With just scant weeks remaining in the season, the Nationals reduced their magic number to ten, and increased their divisional lead to nine games – the largest span for any team in the NL East this season to date – in a 6-4 victory over the Braves in front of 29,233 at Nationals Park.
The first inning of the Nationals game tonight was something out of a Bosch painting for the Atlanta Braves. After struggling against Jordan Zimmermann in the top half of the inning, the hits just kept coming against starter Ervin Santana. The Nationals would bat around in the bottom of the first, scoring four runs on five hits, with the only outs coming on a pair of sacrifices and a ground-out from the pitcher.
One could easily say that Santana was nibbled to death by ducks by the Nationals’ offense, but they had helped from some lackluster defensive moments, as well. A two-base throwing error by catcher Christian Bethancourt allowed Werth to advance to third and then score on a subsequent single by Adam LaRoche in the second inning. Manager Matt Williams would laud the Nats’ aggressive approach at the plate in his post-game press conference. “The thing I liked about it was, it wasn’t via the homer… It was hitting the ball back up the middle, the other way… That’s a good thing.”
The Braves were not without teeth tonight, scoring a pair in the fourth, and another pair in the sixth, with defensive failures by the Nationals costing them each time.
With Jordan Zimmermann’s day done after six innings of four run baseball, the Nationals turned to a committee of bullpen relief to finish out the game. Aaron Barrett hurled a 7-pitch 1-2-3 7th inning before coming back to start the 8th. After giving up a double former National Emilio Bonifacio and getting Phil Gosselin to ground out, Matt Williams turned to his bullpen to face the heart of the Braves order. Freddie Freeman, who is hitting just over .500 against the Nationals’ staff this year, was cashiered by Ross Detwiler. Justin Upton, who supplied two of the Braves’ runs in the sixth with a monster home run.
Closer-apparent Drew Storen came in for the ninth, and notched his third save in three days after replacing Soriano in the position. He was devastatingly effective tonight, retiring Heyward, Johnson and Bethancourt on just seven pitches, bringing his 3-day total to 42. Per Matt Williams, he will not be pitching in Wednesday’s mid-afternoon tilt, but Tyler Clippard had the night off tonight and would be ready to fill that gap.
Ian Desmond departed the game in the fifth inning with lower back tightness, which he brought to the team’s attention this morning and became more bothersome as the game continued on. He is expected to return to the lineup for the afternoon game Wednesday.
With tonight’s win, the Nationals draw ever closer to their second division title in three years, and there are a lot of reasons to be a very excited Nats fan. If you’ve got the chance, cut out of work a little early on Wednesday and go see these guys play.