Photo courtesy Houston Astros
The Nats need a win today at Minute Maid Park to avoid a 3-7 road trip.
So it'll take a victory in today's finale to salvage a series split, not to mention a 4-6 record on the road trip. A loss turns this into a legitimately disappointing trip and leaves the Nationals three games under .500 heading back to town for the biggest homestand in the club's brief history.
As this is all playing out, Stephen Strasburg makes his final start for Class AAA Syracuse at Buffalo, a game that will be televised all over the place. Versus is showing the game live at 1 p.m., then both MASN and Comcast SportsNet will show the game on tape delay at 7 p.m. (Nice to see people aren't making too big a deal out of this young man. Sheesh.)
As you know by now, I'm not in Houston with the club. But I will be watching both the Syracuse game and the big-league game this afternoon, so I'll share some thoughts along the way before returning to full-time duties tomorrow at Nationals Park...
NATIONALS at ASTROS
Where: Minute Maid Park
Gametime: 2:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Cloudy, 82 degrees, Wind 2 mph out to RF
SS Cristian Guzman
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
2B Adam Kennedy
C Carlos Maldonado
P J.D. Martin
CF Michael Bourn
2B Jeff Keppinger
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pedro Feliz
SS Tommy Manzella
C Kevin Cash
P Brian Moehler
1:22 p.m. -- Here's all you need to know about Stephen Strasburg's ability as a pitcher. He just fell behind all three Buffalo Bisons batters he faced in the bottom of the first and still got out of the inning with two groundballs and a strikeout. Had Mike Jacobs completely guessing on a 3-2 curveball to end the first. Even when he's not at the top of his game, he's capable of dominating.
1:36 p.m. -- Another 1-2-3 inning for Strasburg, and another glimpse into the depth of his repertoire. After recording that first-inning strikeout on a 3-2 curveball, he notched another in the second on a 3-2 changeup, a devastating 91 mph pitch down and in to slugger Mike Hessman (who leads all minor leaguers with 18 homers).
1:56 p.m. -- First bit of trouble for Strasburg in the third, if you want to call it trouble. He issued a two-out walk to opposing pitcher Dillon Gee after getting squeezed a couple of times by the plate umpire, then allowed a soft, line-drive single to left. No problem, though, because Strasburg bounced back to get a fly out to left to end the inning. Syracuse leads 2-0, by the way, thanks to a two-run homer by Pete Orr, who now has seven home runs on the season.
2:15 p.m. -- Make it four scoreless innings for Strasburg after a 1-2-3 fourth. He's allowed so far one hit and one walk while striking out four. Pitch count is a little high at 63, but if he is efficient in the fifth, he should be able to get through six. Oh, and just for good measure, Strasburg singled in the top of the fifth. He's now 2-for-3 with two RBI at Class AAA.
2:27 p.m. -- Meanwhile in Houston, the Nationals trail 1-0 after one thanks to an unearned run thanks to an error on Cristian Guzman. Guzman, who is starting at shortstop today, made a very lackadaisical throw to first on a routine grounder. Adam Dunn couldn't make the short-hop scoop, and that error prolonged the inning and allowed the Astros to score on a subsequent base hit off J.D. Martin. The damage might have been worse if not for Josh Willingham gunning down Lance Berkman at the plate on another base hit.
2:37 p.m. -- The good news: Strasburg hasn't allowed a run in five innings. The bad news: He's fallen behind in the count to a good number of hitters and has seen his pitch count reach 89. Atahualpa Severino was warming up at the end of the fifth, and there's a chance Strasburg won't come back out for the sixth. If this is it, Strasburg's final line in 11 minor-league starts will read as follows: 55.1 ip, 31 h, 8 er, 13 bb, 65 k. That's a 1.30 ERA. If Syracuse hangs on to this 3-0 lead, he'll also improve to 7-2.
2:47 p.m. -- And that will do it. Jeff Mandel pinch-hitting for Strasburg in the top of the sixth. Syracuse now leads 5-0, giving Strasburg a better shot at improving to 7-2 before he makes the trek down to D.C.
2:50 p.m. -- Down in Houston, J.D. Martin is making a strong case to swap roster spots with Strasburg. He's served up two homers in three innings (one to Kevin Cash, one to Lance Berkman). In Martin's defense, both homers landed over the extremely short fence in left field, and you could see him reacting to that second one shaking his head and saying: "No way." Still, you have to pitch in whatever conditions you're subjected to (dimensions, weather, umpires, whatever). Astros lead 3-0 after three.
3:02 p.m. -- This has kind of gone unnoticed, but the Nationals have been piling up errors for the last week or so. With Guzman's bad throw today in the first inning, they've now committed an NL-high 48 errors. Perhaps they haven't been as costly as last season, but for the last week, several fielding gaffes have come at some incredibly inopportune moments. On the bright side, Josh Willingham just singled home Ryan Zimmerman to cut the deficit to 3-1 in the fourth.
3:46 p.m. -- The Nationals are trying to get back into this one. An RBI single by Roger Bernadina just scored Zimmerman and made it 3-2 in the sixth. But they still can't get that one extra hit to prolong an inning and produce another run or two. They've got three innings left to catch (and perhaps surpass) the Astros. Time is running out.
4:36 p.m. -- Horribly wasted scoring opportunity in the top of the eighth. Two on, no one out and Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham up? How could the Nats blow that one? Well, they did. Dunn struck out on three pitches from Brandon Lyon (a really poor at-bat), and Willingham then grounded into a double play. The Nats are three outs away from dropping three of four in Houston and seven of 10 on this road trip.
4:54 p.m. -- Wow, that just changed in a hurry. Down to their final out, the Nats stormed back and incredibly have taken a 4-3 lead. Michael Morse started it off with a groundball single up the middle. Willie Harris then dumped a little blooper down the left-field line that got past Carlos Lee, allowed Morse to score and allowed Harris to reach third with a triple. Cristian Guzman completed the rally with a bloop single to center of his own, scoring Harris. How about that -- Nats take the lead, and now Matt Capps is coming on to try to record not only a save of this game but a save of the entire road trip!
5:07 p.m. -- Oh, my god. We're tied 4-4 on a misplay by Cristian Guzman in right field.
5:08 p.m. -- And that's the capper to it all. Carlos Lee into the Crawford Boxes. Astros win 6-4. Absolutely crushing loss for the Nats.