A Review of Nationals Winterfest

This weekend was truly “everything you loved about NatsFest…all wrapped in a holiday bow.” It may have been even better than NatsFest.

The most significant improvement to the annual event was the amount of fan interaction with players. Last year, the opportunities to mingle with players were much more limited. A majority of the meetings took place at player photo stations–where fans had the chance to grip and grin with some of their favorite players.

This weekend there were plenty of opportunities to take photos with players at the photo stations, but it was also not unusual to see players mingling with fans at every activity in the exhibition hall.

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Fans were able to shake hands and pose for photos with players at three photo stations.

Jayson Werth was on top of “The Slider” and helped push fans down the snow tubing themed slide. Dusty Baker posed for snow globe photos. Taylor Jordan tossed baseballs with fans at the carnival games station. Stephen Strasburg gave advice to fans at the steal home challenge station. Oliver Perez greeted fans preparing to encase themselves in plastic bubbles at the snowball run station. Players were everywhere and they were excited to meet the fans.

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Taylor Jordan looked on as I aimed for the Philadelphia Phillies target at the carnival games station.

Winterfest was also defined this year by the presence of Bryce Harper. Harper sat out last year’s NatsFest, according to General Manager Mike Rizzo, because of an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for the following week.

The 2015 National League MVP more than made up for last year’s absence. Harper navigated the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with a five man security detail, but he was still incredibly accessible to fans as he posed for photos and taught baseball mechanics at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Field.

Harper may have been closest to fans on Sunday during the Lip Sync Battle which commanded national attention from the news media when he accessorized with a pink feather boa and danced to a song by the Spice Girls. He subsequently serenaded a young fan from his knees to the tunes of “My Girl” by The Temptations.

Main stage events including Nats Pictionary, a favorite from NatsHD Live pre-game show, and Youngbloods Q&A, where Gio Gonzalez sassed four rookies about their off seasons for 30 amazing minutes, seemed like an upgraded from last year’s NatsFest. These events replaced less exciting main stage events like the gingerbread house building contest and Jerry Blevins’ discussion about his all-time favorite movies.

There were only a few areas that warrant improvement for next season’s Winterfest.

The video pitch simulator station was one of those places. The virtual reality station gave fans the opportunity to throw pitches and then watch a batter smack it out of the ballpark. Unfortunately, the experience took more than a couple of minutes for each fan to experience which made waiting on a line of more than 30 people seem like an unwise investment.

The conclusion of Winterfest can also be improved. Sunday’s festivities on the main stage unceremoniously ended with Matt Grace and Taylor Jordan watching children faceoff in reindeer ring toss which didn’t establish a real sense of closure for fans.

The official final event of the day was the mascot home run derby which felt like a strange way to close the event compared to last year’s grand finale when the entire team gathered on the main stage for a sendoff.

We would start looking forward to next season’s Winterfest, but that could wait until October.

Star of the Series 5/8-5/10 (Bryce Harper)

Series Scores
Friday, May 8, 2015 Braves 2 Nationals 9
Saturday, May 10, 2015 Braves 6 Nationals 8
Sunday, May 11, 2015 Braves 4 Nationals 5

The Washington Nationals trailed the Atlanta Braves 9-1 in the second inning on April 28 when the teams last met at Turner Field and they were able to avoid their seventh consecutive loss in a memorable 13-12 in comeback.  The Nationals’ success against their division rival continued on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 31,938 who gathered at Nationals Park to watch the Nationals complete their first series sweep of the season with a 5-4 win.  The Nationals have won 10 of their last 12 games since the historic comeback.

The Nationals overcame an early 2-0 deficit on Friday night and slugged their way to a 9-2 win.  Jayson Werth got the Nationals on the board in the fourth inning with a solo home run.  The  remaining seven runs were driven in on home runs by Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa who both hit two home runs.  Gio Gonzalez (3-2) had another strong performance working seven innings and striking out eight batters while allowing only two runs on five hits.

The Nationals almost took a 7-6 lead in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon on a Dan Uggla single to left field.  Michael Taylor, who entered the game as a pinch-runner for Jose Lobaton, tried to score from second base, but was nailed at the plate by Kelly Johnson.  Bryce Harper played the role of hero on Saturday with his third career walk-off homer in the ninth inning.

Many players deserved star of the series nominations.  Espinosa and Lobaton both receive honorable mentions this series.  Espinosa has hit four home runs this season from the left side of the plate after a spring training experiment where gave up switch-hitting and only hit from the right side of the plate.  Lobaton also gets an honorable mention this series.  He has hit two home runs in his last three starts and continues to demonstrate he is a capable backup catcher.  Here are the nominees for the 5/8-5/11 star of the series against the Braves.

  1. Bryce Harper
  2. Wilson Ramos
  3. Ryan Zimmerman

Bryce Harper was named the National League Player of the week on Monday afternoon.  Harper became just the fourth Nationals player to hit three home runs in a game when he did so on Wednesday afternoon against the Marlins.  Harper got off to a shaky start on Friday night in the fourth inning when he singled on a line drive to center fielder Cameron Maybin.  Harper took a big turn towards second base was tagged out by Freddie Freeman who received a strong throw from Andrelton Simmons.

Harper made up for his baserunning mistake in the sixth inning when he drove a 1-2 pitch over the wall in center field.  The two-run home run scored Yunel Escobar and gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead.  Harper’s second home run of the game was a three-run homer in the eighth inning that scored Escobar and Werth.  Harper hit his National League leading 11th home run of the season to win the game for the Nationals on Saturday.

Harper also showed off his defensive skills in the seventh inning on Saturday.  Harper recorded all three outs of the inning.  He athletically tracked down a sharp line drive hit by Nick Markakis to record the third out of the inning.  Harper’s leaping grab kept at least one run off the scoreboard.

Wilson Ramos extended his hit streak on Sunday to 13 games.  His 13-game hit streak is the second longest of his career and it propelled the Nationals to victory on Sunday afternoon.  Ramos gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a single to right field which scored Ryan Zimmerman who executed a hook slide to avoid Christian Bethancourt’s tag.  Ramos’ most important hit came in the eighth inning when he hit his fifth double of the season on a fly ball that sailed over the head of Markakis in right field.  Zimmerman scored and gave the Nationals a 5-4 which was preserved by Drew Storen who recorded his ninth save of the season.  Ramos ended the series with a .327 AVG–the highest AVG on the team.

Ryan Zimmerman hit his third home run of the season on Saturday in the fifth inning off Julio Teheran (3-1).  Zimmerman’s three-run home run flew over the left field wall and bounced back onto the field.  The play was reviewed and Zimmerman came into score as the Nationals fans celebrated his home run for a second time.  Zimmerman also drove in his fourth and fifth RBIs of the series on Sunday afternoon.  Zimmerman scored Harper from second base in the first inning with a double.  Zimmerman’s 22nd RBI of the season tied the game on Sunday afternoon at 4-4.  Zimmerman scored the winning run on the very next at bat off Ramos’s double.

Star of the Series: Bryce Harper

Harper had three home runs this series against the Braves.  His seven hits and eight RBIs made him the star of the series.

Star of the Series 5/4-5/6 (Bryce Harper)

Series Scores
Monday, May 4, 2015 Marlins 4 Nationals 6
Tuesday, May 5, 2015 Marlins 2 Nationals 1
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 Marlins 5 Nationals 7

Bryce Harper had 3 home runs and 5 RBIs on Wedneday. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Bryce Harper had 3 home runs and 5 RBIs on Wednesday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The Washington Nationals were swept by the Miami Marlins when the teams last met in April and the Nationals limped out of Miami mired at bottom of the National League East standings with a 7-12 record.  The Nationals got revenge on Monday night at Nationals Park when they overcame a two-run deficit in the eighth inning.  Ian Desmond, who had not hit a home run since April 15 in Boston, hit a two-run home run to tie the game and Yunel Escobar had a clutch base hit that drove in two more runs to give the Nationals a 4-2 lead.  Tanner Roark preserved the 4-2 lead and earned his first career save.

The Nationals dropped the second game of the series 2-1, but the biggest news of the night was focused on Stephen Strasburg.  Strasburg left the game after the third inning because of “shoulder discomfort.”  He was able to play catch on Wednesday, but the Nationals have not made any announcements about whether he will make his next regularly scheduled start on Monday in Arizona.

The series went out with a bang on Wednesday afternoon in front of 31,417 fans at Nationals Park.  Bryce Harper hit three home runs and Max Scherzer had 10 strikeouts in a game the Nationals won 7-5.  The win was the team’s seventh in nine games and it delivered a third consecutive series win.  Here are the nominees for the 5/4-5/6 star of the series against the Marlins.

  1. Ian Desmond
  2. Yunel Escobar
  3. Bryce Harper

Ian Desmond had four hits in the final two games of the series against the New York Mets and he looked to continue to heat up on Monday night against the Marlins.  Desmond was 0-for-3, with two strikeouts, going into his at bat in the eighth inning with Ryan Zimmerman on first base and one out.  Desmond tied the game with a two-run home run into the batters’ eye in center field.  Desmond also had two more hits and scored two more runs in Wednesday’s game.  His defense has also recently improved as he completed his second consecutive series without making an error.

Yunel Escobar had five singles on Monday night.  His five hit night was complete with a game winning single in the eighth inning which scored Tyler Moore and Denard Span.  Escobar’s six hits this series puts him in a tie with Wilson Ramos for a team leading 29 hits.

Bryce Harper was 0-for-7 with four walks in his last five games before Wednesday afternoon’s clinic.  He made Tom Koehler look like his 2013 Home Run Derby pitcher with three tape-measure home runs.  Harper led off the second inning with a home run to left center field.  Harper’s sixth home run of the season bounced off the back wall of the visitor’s bullpen and it cut the Marlins lead in half in a 2-1 game.  Harper drove a fastball Koehler left over the outside part of the plate in the third inning into the upper deck in right field to score Ian Desmond.  Harper’s second home run of the game was outdone by his third home run of the game to the same location.  Statcast showed Harper’s third home run had an exit velocity of 108.6-mph and traveled 444.9 feet.  Harper had more to contribute on Wednesday afternoon.  He added another RBI on a ground out in the seventh inning for his fifth RBI of the game.  Harper leads the Nationals with 20 RBIs and 8 HRs.  Harper is tied for fourth in the National League in home runs and fifth in the National League in RBIs.  He leads the major leagues with 26 walks.

Star of the Series: Bryce Harper

Harper fell short of becoming the 17th player to hit four home runs in a game, but he still stole the show on Wednesday afternoon.  He showcased his power and became only the fourth player on the Nationals to hit three home runs in a game.

Star of the Series 4/24-4/26 (Bryce Harper)

Series Scores

Friday, April 24, 2015: Nationals 2 Marlins 3

Saturday, April 25, 2015: Nationals 0 Marlins 8

Sunday, April 26, 2015: Nationals 2 Marlins 6

Bryce Harper was the Star of the Series, but the Nationals have fallen into last place. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Bryce Harper was the Star of the Series, but the Nationals have fallen into last place. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

The Washington Nationals faced the Miami Marlins for the first time this weekend and the Marlins easily completed a three game sweep of the Nationals on Sunday afternoon defeating them 6-2.  The Nationals managed just four runs during the series and they were shutout 8-0 Saturday evening.  The Nationals got only one strong performance from a starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmerman, and even that was squandered by a struggling bullpen and an offense that continues to struggle with consistency issues.  Sunday afternoon’s loss leaves the Nationals with a 7-12 record and puts them in last place in the National League East—7 ½ games behind the first place New York Mets.  Marlins Park is not a hitters park, but the Nationals offense proved especially inept only managing one home run and two other extra-base hits.  The team was not carried by any individual this series, but the three nominees for Star of the Series kept the games from completely getting out of hand.  Here are the nominees for the 4/24-4/26 series against the Marlins.

  1. Yunel Escobar
  2. Bryce Harper
  3. Wilson Ramos

Yunel Escobar continued to demonstrate his offensive consistency this series.  Escobar had at least one hit in all three games and now has a 16-game on-base streak this season.  Escobar’s longest on-base streak was in 2011 when he had a 25-game on-base streak with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Escobar has a .361 OBP—the second highest on the team behind Bryce Harper.  Escobar reached base safely three times in Sunday afternoon’s 6-2 defeat.  He drew walks in the fourth and fifth inning before hitting a single to right field in his final at bat of the game.

Bryce Harper was the biggest reason why the Nationals were not completely embarrassed this weekend.  Harper had three hits and drew two more walks to add to his league leading 17 total walks.  Harper also drove in three of the four runs the Nationals scored this series.  He connected just enough on Sunday afternoon with a splitter from Dan Haren to hit his team leading fifth home run of the season.  Harper put together a terrific performance during Friday night’s 3-2 defeat.  Harper drove in Ian Desmond on a sacrifice fly to center field.  He added a second RBI when he hit a single in the sixth inning to score Denard Span and tie the game 2-2.  Harper also demonstrated excellent defensive skills in right field.  Dee Gordon unsuccessfully tried to stretch a single into a double in the bottom of the fifth inning on Friday night and he was thrown out by a strong throw from Harper for the third out of the inning.

Wilson Ramos did not drive in any runs this series, but he and Escobar led the Nationals with four hits this series.  Ramos scored a run on a Span single to left field on Sunday afternoon.  Ramos was only tested on the basepaths three times this series by Dee Gordon.  Gordon, who stole a major league leading 64 bases in 2014, was thrown out twice on three attempts this series by Ramos.  Ramos made a costly blunder on Sunday when he held onto the ball for too long during a rundown where Giancarlo Stanton was presumably hung out to dry when he overran third base in the bottom of the fourth inning.  The mistake prolonged the inning which saw the winning run to score.

Star of the Series: Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper was not the reason why the Nationals won any games this series, but he continues to showcase his value as a consistent power hitter in an inconsistent lineup.

Star of the Series 4/16-4/19 (Bryce Harper)

Series Scores

Thursday, April 16, 2015: Nationals 5 Phillies 2

Friday, April 17, 2015: Nationals 7 Phillies 2

Saturday, April 18, 2015: Nationals 3 Phillies 5

Sunday, April 19, 2015: Nationals 4 Phillies 1

Ian Desmond removes Bryce Harper's helmet after his home run on Friday night (MLB.tv)
Ian Desmond removes Bryce Harper’s helmet after his home run on Friday night (MLB.tv)

The Washington Nationals closed out their second of six series matchups with the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday afternoon–one week after dropping two out of three games at Citizens Bank Park.  The Nationals looked like a different team this week when their bats came alive giving them their first series win of the season.  The Nationals scored 19 runs this series after managing just seven runs against the same opponent a week earlier.  The team’s starting pitching had a stellar series.  Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg all earned wins.  The strong team performance made choosing a Star of the Series especially difficult.  Here are the nominees for the 4/16-4/19 series against the Phillies:

  1. Bryce Harper
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Ryan Zimmerman

Bryce Harper leads the Nationals with four home runs this season including two impressive home runs this series.  His first home run of the series came in the first inning of Friday’s 7-2 victory.  Harper’s game winning home run came off of a curveball from Sean O’Sullivan that he drove over the center field wall.  Harper outdid himself in the fifth inning of Saturday afternoon’s 5-3 defeat when he hit a solo home run off of Aaron Harrang in the fifth inning which traveled 452 feet.  Harper also drew seven walks this series including three intentional passes.

Max Scherzer could easily have entered Friday night’s game with a 2-0 record.  Scherzer only surrendered one earned run in 13.2 innings this season, but he was let down by defensive miscues and meager offensive support.  The right-handed pitcher was lights-out across eight innings of work.  Scherzer demonstrated good control throwing 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes.  He had nine strikeouts and only allowed one run when Odubel Herrera scored on a ground out in the top of the third inning.  Herrera was the only player to advance into scoring position during Scherzer’s eight innings of work doing so in the first and third innings.

Ryn Zimmerman made his presence known this series in the field and at the plate.  Zimmerman, who is in the midst of his first season as a full time first baseman, continues to look like a natural.  His defensive plays could have easily been sent to ESPN’s Baseball Tonight producers for the nightly “web gems” segment.  Zimmerman was holding Darin Ruf on at first base in the top of the fifth inning of Friday night’s game when Sean O’Sullivan popped a bunt into foul territory.  Zimmerman reacted perfectly.  He charged from first base and dove head first to make a catch just a few feet from the Nationals on deck circle.  We also circled two of Zimmerman’s defensive plays in our scorecard from Saturday afternoon’s game.  Zimmerman made a terrific catch on a line drive to first base in the top of the sixth inning with Jeff Francoeur on first and stepped on first to complete a double play.  With two outs and runners on first and second in the seventh inning, Zimmerman fully extended on a sharply hit ball to first base and flipped the ball to Matt Thornton who end the threat.  Zimmerman leads the Nationals with 11 RBI after an impressive series where he drove in seven runs in four games.  Zimmerman’s .211 AVG still needs improvement, but his performance with runners on base has been superb.  He has driven in nine runs over the last seven games.

Star of the Series: Bryce Harper

The Phillies are lucky they limited Harper to just 2 home runs.  They were able to control his offensive production by walking him seven times, but Harper still made his mark this series scoring 5 runs and driving in 4 runs.