Quick Links

Why didn't the Nats draw better last night?

Why didn't the Nats draw better last night?

It was impossible not to notice as the best-in-baseball Nationals took the field at 7:05 p.m. last night to face the Cubs. As the ballpark PA announcer implored the crowd to greet "your Washington Nationals," the ensuing roar might not have been loud enough to wake a sleeping infant.

Huge swaths of the lower deck were empty. You could count the number of fans in many upper deck sections on two hands. A few were completely vacant.

Official paid attendance: 17,648, the fourth-smallest crowd of the season on South Capitol Street and the smallest since May 2.

Where'd everybody go?

Theories immediately were proposed. It had been the first day of school in Northern Virginia, where the majority of Nationals fans live. The muggy weather was a turn-off. Tons of locals had been out of town during the holiday weekend. Tons more had migrated to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

All of those likely played a role in the disappointingly small gathering, but it turns out this problem wasn't restricted to Washington.

Did you know there were seven games around Major League Baseball last night that drew smaller crowds? Yep, the Braves (16,686), White Sox (15,698), Blue Jays (13,556), Pirates (12,785), Mariners (12,754), Royals (12,462) and Athletics (11,688) all played in front of fewer fans.

And two other playoff contenders -- the Reds (17,806) and Rays (17,652) -- drew nearly identical crowds as the Nationals.

Average attendance across baseball last night: 21,042. That's down 33 percent from the overall season average.

Apparently the day after Labor Day is a tough sell just about everywhere.

Only five clubs drew significantly more fans than the Nationals did: the Giants (41,038), Dodgers (40,619), Cardinals (34,108), Tigers (27,729) and Marlins (23,403). In all cases, those crowds were below average, with Detroit down 10,000 fans from its season norm.

None of that prevented fans, media and other interested parties around the country from hurling insults the Nationals' way and questioning whether D.C. really will support a winning baseball team. Clearly many of those people haven't been paying attention.

Attendance at Nationals Park remains up 27 percent from this point last season. Only the Marlins (who moved out of an awful football stadium into a new baseball-only park) have enjoyed a larger increase from 2011 to 2012.

With an average attendance just a tick under 30,000, the Nationals rank 14th out of 30 major-league clubs, ahead of the playoff-contending Reds, Braves, Pirates, Orioles, White Sox, Athletics and Rays.

So why was last night's crowd (and several other during this homestand) so small? The answer is simple: The Nationals still have a small season-ticket base.

Team officials don't give out exact numbers, but it's believed the Nationals have sold the equivalent of about 12,000 full-season ticket packages. We know for certain that number is no greater than 14,520 (the smallest crowd of the season to date).

When your base is that small, you've got to sell roughly 30,000 single-game seats every single night to fill the place up. That may happen a handful of times over the course of a season -- on summer weekends and against high-drawing opponents -- but on the day after Labor Day? Not likely.

Baseball is a slow-moving sport in so many ways, and attendance leads the list. Teams usually see a huge spike in crowds the year after they reach the playoffs. Why? Because they sell a whole lot more season-ticket packages over the winter.

There's every reason to believe the Nationals will experience such a spike in 2013 and will surpass their 2012 total attendance (even if they don't win as many games).

Until then, they'll just have to hope the crowds start to pick up again as the regular-season draws to a close. When the time comes for them to clinch the city's first postseason berth in 79 years, the place should be full.

When they actually do host October baseball for the first time in three generations, the place will be full. (If nothing else, Washington has proven itself to be a big "event" town, and there will be no bigger event in town come October than playoff baseball.)

That doesn't make last night's paltry crowd any less disappointing. But perhaps it will help convince the doubters out there about D.C.'s ability to support a winning ballclub.

Quick Links

Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats (75-55) at Phillies (60-70) at Citizens Bank Park

Having lost six of their last eight, the Nats now hit the road to face the Phillies for three games. This could be a good opportunity to collect some wins against a lesser team, as the Nats swept each of their last two head-to-head series.

Also working in the Nats' favor is that Tanner Roark is on the mound. Roark is 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA and is very good at going deep into games, having pitched at least seven innings in 15 of his 25 starts.

Ryan Zimmerman gets the day off as manager Dusty Baker looks to get him some rest. Clint Robinson is instead playing first base.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Phillies - Jake Thompson

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Clint Robinson
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jake Thompson

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

Quick Links

Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

The Nationals have optioned pitcher Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse and recalled outfielder Michael A. Taylor, the team announced Monday. 

Giolito will return to the minors after starting Sunday in Washington's 5-3 loss to Colorado. He pitched a career-high five innings, allowing four runs on six hits (two HRs) and four walks. 

As Nationals Insider Chase Hughes noted, the rookie pitcher's velocity hasn't lived up to expectations. 

His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits ... On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

Taylor, meanwhile, last played for the Nationals on July 24 against the Padres. He went 0-4 at the plate in the 10-6 loss. 

MORE NATIONALS: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1

Quick Links

State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

Team Record: 75-55

Top storylines

Turner looks, plays like a kid - It's not hyperbole to say that Trea Turner has been the Nats' best player in August and that's with Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper each having very good numbers this month. They've been excellent, it's just that Turner has been on a different level with 42 hits in 25 games (.359 BA), five homers, 10 steals and 27 runs. The 27 runs are a franchise record for a rookie in one month.

Turner has even been making slick plays in center field. During the Orioles series he robbed Adam Jones numerous times, convincing Jones to playfully shoot a pretend arrow in his direction after one impressive catch (see below). That's coming from a guy who has four Gold Gloves at center field, so it's worth noting.

One catch Turner made on Jones was a diving grab at the warning track. He then got up with a big smile on his face. I noticed that and asked him about it. His answer was great:

"I think it's like a little kid's play, just go and catch the ball. Whatever you've gotta do to get there and get a glove on it. I think that's how everyone should play center field or outfield, for that matter, just like a little kid. Just hustle and make sure you're throwing it to the right base," he said.

"I always kind of laugh. When I hit a home run, it's kind of funny to me. I think it's just the little kid in me. It's fun and exciting and I really enjoy small things like that. Everybody should enjoy as much as they can."

That's the type of talk that will endear him to a lot of fans.

Ramos feeling better after rest - Wilson Ramos had been slowing down with just one hit through five games from Aug. 20 through 24 in 22 total at-bats. So, manager Dusty Baker prescribed him some rest. He gave him two consecutive days off and said publicly he could tell The Buffalo was a bit tired.

Ramos returned and in the two games since has three hits, a homer, a walk and two RBI. His homer on Sunday was his 20th of the season and, for Ramos, it was a good indication that the time off served him well:

"I was surprised about the two off-days, but Dusty knows and he probably noticed something in my swing, that I was looking tired. I didn't personally feel that way, but he probably noticed that my swing was not the way it was at the beginning of the season with all these games," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez.

"It did help quite a bit. I felt better today. My swing felt a lot better, so I think that he was seeing something that I personally did not. You play so long, you get used to it and you don't feel it yourself. But he saw something that I didn't and it did help me out."

Zimmerman struggling - Unlike Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman continued to struggle in Sunday's loss to the Rockies by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In his last five games, Zimmerman has just one hit across 21 at-bats with seven Ks. That followed a solid first four games when he came back from the disabled list.

Baker weighed in on what has been holding his first baseman back in recent days:

"I think he's chasing. I think he's a little over-anxious because he's swinging at balls that are out of the zone. We've just gotta get him back in the zone and get him concentrated. He's trying extremely hard, but I think he's trying too hard. We're talking to him, but you can't swing for anybody because they're up at the plate by themselves."

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Trea Turner 8/23 vs. Orioles - 4-for-4, 2B

Pitching line of the week: Max Scherzer 8/25 vs. Orioles - 8.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 10 SO, 0 BB, 95 pitches (72 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

“He’s going to get stronger yet, when he gets his man-muscles or his man-bones or whatever you call it. Heh-heh. Cause today I tapped him on the butt, and I was like: ‘Man, you’re hard as a rock.’ And he said: ‘Well, I should be. It’s all bone.’”

- Baker on, uh, slapping Turner's butt

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Road Ahead

Mon. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Roark vs. Thompson)
Tue. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Scherzer vs. Eickhoff)
Wed. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Gonzalez vs. Morgan)
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Cole vs. Syndergaard)
Sat. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Giolito vs. deGrom)
Sun. - 8:00 p.m. at New York Mets (Roark vs. TBA)

[RELATED: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES