Strasburg’s debut: Now that was something!

So the Strasburg era has begun. Just one day shy of a year after he was drafted, Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the Nationals last night against the Pirates.

Nationals Park was packed (although I was just a tad disappointed that the announced crowd was 40,315 in a stadium whose capacity is 41,888). Unlike recent opening days, this time it was packed with Nationals fans. That was different.

The weather was perfect. It was 75 degrees at game time, with just a light breeze from left field to right. Our seats were perfect. This just happened to be the first of a handful of games we earlier bought in the Stars & Stripes Club level, section 217, looking right down third base. Continue reading ‘Strasburg’s debut: Now that was something!’

On the roller coaster

It’s June 1, and the Nats are 26-26. After a major beat-down of the Astros on Memorial Day, 14-4, they are 3.5 games behind division-leading Atlanta in the NL East.

Continue reading ‘On the roller coaster’

Nats in second place–what year is it?

The Nationals ended April at 13-10. They have never had an April record this good in DC. Ever.

Their 2005 April record was 13-11. At that time they were in third place in the division, two games behind Florida and a game behind Atlanta. As of April 30, 2010, they are in second place, one game behind the Mets and a half game ahead of the Phillies.

We in Washington don’t know exactly how to behave when we have a winning team. It’ll be interesting. I know I have steeled myself for the inevitable collapse during every game. Five years of egregious losing will do that to you. It seems proper for the Nats bullpen to break down and give up a multiple-run lead. (Brian Bruney seems to have tried to keep the Nats tradition alive last Monday in Chicago.)

Can it continue? Well, Strasburg and Storen are not even on the Nats pitching staff yet, and Adam Dunn’s bat has not yet awoken from its winter slumber. If the team can hold on until the first of June, the last four months of the season could be very nice indeed in Natstown.

Caring about the standings

With their 2-0 loss to the Rockies yesterday, the Nationals continue to hold onto a .500 record halfway through the third week of the season. Across Nats Nation, fans have been thrilled to be out of the cellar for the first time in a couple years. Last night I realized another effect this has on my baseball watching.

For the first time since 2005 I have a reason to pay attention to the standings. A real reason. My team is actually performing decently in comparison to other teams. The Mets have stayed in last place in the NL East for about a week and a half, and the Nats are a full game ahead of them with the Dodgers coming to DC. And I’m also enjoying the thrill of the Nats’ being only 1 game back in the NL wildcard, tied with Colorado.

So I now look to see what the other teams are doing. I’m sorry to see the Astros break their four-game winning streak and lose to the Marlins 5-1, since this means that the Fish maintain a tie with Philadelphia for first place in the NL East.

The Nats play the Dodgers for a three-game series starting tonight, and I have hopes that Luis Atilano, who takes Jason Marquis’s place in the rotation after a miserable start to the season by Marquis, the 15-million-dollar man, will succeed in his major league debut.

But I’m also concerned about the Mets-Braves series. The Nats need for the Braves to succeed to keep the Mets in the basement; but Braves success will also strengthen their hold on 2nd place in the division. The Nats can’t gain on the Braves without the Mets gaining on the Nats.

So this is what it feels like to have a real team, eh?

Baseball’s incredible Saturday

As I write this, the Cardinals and the Mets are locked in a scoreless battle in the bottom of the 18th inning. St. Louis just had Felipe Lopez on the mound. FLop walked Angel Pagan, but otherwise got the side out.

[EDIT, 11:08 PM:] The Mets just took the game 2-1 in 20 innings. When they put Pelfrey in (a rotation guy on an off day, a real pitcher), he shut them down.

A few minutes ago, Ubaldo Jiminez just pitched the Rockies’ first no-hitter, beating the Braves 4-0.

The Pirates beat the Reds in the bottom of the 9th in Pittsburgh when, with the bases loaded, Lastings Milledge took a walk to push in the tying run; then Garrett Jones hit a walk-off single. The Reds’ closer Francisco Cordero has to be the goat of Cincinnati right now.

And I like to think that our own Nationals started the wild and crazy festivities on this baseball Saturday when Livan Hernandez pitched a complete-game shutout while his teammates put runs on the board to beat the Brewers 8-0. For a very few minutes, the Nats were tied for second-place in the NL East (with Florida and Atlanta, after the Braves lost to the Rockies but before the Marlins finished off the Phillies). Florida’s victory over Philadelphia, however, put the Marlins at 7-5, while the Nats and the Braves are sitting at 6-5, tied for third in the division.

Did you follow all that?

It feels absolutely brilliant to be a fan of a team that is right in the thick of things–albeit after two weeks of baseball. I even made it onto the scoreboard at Nationals Park today, when I urged everybody to get on their feet with two outs in the 9th and Livo on the verge of his first shutout since 2004. What a wonderful game this is!

“NATIONALS PARK” naming rights?

The rock wall behind home plate tells the world that this is NATIONALS PARK. This is new. For the first two years of the stadium the granite was plain and classy, and the identity of the stadium was indicated by the curly-W logo to the left of the granite.

This year the granite is festooned with the words NATIONALS PARK (all caps, all plain block letters). My initial reaction was that it looked clunky and stupid. But then I saw the logo behind the batter at the new Target Field on opening day of the Twins’ new ballpark. And I began to understand.

I would not be surprised if a naming-rights deal were struck with a sponsor this year. The letters behind the batter this year might be there to get us used to seeing a name there. Not that the Lerner family need any more revenue streams from the place or anything, but we’ve been hearing about the possibility of corporate naming rights for Nationals Park ever since it was built, and we’re now in year #3 of the ballpark.

This is, of course, pure speculation on my part; and I’m nobody, a mere fan who reads the news every day. Are the clunky letters on the granite wall merely a placeholder for Geico Park or something similar?

So that’s what .500 feels like

The Nats just beat the Mets 5-2. Took the series in New York two games to one. Jim Riggleman actually made the umpires video-review a home run, so Josh Willingham got his first grand slam of the year. (Cf. Acta, Manny, April 2009, who chewed gum while the umpire crew stuck it to his team.)

Livan Hernandez went seven full innings of shut-out baseball. He even got a base hit. A great outing by the big guy.

And the Nats are at .500 for the first time in two years and two days. About damn time.


Made it happen against the Mets today. 4-3 Nats. Lannan: 5 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2K. But Clippard! 3 IP, 7 K, nothing else! Capps saved it after walking two to load the bases, but Harris saved Capps by making an incredible diving final-out catch.

Willie Harris will next be convincing all nuclear powers to give up their weapons, and he’s working on a cure for hay fever.

Can anybody here pitch?

With the Nats’ 8-2 loss to the Mets on Friday, the Nationals are now 1-3 for the first week of the season. A lot of people have talked this week about the Nats’ (or individual players’) paces so far. The Nats are roughly on pace to end April 6-17. This would be pretty close to their 5-16 record in April of 2009–the beginning of the ugliest Nats season so far. There go our hopes for sitting at .500 for even a single day, for the first time since April 2008.

Continue reading ‘Can anybody here pitch?’

Thank you, Mark Zuckerman

The Philly-Phan disaster of the Nationals’ Opening Day still has Nats fans boiling, but there’s baseball tonight. The Nats have a second chance, this time against a pitcher who struggled at the end of last season, Cole Hamels.

The outrage and venting over this mess seems mostly to have taken place in two venues: Mark Zuckerman’s Nats Insider and the WaPo’s Nationals Journal–albeit much, much later on in the NJ. (And a shout-out to Dan Steinberg for picking up the ball and running with it in the first place on the Post’s D.C. Sports Bog.)

But above all, it was Mark who did the important initial investigation and who has allowed everybody on both sides to blow off all necessary steam about the Kasten sell-out of Nats Nation on Opening Day. In comparison, not a word seems to have appeared on the MASN Nationals site. No surprise there, considering the close relationship between Nats management and the TV network of which they’re partial owners.

Mark’s right: back to baseball. Mike Morse starts in right field tonight, in a second-game-of-the-season change of plans. No more Willie and Willy platoon out there?