Senior Baseball Columnist

Weekend Buzz: Nationals are baseball's best story this season


Bryce Harper has the most home runs by a teenager since Adrian Beltre in 1998. (Getty Images)  
Bryce Harper has the most home runs by a teenager since Adrian Beltre in 1998. (Getty Images)  

The Weekend Buzz while Bruce Springsteen and the E St. Band were playing a 3:40 show in Milan, Italy, their second-longest show ever. My goodness, even the Red Sox and Yankees would have trouble matching that. ...

1. Nationals treasures: You could see it all the way from Fenway Park: The Washington Monument standing taller over the weekend. The White House gleaming whiter. A smile creasing ol' Abe's face as his eyes looked right through you at the Lincoln Memorial. (Clearly, you were in his way while he was trying to see Stephen Strasburg on the mound in Boston).

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The Red Sox aren’t your usual Red Sox. When the Nats dropped them to 28-29 with Saturday's loss, the Red Sox hadn't been sub-.500 this late in a season since they were 78-79 on Oct. 3, 2001, as STATS_LLC pointed out.

But Fenway Park is the usual Fenway Park. And as Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the rest of the gang authoring baseball's best and most fun story in 2012 took aim on The Hub, you couldn't miss the legend growing in both directions: Fenway's, in its 100th anniversary season, and that of Strasburg and Harper.

Strasburg fanned 13 in the Fens on Friday, including five consecutive Red Sox and seven of eight during a stretch from the third through fifth innings. On the second anniversary of his major-league debut, he hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun for the first time this season and now is 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA over his past four starts.

"It’s like looking at a rainbow," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine memorably told reporters. "You don't miss it. It's a rather beautiful sight."

With a big boost from Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez as well, Nationals pitchers have struck out 23 percent of the batters they've faced this season -- the majors' best strikeout rate since 1961.

There's lots of wind on K Street: The Nats are averaging 8.51 whiffs per nine innings this season through 57 games. If they continue that over a full season, it would rank as the second-highest average in modern baseball history, after the 2003 Cubs, who averaged 8.68 strikeouts per nine innings.

Harper, meanwhile, wasted no time in crunching a home run in Friday night's series opener, finishing a 3-for-5 night with a double and three RBI. His 420-foot homer was absolutely crushed, and now the past four 19-year-old visiting players to belt homers in Fenway are Harper, Robin Yount, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle. Three of those four are in the Hall of Fame. One is still just 19.

Dustin Pedroia told him, "Hey, good job", as he raced around the bases following the homer and, with six this season, Harper currently has the most home runs by a teenager since the Dodgers' Adrian Beltre, then 19, hit seven for the Dodgers in 1998.

Before the series opener Friday, Harper, who knows and appreciates baseball history, gushed to reporters that "Just to step in the same batter's box Ted Williams did, that's pretty amazing."

So, too, is what the Nationals continue to do despite a laundry list of injuries that could wrap around the Jefferson Memorial. Including, likely for just a day, Harper, who did not start Sunday because of a sore lower back. Hey, hefting these expectations is hard.

2. It takes a village (to no-hit the Dodgers): To the question "Is this the first time ever that six pitchers combined on a no-hitter?" we have a fantabulous, ready-made answer: "No. In fact, this isn't even the first six-pitcher combined no-hitter in the brief history of interleague play!"

You could look it up, as Casey Stengel surely would say. Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen of the Mariners ... meet Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner of the Astros, who no-hit the Yankees in the Bronx on June 11, 2003. Within minutes of that one, rumors were flying that late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was demanding the head of his hitting coach on a silver platter.

Fact is, interleague play has brought us three of the craziest pitching feats in recent memory. Aside from the aforementioned two, the Dodgers beat the Angels while being held hitless on June 29, 2008. Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined to throw eight no-hit innings, but Weaver surrendered a run on an error, steal, another error and a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. The game did not go into the record books as an official no-hitter because the Dodgers, despite being held hitless, only batted eight times in the win.

The Pirates 12-3 record since May 25 is the best in baseball. (Getty Images)  
The Pirates 12-3 record since May 25 is the best in baseball. (Getty Images)  
3. This, even without Johnny Depp: They're last in the majors in runs scored, but the Pirates' 11-3 record into Sunday's series finale against Kansas City was the majors' best record since May 25. It also was the Pirates' best 14-game record since 2004. Leading a Bucs' rotation ranking third in the NL in ERA is James McDonald, who is 5-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts. His biting curve has helped him produce six eight-strikeout games through 11 starts. Or, as STATS_LLC points out, one fewer than the entire Pittsburgh rotation had in 2011.

4. Johan, No-han and the Cano: As usual, Johnny Vander Meer was safe again. Not only did the Mets' Johan Santana fail to match Vander Meer's consecutive no-hitters feat on Friday, he helped produce this quirky nugget: The Yankees' Robinson Cano went into the game with just one home run in 75 at-bats against lefties ... then thumped two homers on the first two pitches he saw from Santana.

5. Dr. Johnny Fever approves: Call it what you will. Incredible, amazing, shocking, sick ... it all works. But Joey Votto, in the midst of another MVP-type season, has exactly one (1) popup out in the infield in nearly three years, since 2009, according to

Beyond that, Votto took a 14-game hitting streak into Sunday night's series finale with the Tigers, and his .563 batting average over his past 13 games is the highest by any Reds batter over a 13-game stretch since Gordy Coleman's .571 in May, 1965.

6. Bailey Quarters approves, too: Opposing hitters had exactly 100 at-bats into Sunday night against Aroldis Chapman, recently moved into Cincinnati's closer's role. In those 100 at-bats, they had cobbled together nine hits while striking out 54 times.

7. Stock up on pillows and No-Doz: Don't say you weren't warned: The Red Sox activated Daisuke Matsuzaka on Saturday. (And the Dice-Man surrendered four earned runs and five hits in five innings against the Nationals, and shockingly the game checked in at less than three hours, 2:53).

8. A is for Atlanta ... and Andrelton: New Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons belted his first career homer Saturday, against Toronto's Drew Hutchison. Summoned from Double-A Mississippi on May 31 to replace Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop, Simmons was batting .280 with a double, triple, homer, four RBI and a .357 on-base percentage through his first seven games. Most notably, the Braves have won six of those games.

9. The Cardinals and Prohibition: Now this is hardly fair. Who did the Cardinals come up with to replace the injured Jaime Garcia in their rotation? Rookie Joe Kelly, who made his major-league debut against the Indians Sunday. No word on whether opposing hitters will be issued bulletproof vests when facing the distant relative of favorite American gangster George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

10. I don't follow boxing, but: Someone told me the judges for Saturday night's fight also have the Cubs and Padres in first place.


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