Associated Press

Giancarlo Stanton makes catch in stands in first game back


The Yankees won last night. It was a big win, as it came against the Rays, the team which they are currently battling for the division lead. The game featured homers from Edwin Encarnación and Cameron Maybin, each of whom were picked up after the season began — Encarnación just this past week — helping the Yankees overcome the massive number of injuries they sustained and which most people reasonably expected would derail them.

Yet, here they are, not derailed. What’s more, one of the most significant of the injured players — Giancarlo Stanton — came back last night after a nearly three-month layoff. Between that and the win and the homers from the newcomers and everything, you’d think the news coming off the New York presses this morning would be uniformly happy.

Nah: one of the tabloids is running a column about how worrisome it was that Stanton went 0-for-4. Never change, New York. Never change.

As a minor corrective, let us note that, despite the undoubtable harbinger of doom and sorrow that is a rusty player taking an o’fer in his first game back in months, Stanton made a nifty play in the outfield, ranging to the wall and reaching into the stands to snag a pop foul. He did it in wet conditions too. Watch:


If you’re the sort of person who really wants to focus on the negative, remember, baseball is a game of constant failure, so there’s a good chance Stanton won’t have a great night at the plate again tonight. Until then, I apologize for presenting this bit of positivity.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.