Tagged: Chicago Cubs

Here, Not There: A Summer in Cincinnati

As freshman year at Xavier University has come to a close, people are asking me when I’m going to be able to make it back to the great land of Northern Virginia. While I might make it back for a quick weekend sometime soon, I’ll be here in the Queen City for the summer. So, I just wanted to throw out a quick post wrapping up the year at Xavier and setting the scene for what should be an exciting summer, both personally and for the Nationals.

Before I get into some Nats news, here’s what I’ve been up to over the last year. I did the sports report for Xavier News periodically…

Additionally, I did play-by-play for several home baseball games for Xavier, who by the way won the Big East regular season championship and begin play in the Big East tournament tomorrow.

This summer, I landed a spot doing play-by-play via internet stream for the Hamilton Joes, a collegiate summer baseball team in a league similar to the well-known Cape Cod league. I will be doing the home games, as well as frequently doing road games.

Now on to the Nats, where the powers that be at ESPN have them at third behind the North Siders and the Fenway-dwellers. Do these rankings really mean anything? Nope. But, one thing noted under the Nats’ wrap-up stands out; Scherzer, he of the 20K game, has the highest ERA on the team at 3.80. Bryce seems to have come back down to Earth after his torrid stretch to start the season, but is still producing at a high level. Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos are carrying a mighty stick, and the rest of the lineup is starting to fall into place.

The Nats’ starting pitchers have the 2nd lowest ERA, 4th lowest WHIP, and highest strikeout percentage throughout all of the major leagues, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Yeah, all of this is pretty basic information, but it’s promising to see them do so well, especially against a team like the Mets.

Washington comes to Cincinnati the weekend of June 3rd, and I’m hoping to go Friday and Sunday if possible. In addition to attending Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter in April, I saw the Reds play the Cubs two more times that weekend, including once with Steve.

Paul and me at Great American

I would be remiss if I did not throw this in here. The day after Arrieta’s no-hitter, I was at the game with my hall as a result of free tickets from our RA, and after the game there were fireworks of all sorts. I am enamored with home run derbies, as you can tell, and in between the end of the game and the fireworks show, the Long Haul Bombers (video from 2010) lit up the night sky, propelling neon-colored softballs well into the second deck at Great American Ball Park. What a weekend at GABP that was.

So, here’s to what’s ahead. And oh by the way, you’re always welcome to take a listen.

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Seeing Double: Jake Arrieta’s No-Hitter

Just about a year and a half ago, instead of going to the second-to-last game of the season, my family decided we wanted to see Jordan Zimmermann wrap up the 2014 regular season at Nationals Park. What a decision that turned out to be, as he ended up throwing the first no-hitter in Nationals history.

I attend Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, otherwise known as Reds country. I hadn’t yet been to a game this season, and some of the guys on my hall who are avid Cubs fans wanted to get down to Great American to inevitably watch the Cubbies dismantle the over-matched Cincinnati Reds.

With a paper due the next day and a horrible cold resting in my respiratory system, I strongly considered not going to the game. However, I finished the paper before the game and took up the offer on the tickets. Turns out, it would end up being an above-average decision.

Disclaimer: I grew up a Reds fan before the Nats made the great exodus from Montreal. One thing was for sure, there was not a chance I wanted them to break up this no-hitter.

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(Left to right) Nick, Danny, Spike, Tall Paul

We sat in left field by the foul pole, and Jake Arrieta toed the rubber for Chicago.

No sooner were we settled in our seats than Kris Bryant launched a home run into the second deck above us. That was far from the last of the offensive production from Chicago, who would go on to score 16 runs.

Now, let’s set one thing straight here. I can’t really think of anything in sports off the top of my head that intrigues me more than perfect games and no-hitters in baseball. From the first pitch of the game, I am constantly scoreboard watching to see when each team records their first base knock. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of F.P. Santangelo and his trademark, “There goes the no-hitter.”

As the game got into the fourth inning, I began noticing with increased awareness the big fat goose-egg in the hit column for Cincinnati. Along about the sixth inning, Nick and Danny went to sit on the first base side with a couple friends from Xavier. Me being as superstitious as I am, I was supremely hesitant to change seats in the middle of a no-hitter. Who does that?!

I gave up the fight, and Spike and I joined the group along the first base line. I was certain Arrieta would promptly surrender a hit, but that was not to be. Red after Red retreated to the dugout.

One observation I made as the buzz in the stadium started to swirl: this was not by any means one of his best starts. No-hitters aren’t all that much of a rarity, far from that of a perfect game, and it’s often a bad team that just can’t hit a gap. I saw Arrieta’s pitch count rising quickly, and began to worry if he would even finish the game as he walked his third batter. Statistically, this wasn’t even Arrieta’s best-pitched game since last August.

Ninth inning now. There is almost a tangible anxiousness sweeping across GABP. The crowd, the vast majority of which is donning blue, gradually gets their phones out to start recording.

Two outs. Jake Arrieta is one out away from his second career no-hitter, and his second in his last 16 starts.

Eugenio Suarez strode to the plate as the last hope for the Reds to avoid what seemed to be the inevitable. With two strikes, home plate umpire Dana DeMuth called a ball on what appeared to be a strike, and what would have been long debated had Suarez not flied out to Jason Heyward.imageimage

Arrieta is now 15-0 with a 0.54 ERA in his last 16 starts (ESPN). He has allowed seven earned runs since the beginning of last August, and during that time eight pitchers have allowed at least that many in one innings. Also, the Cubs has won his last 17 starts (ESPN Stats and Info). Needless to say, he’s a major reason why the Cubs are one of the favorites to win the World Series.

Oh yeah, I would be remiss without mentioning that some dude thought it was a brilliant idea to run on the field and celebrate with Arrieta after the final out. Although, if you’re gonna storm the field, get fined, and go to jail, that’s probably as good a time as ever.

Tonight, Arrieta looks to match Johnny Vander Meer as the only pitchers to throw back-to-back no-hitters. His matchup is the Milwaukee Brewers.

So, to recap, the first game I attended of the 2016 season was the second no-hitter I’ve seen live. Here is to what lies ahead the rest of this season.

From a Pick-Off to a Pick-Up: Clint Robinson’s Impact

Journeyman Clint Robinson has more than exceeded expectations for the Nationals this season. During Friday night’s game, broadcaster F.P. Santangelo said how Robinson, when asked what the bench squad this season calls themselves, considers the bench “Regulars.” This is a reference to the excessive amount of injuries the depleted Nats have had to deal with during 2015; however, they have managed to stay in first place thanks to the production of their back-ups, especially Clint Robinson. The 30-year-old is in the midst of his first extended stay in the majors after being drafted in 2007 and navigating his way through about eight minor league seasons.Clint RobinsonOn June 4th, the Nats trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th against the Chicago Cubs, and Robinson drew a walk to move the tying run to scoring position, the winning run on first, and allow Anthony Rendon a chance to win the game. It was not to be though, as Robinson took too big of a lead and this happened:

Through June 4th, Robinson appeared in 33 games, 22 of which were as a pinch-hitter. He was hitting .232 with three doubles and a triple, seven runs scored but only three RBI. He had a .605 OPS and a .277 BABIP (Batting Average with Balls In Play), and a measly 67 wRC+, all according to FanGraphs.

Since that infamous day, Robinson has stood-out as one of the Nationals’ top producers. When Ryan Zimmerman was forced to take yet another trip to the disabled list, Robinson has seen everyday playing time, particularly at first base. He’s hitting .286 with eight doubles, four homers, and 15 RBI. His OPS since then is .819 and he possesses a significantly increased .311 BABIP, along with a 129 wRC+. Granted, his continued success can mainly be attributed to his consistent playing time, he has still performed admirably for a man that was simply thrilled to finally make the opening day roster.

Clint Robinson (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Clint Robinson (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Playing both first base and the outfield has provided Robinson with a chance to acquire more playing time as starters deal with injuries. He’s even filled in as a pitcher when duty calls.

For more on Clint Robinson’s journey to the big leagues, check out Chelsea Janes’ story.

As the Nationals recover from their plethora of injuries, including Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth tonight, they know that they have a reliable player eager to do what he can to help the team; an invaluable asset as the Nats look to secure the division in the final stretch of the season.

Playing Favorites: Ranking All 30 MLB Teams from Greatest to Least

2014 was a year which fell short of expectations for the Nationals. We made the playoffs, but once again could not make it out of the first round.

As we ring in 2015, for my first post of the year I decided to rank all 30 teams of Major League Baseball by how much I like them. Steve just did this yesterday, and he was saying he’d like to see what I thought. I’m excited to see what this year brings! Feel free to comment on your preferences or if you feel, in your opinion, I got something wrong.

1)   Washington Nationals – Does this really need explanation?

2)   Cincinnati Reds – Without a DC team, I loved the Reds with so much of my family from Cincinnati. I still love the Reds, but only when they don’t play the Nats. If anyone has tickets to the All-Star Game this year, let me know.Jordan Zimmermann's No-Hitter 006

3)   Chicago Cubs – It’s been a lot of years since they’ve won the World Series. If the Nats aren’t in it, I would guess a lot of baseball fans would like to see them take one.

4)   Chicago White Sox – First Adam Dunn and now the beloved Adam LaRoche. They also signed David Ross, the veteran catcher, who I met a long time ago when he was a member of the Reds. I wouldn’t mind seeing them win.

5)   Kansas City Royals – Captured America this year during their magical postseason run. Sadly, they ran into a certain roadblock by the name of Bumgarner.

6)   Cleveland Indians – Poor Cleveland. It seems like they have pieces to do well, it just needs to come together.

7)   Seattle Mariners – I’ve been to Safeco, and the Nats have good memories from this year of their visit to Seattle.

8)   San Diego Padres – All of a sudden the Padres mean business. They got Derek Norris, who I’ve watched progress since his days with Potomac, and a bunch of other big name players recently in free agency. I wouldn’t mind seeing them do well.

9)   Houston Astros – Their mascot, Orbit, is about the only reason they’re this high on the list. He’s probably the best mascot in all of MLB. Click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to see why.

10)   Miami Marlins – Stanton drops bombs. I’m still trying to catch one of his BP homers when the Marlins come to Nationals Park.

11)   Colorado Rockies – Coors Field is so nice, I’ve seen a game there, and my dad lived in Colorado for a while. They also participated in a stand-off with the Nats this season, which I loved.

12)   Tampa Bay Rays – One of my favorite movies ever is The Rookie, and Jim Morris was on the Rays.

13)   Oakland Athletics – Moneyball showed such an interesting view of baseball, and poor Oakland never seems to succeed anymore. Before the Royals grabbed my attention, I was hoping the A’s would find themselves in the World Series.

14)   Detroit Tigers – I played on the Tigers and it gave me some of my best youth baseball memories.

15)   St. Louis Cardinals – They win a lot. A lot of people really don’t like them. I, however, are one of few neutral fans who don’t mind them. I love watching the battery of Wainwright and Molina. There’s a reason they’re not higher up on this list, but those are the reasons they aren’t lower either.

16)   Texas Rangers –Jim Morris made his debut for the Rays on the road at the Ranger’s stadium. I’ve also seen their stadium from driving around it, and it was a sight to see.

17)   Minnesota Twins – Anymore, the Twins are sorta just, there. Not great, not awful, just there.

18)   Toronto Blue Jays – You don’t hear a ton about the Blue Jays but watch out this year, they could make a run for the AL East.

19)   Los Angeles Angels – Mike Trout is a stud. Also, I rooted for Anaheim when they were in the World Series a lot of years ago.

20)   Los Angeles Dodgers – I don’t particularly dislike the Dodgers, but I don’t really like them either; I’m indifferent.

21)   Arizona Diamondbacks – Whenever I went to Reds games when I was younger, it seemed like I always saw the Diamondbacks play. There was only so much of Craig Counsell’s swing I could take.

22)   New York Mets – I also played on the Mets in Little League, but being in the NL East, I don’t like them as much.

23)   New York Yankees – Along with the Cardinals, I don’t hate the Yankees. But Derek Jeter was one of the major reasons I tolerated them, and now that he’s gone, they’ve fallen lower on this list.

24)   Milwaukee Brewers – I still remember sitting in the hotel room in Virginia Beach and watching Josh Willingham hit his second grand slam of the game for the Nats in Milwaukee.

25)   Baltimore Orioles – Peter Angelos, why do you make things so difficult? They also ruin the National Anthem.

26)   Philadelphia Phillies – Lingering dislike from when the Phillies fans would pack Nats Park.

27)   San Francisco Giants – I’m just not a huge Giants fan. Used to love them with Barry Bonds, but then he used steroids.

28)   Pittsburgh Pirates – I don’t have a ton against the Pirates, except that they play in Pittsburgh. And that right there is the major problem.

29)   Boston Red Sox – Boston and Pittsburgh, my two least favorite sports cities in America. I’ve visited Boston (not Fenway), and the city itself has so much history. But we’re talking sports and baseball here, and man do I not like those two cities’ teams.

30)   Atlanta Braves – If you thought anyone else would be last, then you obviously don’t know me very well.

#3 – Wins against Quality Teams

The 2013 Nationals feasted upon the bottom feeders of the league. They went 14-5 against the Miami Marlins, 12-7 against the New York Mets, 5-2 against the San Diego Padres, and 4-3 against the Chicago Cubs. Yes, a win is a win, but come playoff time it is important that the Nationals are battle tested and ready for the strong teams they must face.

Last season they went an abysmal 6-13 against the Atlanta Braves, 0-6 against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, and even 1-3 against the Baltimore Orioles. For the Nats to be successful this year, they must prove their mettle against the top tier teams in the league. In inter-league play they face teams such as the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, as well as the regular NL East power house Atlanta Braves.

How the Nationals fare this year against winning teams will show if they are a well oiled machine and ready for a deep playoff run. They have the veteran team to do it; it’s just a question of going out on the field and getting the job done.

Worst Case Scenario:

The Nationals struggle in prime games plain and simple. When push comes to shove, they bow out under the spotlight. They rely on harvesting wins against low-level opponents while struggling mightily against teams they need to beat. Even though their record shows a strong team, they cannot compete in big situations, causing them to have yet another disappointing season. A win is indeed a win, but a win against a strong team does more to improve the club’s performance than winning laughers against last place teams.

Best Case Scenario:

Even the best teams in the league are no match for the 2014 Washington Nationals. They roll through the season demolishing teams no matter the opposition’s record, and head into the playoffs with unparalleled momentum. Pitchers pitch deep into ball games, hitters lead many statistical categories, and the season goes right along with many’s expectations. Wins against quality teams are not a problem, as they win game after game no matter who they are facing. The 2014 Nats are what was expected out of the 2013 Nationals.

It is important that the Nationals perform well against above .500 teams. While wins against sub-.500 teams do count, they do not benefit the club as much as the experience gained through beating good teams. For the Nationals to be successful in this upcoming season, it will be important that they prove they can keep up with the best of them, and not back down in the face of a challenge. If they do that, then this could be a magical season.

Countdown to #Natitude: 3 days