Nationals hitting coach breaks GM-imposed silence

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Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo gave hitting coach Rick Eckstein orders to avoid talking to reporters for the past several weeks, apparently fearing that Eckstein would be too hard on himself about the team’s offensive struggles.

Eckstein finally chatted with the media yesterday and sure enough he was very tough on himself:

I’m going to blame myself. That’s the way I’ve always been. I don’t point fingers at anybody else. Where we were in a lot of categories were below where we want them to be. We want to go out and be able execute under any circumstances, and when that doesn’t happen, the first person I look at is myself.

As the hitting coach, I take every at-bat home. It’s something that, I think it through. I try to pick apart where I make mistakes. I try to make sure that every plan for each player is the right plan. I beat myself up about it. So, yeah, I do take it personally. When the success does start to show, I’m very happy for the player, because I know how hard they worked for it. But I continue to pick myself apart.

Fair enough, but on the list of Nationals being criticized for the team’s continued poor play Eckstein probably doesn’t even show up. At least not right now. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche have been hurt, Jayson Werth has been mediocre, and young pupils Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa have done well enough to cancel out Ian Desmond going backward in his development. And other than that he just doesn’t have much to work with.

In other words, Eckstein might not be doing a particularly good job, but there’s enough wrong with the Nationals that no one should be pointing fingers at him. Heck, Rizzo still thinks the lineup’s problem is lack of success with runners in scoring position even though they’ve been no better or worse in those spots than they are overall (which is to say terrible).

Braves clinch NL East title

Ender Inciarte
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So much for a last-minute, nail-biting finish to this division race. The Braves cemented their division title with a dominant 5-3 finish over the Phillies on Saturday, laying claim to the NL East title for the first time since 2013.

The Braves asserted themselves right off the bat after amassing a four-run lead from Johan Camargo and Freddie Freeman, both of whom cleared the bases with two-run singles in the first two innings. Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, found another way to make his presence known after swiping his 15th stolen base of the year and joining Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Trout as one of the youngest players to collect at least 25 home runs and 15 stolen bags in major league history.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz delivered one of the strongest starts of his season to date. The righty set down six innings of no-hit ball against the Phillies, and, with just 62 pitches under his belt, looked ready to go the distance before he lost his bid on Odubel Herrera‘s leadoff single in the seventh.

Unfortunately for the Braves, the Phillies not only upended Foltynewicz’s no-hit attempt, but the shutout as well. In the eighth inning, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins wrestled two RBI singles from Atlanta’s bullpen and brought Philadelphia within one run of tying the game. Hoskins was the last Phillies batter to reach base, however, as Jonny Venters and Arodys Vizcaino tossed a combined 1 2/3 scoreless innings (backed by a final RBI hit from Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the eighth) to cap the Braves’ win — and the NL East title.

With the loss, the Phillies sit seven games back of a wild card spot in the National League. They’ll need to outpace the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Cardinals in order to make 2018 their first postseason-qualifying year since 2011.