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Busch Stadium shadows wreak havoc with Nats

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Busch Stadium shadows wreak havoc with Nats

ST. LOUIS -- Nationals Park has its "Sun Monster," as Bryce Harper likes to call it. Busch Stadium has its "Shadow Monster," which reared its ugly head yesterday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series and is likely to make another appearance later today in Game 2.

The effect of the late-afternoon shadows caused by the various overhangs and light standards on the grandstand was obvious during the Nationals' 3-2 victory.

It made it difficult for batters to pick up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. It made it tough for infielders to make clean plays on what appeared to be routine grounders. And it left outfielders alternately trying to shade their eyes from the sun, then trying to regroup once flyballs returned to darkness.

Perhaps the only moment where the conditions actually aided the Nationals was on Jayson Werth's home-run-robbing catch of Daniel Descalso's sixth inning drive to the right-field wall.

"The visuals were tough in the outfield all day," Werth said. "And at the plate, too. This is a tough place to play as the day goes on. Luckily on the ball that I caught at the wall ... I was surprised actually that I caught it, because I was just having a hard time seeing it. When I went back and looked on video my last couple steps at the wall, I went in the shade. And that allowed me to get a good bead on it and time out the jump. But up until then, I was pretty much panicking 'cause it was a ball that I was pretty unsure on."

Werth's catch helped save the day for the Nationals and gave them a chance to rally late, which they did on Tyler Moore's eighth-inning single off Mark Rzepczynski. But that catch might not have carried as much significance had the Cardinals held a bigger lead at that point, something their players felt might have been possible had they been able to see the ball better at the plate.

When the game began at 2:08 p.m. local time, the shadows hadn't quite reached home plate. But by the third inning, the batter's box was in darkness while the pitcher's mound was in bright sunshine.

Over the next several innings, the dynamic changed over and over again, with various combinations of sunshine and shadows affecting batters from both sides.

"I think the toughest thing was, it was different every single at-bat," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So you go up there, the first at-bat was OK and then you could see it starting to creep in. Right before my second at-bat, it was almost right where the catcher was, so it wasn't quite there yet. And then my third at-bat and from there on, you go through different things where it's light in the back, dark at the plate, where it's light-dark-light."

"It's hard to square the ball up when you can't see it," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday told reporters. "I don't know if you noticed, but both teams had a hard time squaring the ball up."

Major league players, creatures of habit if ever there were any, get used to playing games during the regular season at mostly regular times (usually the 1 p.m. hour for day games, the 7 p.m. hour for night games). Come October, though, odd starting times become the norm, with TV networks trying to stagger the starts of as many as four games a day to their national audiences.

"It's a shame, is what it is," Holliday said. "You play all year, get these opportunities, and this is the game. You play all year at 1:00 and 7:00, then you get to the most important part of the year and you're playing at weird times."

Look for more of the same today in Game 2, which is scheduled to begin at 3:37 p.m. CDT (4:37 p.m. EDT).

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Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Wieters aren't the only important guys within the Nationals organization becoming free agents in 2019.

President of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo is also becoming a free agent when his contract expires on October 31st.

In the final year of his five-year contract, the 57-year old is set to make $2.5 million.

RELATED: HOWIE KENDRICK RETURNING TO NATIONALS

Since joining the organization, Rizzo has turned the team into a legit World Series contender. They've won four division titles in the last six years under his guidance, but have been unable to get over the NL Division series hump. And even though that's a glaring red mark on his resume, Rizzo knows the success he's brought to the organization. 

When you look at what we accomplished,’’ Mike Rizzo said in a recent interview, “it’s really unsung and underappreciated. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I like it here. I love the city. I love the team I put together. I like being a GM in the NL East. And I want to stay here. I just think I deserve to be treated like some of the best GMs in the game are, too.

Rizzo is talking about GM's like Cubs' Theo Epstein and Yankees' Brian Cashman, who've received big paydays over the last year.

I know we haven’t won the World Series, but I get tired of hearing how we can’t win the big one, or we can’t get out of the first round. We haven’t had that many chances.

Does Rizzo deserve an extension? The Sports Junkies think he does, but with GM's like the ones above cashing out, they can also see him wanting to test the open market.

"Why wouldn't they?", said Jason Bishop, noting his track record.

"There's a sense he wants to test the market," said Eric Bickel. That's the vibe I'm getting from him."

Rizzo is a weekly guest on the Junkies and has said that the organization will figure it out. However, the 2018 season may be the last time for a long time the Nats have a real shot at making a run before they lose some of their stars to other teams. If Rizzo does take that into consideration and decides to go elsewhere, the Junkies don't see him having any issues finding employment.

"If there was a time to roll, it would be after this season when you get your last run with this group," said Eric Bickel. And then If they don't pay you what you think you deserve, he'll be snatched up in 22 seconds."

RELATED: BEST OF NATS' RACING PRESIDENT TRYOUTS

If they do decide to sign him to an extension, will it be a long, drawn-out ordeal? The Junkies disagree on that one. 

"He is too valuable, Jason Bishop said. He's too valuable. You gotta ink him to a deal sometime during the season."

Luckily for D.C. sports fans, long, drawn-out extension talks aren't foreign to them.

To see their full discussion, click the media player above. 

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

WASHINGTON  -- The Nationals have agreed to a $7 million, two-year contract with outfielder Howie Kendrick, a deal subject to a successful physical.

Agent Pat Murphy confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on Monday. USA Today was first to report the deal.

Kendrick, 34, hit .293 with seven home runs and RBIs in 52 games with Washington after he was acquired from Philadelphia. The versatile right-handed hitter got just three plate appearances off the bench in the playoffs.

In 12 major league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, Kendrick is a .291 hitter with a .755 OPS. He's now primarily an outfielder for Washington after playing left field, second base, first base and other positions throughout his career.