, though.”

Werth added it’s been “four or five years” since he’s cramped up during a game, but Johnson confirmed the issue wasn’t anything serious.

“He was cramping real bad,” he said. “He didn’t pull nothing, so he should be OK.”

Gonzalez’ gem powers Nationals to 3rd-straight win

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Eight innings into the first complete-game shutout of his career, Gio Gonzalez received a jolt of energy from one of the loudest Nationals Park crowds of the season.

Chants of “Let’s go Gio!” emanated from all corners of the stadium, keeping Gonzalez alive in the ninth despite surrendering a leadoff single and a walk two batters later. But then Shane Robinson came to the plate with two outs and launched a Gonzalez fastball — still hitting 94 MPH on the radar — high and harmlessly to Bryce Harper in center field. Harper hauled it in, rewarding the Nats and whatever the percentage of the crowd that stayed for the duration of the game despite a 10-0 blowout.

“It was kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth,” Gonzalez said of the crowd’s chanting. “But when they were coming alive, I was just trying to do my best and try to pound that strike zone. Then I just came up with it, and [Kurt Suzuki] did a great job and made everything come out alive. The defense was unbelievable.”

Gonzalez was effusive with his praise afterward, lauding the Nats’ team defense and catcher Kurt Suzuki more than anything. He also thanked the 10 runs on 12 hits the offense supplied him, deadpanning, “10 runs is a pretty good cushion.”

The victory boosted his record to 17-7, tying him with R.A. Dickey and Johnny Cueto for the Major League-lead in wins. But perhaps more than anything, it continued the tremendous distance the Nats have placed between their current standing and the five-game losing streak earlier this week that muddied much of their strong play in August.

It all came with Gonzalez’ family in the stands, too, with his mother directly in his line of sight for the whole game.

“My Mom was right behind home plate, so imagine seeing [Suzuki’s] face, then the umpire and then my mom,” Gonzalez said. “So it was like, ‘Uh oh, can’t disappoint you, Ma.’ You can hear her every at-bat, ‘Swing! Do this!’ And I’m like, oh God, somebody keep her quiet over there.

“My dad disappeared, my dad was somewhere in the stands. Probably in left field or something. It was one of those things when you have your whole family here, you want to step it up and enjoy it.”

The Nats sure did enjoy it, and a lot of it was due to manager Davey Johnson, who kept Gonzalez in the game despite his reaching 119 pitches. With Major League rosters set to expand to 40 players tomorrow and significant alteration coming soon to the rotation once Stephen Strasburg is shut down, Johnson has been stretching his starters a little longer. Thursday night, Edwin Jackson tossed eight sterling shutout innings, giving up just four hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks while throwing 123 pitches.

“I had an 120-pitch limit on [Gonzalez] in a game like that,” Johnson said. “He took me right to the edge. If he walked [the last batter], I had [Ryan] Mattheus ready. But I might’ve let him go over my predetermined number. Otherwise, I’d have Gio hassling me all week. So, what a great effort.”

In actuality, the decision might not’ve been that difficult for Johnson. After Gonzalez said his manager would’ve had to “kill me first” before he’d leave the game, the 26-year-old lefty said Johnson teasingly pushed him back to the mound for the ninth inning.

Either way, Gonzalez was dealing from the start. Though he had only two strikeouts through three innings, Gonzalez got five of those nine outs on ground balls.

“His curveball was good early tonight,” Suzuki said. “Usually, it takes a little bit for him to get into a groove and get his curveball going. He was spotting his fastball, keeping it down in the zone, moving it in and out. You could just kind of see it from the beginning couple of innings.”

Gonzalez struck out four batters over the last three innings, enjoying 1-2-3 frames in the seventh and eighth after facing just four batters in the sixth. But when Robinson’s fly ball floated high toward center field on his 119th pitch, Gonzalez — satisfied but worn-out — just hoped the game would end.

“Catch it please, Bryce,” he said of his thoughts while the ball was in the air. “That’s all I had left in the tank. As soon as he caught it, I just stood there, closed my eyes for a second, or probably not. Then I gave Suzuki a big smile and a big handshake, a thank you. It’s a great win for us all.”

Game 131: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog. The Nationals get the Cardinals’ tough right-hander Adam Wainwright tonight, while Gio Gonzalez takes the mound looking for his 17th win. As always, following along on Nationals.com during the game.

Suddenly, all the bad vibes from last week’s road trip are washed away as the Nationals look to push their winning streak to three games on Friday night. Last night’s 8-1 win over the Cardinals was exceptionally satisfying for the Nats, who received a scoreless one-hit, eight-inning gem from Edwin Jackson and multi-hit games from five different batters.

But with tomorrow being the Sept. 1 date for roster expansion to 40 players, much of the pre-game talk addressed the Nats’ roster. Bill will have all the details in the notebook, but manager Davey Johnson said Sandy Leon, John Lannan and Eury Perez are expected to join the team on Saturday. Mark DeRosa (left abdominal strain) is also expected to be activated from the disabled list tomorrow.

-Henry Rodriguez underwent an operation today to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow. Head Team Physician Dr. Wiemi Douoguih performed the surgery in New York, and the Nats are shooting for Rodriguez to be “full-go” at the beginning of spring training.

“Henry has got great upside,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s a power pitcher, and if this injury prevented him from performing at his accustomed level, then that’s a good thing because when he gets healthy, he’s going to revert back to the guy that we saw in spring training and the guy we saw in the beginning of the season.”

-Lucas Giolito also went under the knife, but for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Dr. Louis Yocum performed the surgery in Los Angeles, though Rizzo didn’t elaborate any further.

-Chien-Ming Wang will make one more minor-league start, while Jhonatan Solano will report to the instructional league in Florida to stay in shape in case of an injury at the Major League level.

Bill will have more in the notebook. Here are tonight’s lineups:

Cardinals (71-60)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. Yadier Molina C
  6. David Freese 3B
  7. Skip Schumaker 2B
  8. Pete Kozma SS
  9. Adam Wainwright RHP

Nationals (79-51)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Adam LaRoche 1B
  5. Michael Morse LF
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Kurt Suzuki C
  9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

Harper heating up, benefiting from Werth leading off

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — All of a sudden, Bryce Harper is heating up.

After seeing his batting average dip to .250 during the Nationals’ five-game road trip last week, the young center fielder is 5-for-14 (.357) with three home runs and six RBI over his last three games. Harper’s struggles had magnified his recent displays of emotion on the field, most recently his 9th-inning ejection on Wednesday after slamming his helmet into the ground following a double play.

Thursday night in the series-opening 8-1 win over the Cardinals, Harper hit his 15th home run of the season in the first inning of a 2-for-3 day at the plate. He nearly added another dinger in the third, sending Jon Jay leaping into the center-field wall before hauling in a deep fly ball.

“I’m just trying to stay within myself,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to use my hands and work up there, see some pitches and get the pitch I can drive.”

After batting .282 in the first half of the season, Harper has seen an increasing amount of outside and off-speed pitches aimed at forcing the rookie out of his comfort zone. Given his outbursts on the field, common thought suggested that Harper’s struggles at the plate were indeed making him over-extend himself at the plate.

“He’s all in all the time,” manager Davey Johnson said. “But he’s gotten a little calmer with his lower half. He can get real aggressive with his lower half, and he’s calmed down quite a bit. That’s when you get antsy, and that doesn’t help your swing.”

Harper has also benefited from the return of Jayson Werth, who has looked very comfortable batting in the leadoff spot. When batting first in the lineup this season, Werth is batting .350 with a .797 OPS (.350 on-base percentage, .447 slugging.) For the season, Werth is boasting a .825 OPS (.384 on-base percentage, .441 slugging).

“I really like guys that can get on base and also produce runs,” Johnson said of Werth and Harper atop his lineup. “Both can run, both basically make [opposing pitchers] throw it over. It’s great.”

While Harper denied seeing a change in how opposing pitchers have attacked him — both during his recent hot streak and with Werth batting in front of him — he did admit to benefiting from Werth’s patient, productive presence.

“I think having Werth hit in front of me just gets me going and he sets the tone,” Harper said. “It just calms down and just lets me go up and there just swing it.”

Game 130: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog as the Nationals return home from their eventful — to say the least — road trip for an 11-game homestand. As always, following along at Nationals.com.

After snapping their five-game losing streak last night in Miami, the Nationals begin a four-game set with the Cardinals tonight. Edwin Jackson faces the team he won a World Series ring with last year, which will send left-hander Jaime Garcia to face the Nats. Gio Gonzalez takes the mound for the Nats on Friday, followed by Jordan Zimmermann — carrying his 2.63 ERA into a matchup against Kyle Lohse’s 2.64 — on Saturday and Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.

Sticking to tonight, though, the Nats will trot out their normal lineup — with one exception. Jesus Flores will catch Jackson while Kurt Suzuki gets a day off. Flores last played in the series finale with the Phillies on Aug. 26, a 4-1 loss.

The timing is somewhat odd, considering Suzuki is as hot at the plate as he’s been since coming to the Nats. Suzuki has a three-game hitting streak in which he’s 4-for-10 with a home run, which Johnson credited to the work the veteran catcher has been putting in with hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

“Eck’s been working with him good, he’s in a good place right now,” Johnson said. “I like the way he’s been swinging the last three days. He’s in a good spot.”

-Speaking of Strasburg (as always), manager Davey Johnson said the Nats’ young ace will make two or three more starts before he is shut down for the season. After his horrid outing Tuesday night against the Marlins — seven runs allowed (five earned) on nine hits in five innings — Strasburg has thrown 150 1/3 innings. Of course, Johnson’s comments fall pretty much in line with the 160-180 innings number that’s been thrown around all season.

-Bill will have more on Strasburg, Bryce Harper’s temper and Drew Storen’s hot streak in the notebook. In the meantime, here are tonight’s lineups:

Cardinals (71-59, 2nd NL Central)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. Yadier Molina C
  6. David Freese 3B
  7. Skip Schumaker 2B
  8. Rafael Furcal SS
  9. Jaime Garcia LHP

Nationals (78-51, 1st NL East)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Michael Morse LF
  5. Adam LaRoche 1B
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Jesus Flores C
  9. Edwin Jackson RHP
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