Stanton, pitchers lead Marlins to sweep of Mariners

The second week of the season was a rough one for Miami. And after starting the year 5-1, the Fish lost 9 of their next 10. But the team turned the jets on when Seattle came to town for a weekend series.

The Marlins and Mariners–the two teams with the most similar nicknames yet farthest geographical distance apart–duked it out on Friday night. Nathan Eovaldi held Seattle to three runs over six innings, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a 430-foot home run deep into the upper deck in stanton walk off grand slam 4-2014right field. With the game tied at four and bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Giancarlo Stanton unloaded on a grand slam, which landed by the flagpoles in left-center field. It was Stanton’s second career walk-off grand slam, and third career walk-off homer.

Henderson Alvarez was the story of Saturday night. He took a perfect game into the top of the sixth inning, and only allowed two hits in a complete game shutout. It took him only 90 pitches to polish off the Mariners. Marcell Ozuna led Miami offensively with two hits, four RBI, and his third home run of the season, which splash-landed in the pool at The Clevelander. The Fish won 7-0.

On a gorgeous Easter Sunday, the roof at Marlins Park was open under clear, 80-degree skies. It marked the first time in the Park’s history the roof had been open for a day game. The Mariners took an early 2-0 lead with a pair of sacrifice flies. The Marlins did not tally a hit until the fifth inning, when Garrett Jones singled. But a walk and a Donovan Solano single later, Miami had cut Seattle’s lead in half.

Marlins Park Easter SundayAll the fun occurred in the bottom of the eighth when Christian Yelich smoked a double into left field, extending his career-best hit streak to 14 games. After Ozuna flew out, the Mariners elected to intentionally walk Stanton to set up the double play. But Casey McGehee drew a walk to load the bases with one out. Garrett Jones stepped up to the dish and grounded to the first baseman, who fired home for the force–an out as called on the field. But manager Mike Redmond came out to challenge the decision, and it turned out that Yelich’s foot got in before the throw.

He was ruled safe after review and the Marlins had the tied the game at two. With the bases still loaded and one out, Adeiny Hechavarria skied a ball to right, deep enough to score Stanton. With a little bit of small ball, the Fish had their first lead of the day.

Steve Cishek entered to pitch the top of the ninth, and escaped a jam by striking out the final two batters with runners on the corners. It was Cishek’s third save of the year, and his 32nd consecutive converted save opportunity.

Miami’s sweep of Seattle moves them to 9-10 on the year. The Marlins start a six-game road trip tomorrow in Atlanta, and they will travel to New York later in the week. I will be at Turner Field tomorrow to see the first game against the Braves. Tom Koehler is set to pitch against Julio Tehran.

Happy Easter!

Marlins Rock Colorado in Opening Series

The last time Jose Fernandez took the mound, it was September of 2013 and the phenom lit up the Braves in Miami with both his arm and bat. Coming off his Rookie of the Year winning season, Fernandez dealt on Opening Night, beating Colorado with nine strikeouts and no walks over six innings.Jose Fernandez 3.31.14

Run support was plentiful in the first match up of the four-game opening series. Marcell Ozuna finished the night just a triple shy of the cycle, and Casey McGehee tallied two hits and four RBI in a 10-1 rout of the Rockies. Fernandez’s win makes him 10-0 with a 1.21 ERA at home since last season.

On Tuesday night, four runs of support were barely enough for the Marlins as Nathan Eovaldi was stellar on the hill. Eovaldi threw six innings of two-run ball with a fastball that topped out at 99 mph. Steve Cishek recorded his first save of the year, and the Marlins improved to 2-0.

Giancarlo Stanton homered and drove in three runs on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough as Colorado scored six runs on Henderson Alvarez, who threw just three innings in his first regular season start since his no-hitter on the final day of the 2013 season. Kevin Slowey curbed the Rockies’ offense in his four innings of shutout relief, but Miami’s bats could not quite make up the deficit and they fell 6-5.

It was better late than never on Thursday evening when Stanton, McGehee and Garrett Jones all collected eighth-inning RBIs during a two-out rally that put the Fish ahead of Colorado. Steve Cishek earned his second save, and has now converted on 31 consecutive opportunities. The Marlins won 8-5 and improved to 3-1 on the season.

Currently a half-game back from the Nationals for first place in the NL East, the Marlins begin a home series tonight against the Padres. Jose Fernandez will take the mound tomorrow night in his second start of the season.

The Earth, Sun, and Jupiter: Marlins at Cardinals 3.7.14

It felt great to be back in Jupiter last Friday to see the Marlins in Spring Training action. The game against the Cardinals was slated for 1:05, so we arrived at the complex shortly before 11, and I made my way down to the practice fields to sit and enjoy some baseball. With the exception of some gusty wind, the weather was glorious–temperatures in the high 70s were perfect a few days after a major snowfall in Virginia.Marlins minor leaguers

The last time I watched the Marlins train, they only used two of the fields in the complex, and there were very few minor leaguers milling about. This time, however, a manifold of baseball players were roaming around every field. The big leaguers were present, but 90% of those in uniform were minor leaguers or guys fresh out of high school. This made me think: if I had bought a Marlins jersey and matching pants, I probably could have snuck onto a practice field without a problem and taken part in professional baseball. That’s a new bucket list idea.

Henderson Alvarez was the starting pitcher, and threw three perfect innings, picking up right where he left off last Matt Adamsseason. Matt Adams provided the highlight for St. Louis, hitting a bomb of a home run that bounced off the high center field end of the Cardinals’ clubhouse.

In the ninth inning, when most fans had already departed, I barely missed out on a chance to catch a foul ball. I was sitting on the third base line, two rows behind my ticketed seat in a completely empty row. A lefty hit a high pop that drifted back towards me. I got into lateral position, but the ball fell just short in the midst of some bare hands in front of me. Had I been in my actual seat I would have made the catch no problem, but it just wasn’t in the cards…or the fish.

The highlight of the day was getting up close to Jose Fernandez, reigning NL Rookie of the Year and Cuban pitching sensation. He is unbelievably friendly, and one of the humbler guys in the sport.

Miami won 7-3. And here are some extra pictures from the day:

Braves and Nationals 3.8.14 Photo Gallery

I took hundreds of pictures over the weekend, so here are some extra photos from yesterday’s Braves and Nationals matchup at Space Coast Stadium.

Click on a picture to enlarge it. They are high resolution, and can be downloaded.

Spring Training Day 3 Photos: Braves and Nationals 3.8.14

I couldn’t have asked for a better day for baseball! The Nationals and Braves played Saturday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium in gorgeous Viera, Florida.

Evan Gattis signed autographs during batting practice:Evan Gattis signing autographs Space Coast StadiumOutside Space Coast Stadium Viera, FL Braves Batting Practice

Me and a family friend who met up with us for the game:IMG_5836 New Washington manager Matt Williams signed before the game:Matt Williams signing autographs Ian Desmond warming up

Ian Desmond:Ian Desmond signing autographs Dan Uggla:Dan Uggla signing autographs Ryan Zimmerman at third base Ross Detweiler pitches in the first inning Evan Gattis and Dan Uggla batting:Evan Gattis batting in the first inning Dan Uggla batting Bryce Harper fouled a ball off his leg in the first inning:Bryce Harper batting And then almost lost his helmet on a violent hit–a single in the first:Bryce Harper hits a single Dan Uggla at second base Ryan Zimmerman throwing Freddi Gonzalez switching pitchers Nationals win!Nationals team following win Two for the road:Me at Space Coast Stadium Me at Space Coast Stadium 2Three games in three days! It was an awesome trip. I’ll post normal game entries this week when I’m back in Virginia.

Spring Training Day 2 Photos: Marlins and Cardinals 3.7.14

It was sunnier on Friday for the Marlins and Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

Just Jack McKeon cruising around on a golf cart:Jack McKeon golf cart Stanton stretching

I had some fun photographing Jose Fernandez and his dazzling orange glove:Jose Fernandez orange glove More Fernandez Jose Fernandez pitching

Kevin Slowey throws a bullpen session:Kevin Slowey pitching Jose Fernandez pitching Me at Marlins practice fields

Jose Fernandez signed autographs for a few fans after his bullpen. He also gave away a few baseballs. All-in-all, he’s the nicest All-Star I’ve ever met.Jose Fernandez signature Jose Fernandez signing Marlins Batting Practice 3.7.14 Marlins player signing autographsMe outside Roger Dean Stadium

It’s great to see kids so thrilled about baseball!

Greg Dobbs and other player

Christian Yelich talks with Gar Field High School alum Jeff BakerChristian Yelich and Jeff Baker Giancarlo Stanton stretching again

Steve Cishek is the man!Steve Cishek signing autographs More Giancarlo Stanton

Henderson Alvarez warms up:Henderson Alvarez pitching

Christian Yelich bats during the first inning:
Christian Yelich batting Roger Dean Stadium 3.7.14 Adeiny Hechavarria More Yelich Batting

Giancarlo “Create-a-Player” Stanton is as cool as the other side of the pillow:Giancarlo Stanton batting Giancarlo Stanton on base

Jose Fernandez signed some more autographs as he left the stadium:Jose Fernandez signing again

Steve Cishek warms up with his side-winding delivery:Steve Cishek warming up Me in Roger Dean StadiumThe Marlins won 7-3!

Spring Training Day 1 Photos: Nationals and Braves 3.6.14

Thunderstorms took hold of Central Florida during the day Thursday, cancelling most Grapefruit League games. But luckily the skies cleared enough for the Nationals and Braves to play an evening game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Enjoy these pictures highlighting the night:
Disney Wide World of Sports Sign Nationals batting in the cages Scott Hairson and other National Scott Hairston signing autographs BASEBALL! Jordan Zimmerman throwing with Steve McCatty looking on

Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons signing for the fansJulio Tehran warming Julio Tehran and runner Cool sky 3.6.14Jason Heyward batting Sky over outifeld 3.6.14 Dan Uggla and Danny Espinosa Ross Ohlendorf windupMe at Champion Stadium

Andrelton Simmons and catcherThe Braves walked off 3-2. Hoping for sunnier skies tomorrow.

 

Things are looking up at Spring Training 2014

The sky is blue, the grass is green, the weather is warm (in Florida), the Marlins are undefeated, and baseball is back. Welcome to March!

Miami defeated St. Louis 5-4 on consecutive days, and added another victory today over the Mets with the other half of their split-squad. In three games, the Fish have scored 19 runs. While I hope that offensive success continues, I won’t kid myself–it’s March 1st. But things look bright as Jose Fernandez reached 98 mph in his spring debut and Garrett Jones homered in his first at bat yesterday.

Today in Viera, the Nationals and Braves duked it out in an absolute slugfest. Atlanta scored NINE runs in the top of the fifth to go up 14-6, but the Nats came back with TEN of their own over the next two frames and won the contest 16-15. And guess what…there were ZERO home runs hit.

In other news, Mike Trout crushed a grand slam in his first game of the year, and Masahiro Tanaka made his Major League debut for the Yankees showing off seven different pitches. Robinson Cano is 3-for-4 in his two games with the Mariners, leading one of my new favorite teams (they still have teal) to a pair of wins. And ex-Marlin Logan Morrison is 2-for-2 with Seattle thus far.

On a personal level, I dug up a picture a while back from a baseball camp I attended at the Naval Academy in 2006. In the picture, I’m standing with a then-current pitcher for the Me and Mitch HarrisUSNA who I only remembered as “Mitch.” Last year, I heard about a Cardinals thrower who was making his Major League debut in a spring training game after attending the Naval Academy and serving for five years. His name was Mitch Harris. I could only help but wonder if it was the same guy with whom I am pictured. Today, I got around to figuring that out, and he confirmed over Twitter that he was indeed the same player. Notice I’m wearing a Cardinals hat in the photo. Mystery solved.

Forecasters are calling for a winter storm later this weekend in Virginia. I really want to be here right now: at Roger Dean Stadium

Haircuts, Potatoes, and Bobbleheads: Stadium Promotions around MLB in 2014

Hang in there, fellow baseball junkies, we’re almost to Opening Day. But the dawn of baseball season does not excite every citizen of America, which, in the 21st century feeds its people instant gratification and action-packed leisure–two things that baseball lacks to the commoner. However, what all Americans undoubtedly love is FREE STUFF! So without further adieu, here is what even the most impatient, uneducated baseball observer can enjoy in 2014.michael wacha bobblehead

Great Clips haircuts on April 9th: the St. Louis Cardinal’s site merely states that all fans will be able to get a haircut. No word on whether the haircuts will actually be conducted on site, or a coupon will be given for future grooming. On April 11th, St. Louis is handing out 25,000 Michael Wacha 2013 NLCS MVP bobbleheads! Bobbleheads are as much a part of the baseball tradition as peanuts, Cracker Jack, and freshly-cut grass, so any bobbly giveaway draws a crowd. The next day, redbird fans will receive a replica 2013 NL Championship ring. Again, no word on the details, but let’s hope the rings are at least made out of some sort of metal. If so, that will be a cool promotion! The Cardinals take the cake in early season giveaways.

For a team with unspectacular attendance, the Seattle Mariners do not have a great mariners fedorapromotional schedule, but there are a few highlights. May 30th… fedoras–20,000 of them! And the next night, the 31st, is a Robinson Cano bobblehead giveaway. Finally…socks! Mariners socks on June 25th.

The Red Sox only have a bunch of fan photo days scheduled throughout the season, along with two bobbleheads in April. April 7th is David Ortiz and the 30th is Dustin Pedroia. The good news? Everyone in attendance gets a bobblehead, so there’s no need to run anyone over getting into the stadium.

dj kitty plush hatThe Tampa Bay Rays have an interesting lineup of goodies. Wil Meyers has a Rookie of the Year bobblehead on April 5th…and a bike horn on August 3rd. How does one make a regular bike horn into a Wil Meyers bike horn? I guess we’ll find out in August. On May 10th, fans will receive a DJ Kitty plush hat (left). But I think the winner is the Joe Maddon Mr. Potato Head on August 2nd!

joe maddon potato head

I’m not sure the Marlins realize that promotions help fill seats because they are not giving anything interesting away this year. Then again, it could just be because no one wants to sponsor them.

Alright, I’m of course most looking forward to the Nationals promotions because I’ll be attending most of my games in Washington. They’ve got a good bobblehead lineup going on, featuring Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, and even a Racing President. But all the hype this year, I predict, will be for the Jayson Werth garden gnome on August 5th. 25,000 garden gnomes with Werth’s face! That’s exciting! In fact, the Nationals even named one of their mini ticket plans after the garden gnome!

ron gardenhireAfter more research, I discovered that the Nationals may not be the first team to dispense personell-inspired garden gnomes. The Minnesota Twins are giving away the “Gardy Gnome” to the first 10,000 fans on June 7th. While this may just be a ploy to get fans through the gate when the Astros are in town, a manager Ron Gardenhire, “Gardy,” gnome will certainly impress.

The Cubs have some quality promotions this year including a fedora hat and a model train. But the South Side’s most impressive offerings are the plethora of bobbleheads. Fan can receive a doll commemorating Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” on May 16th, and one illustrating Greg Maddux’s 3000th strikeout on September 5th. Ernie Banks, Kerry Wood, and Joe babe ruth called shot bobbleheadTinker, among others, will all have their own bobbleheads at Wrigley Field as well.

And while all the knickknacks are fun and exciting, some of the best promotions happening around the league include Firework Fridays (presented by the Reds, Angels, Marlins, Rangers, and others ) and tasty evenings like Dollar Dog Night at Nationals Park.

Every team’s promotional schedule is viewable on its site under the “schedule” tab. Enjoy it, fans.

Storylines in the 2014 National League East

In recent years, developments in the NL East have shown us that the short-lived tide of Philadelphia dominance is rolling out, and the young crops of Washington and Atlanta are surging into the powerhouses of the league. Meanwhile, the Marlins and Mets remain the jokes of the division and are not expected to contend in the near future. These stereotypes and consistent outlooks will once again characterize the talk of spring among NL East followers, but there are several storylines below the radar that may have a greater impact on the race than experts report.

Braves Issues

As the 2013 season wound down, the Atlanta Braves developed some serious emotional Turner Field, Harper plunkingsproblems. From their immature plunkings of Bryce Harper to their home run spats with the Marlins and Brewers, the Bravos exhibited an unprecedented wave of insecurity. And after they skated into the postseason on a padded division lead and a few syndicated fights, they were beaten by the Dodgers in four games and knocked out of contention. Whether the aforementioned insecurity stemmed from an ongoing spat with the opponents or was rooted in internal or clubhouse issues, it’s not a good sign for the Braves going forward. Maybe the offseason break was enough to reboot Atlanta’s hot heads. But if we can learn anything from the 2012 Marlins, it’s that issues of chemistry off the field boil over and wreak havoc on the field. We’ll see what happens with the behavior of the Braves this year.

New Nationals

While the Braves pondered their playoff choke, the Nationals bolstered their starting rotation by trading for righty Doug Fister. Fister won 14 games for Detroit in 2013, and pitched over 200 innings. However, his 3.67 ERA was a bit higher than his Major League average, and he was only bailed out by the Tigers’ potent offense. Unfortunately, the Nats’ bats were dismal in 2013 and scored 140 fewer runs than the Tigers did last season. Whether Washington’s offense can jumpstart this season will be key to Fister’s success or lack thereof.

Matt Williams was hired as Washington’s new manager, taking over for the wise, old-school Nationals Park scoreboardDavey Johnson. Williams had been a base coach for the Diamondbacks since 2010, and is a young, firey personality–completely opposite of Johnson. If the team takes a liking to their new skipper and adjusts well, things can only get better for Washington. But the manager is an important variable in the Nationals season.

Mets’ Health

The Mets finally had a decent offseason this year. They signed free agent Curtis Granderson and starter Bartolo Colon. Granderson missed much of the 2013 season after breaking his forearm in Spring Training and then doing likewise to a pinky finger later in the year. He will be 33 when the season begins, and will likely never return to his 40 home run form that he boasted for two consecutive seasons for the Yankees, especially since he will be playing in the expansive Citi Field. But his presence in the lineup will be more protection for David Wright than the Mets have had in a long while, as long as Granderson stays healthy.

Unfortunately for New York, ace Matt Harvey is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and will likely be out for the whole year. So unless the Mets’ starting rotation has a fantastic season all-around and can make up for Harvey’s absence, I don’t see the team making a serious run. But their potent lineup, if it stays injury-free and lives up to expectations, is good enough to at least be a nuisance in the NL East.

Miami’s Youth

Miami’s biggest move this offseason was the addition of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who signed a three-year contract with the Fish. The Marlins have not had a catcher with a Marlins Park 2012consistent and dangerous bat in a long time. In a best-case scenario, Salty’s lineup presence will protect Giancarlo Stanton enough that Stanton can at least see a fair amount of pitches to swing at. But as we’ve learned from the Marlins in the past, best-case scenarios almost never play out.

Jose Fernandez will be in his second year, his first full season, in the big leagues, and will likely only get better. But all-around, the Marlins are not there yet.

Final Verdict

Again, the Braves and Nationals will be favored to duke it out for the division crown. If the Braves have overcome their mental problems from last season and can shake off their playoff defeat, they can certainly win this division again despite their dry offseason. And if the Nationals have a hard time scoring runs again in 2014, no matter how good their pitching, the Braves will have an even easier season. But if Washington’s offense comes out strong and supports the rotation, and if Matt Williams keeps this team chemically bonded, D.C. will bring home an NL East crown.

The Braves play in Washington for the Nats’ home opener on April 4th, and the two teams play a series in Atlanta the following week. In the six head-to-head games they play in the first two weeks we’ll get a taste of the contention between these two powerhouses.

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