Wednesday evening was a tough loss to swallow for Washington as the Nationals fell 6-2 against the Atlanta Braves during the series finale of their recent three-game set. Washington took two of three in the series and are eight games ahead of their division rival with a magic number of ten.
The Nats remained in good spirits despite the loss but are aware of the challenges that still lie ahead as the stakes get higher. “It’s nice to be able to win a series, be able to come out strong [and] really play good baseball these past couple days,” outfielder Bryce Harper said after the game. “You’ve got to go in to win ball games. If you don’t win the ballgames then something could happen. If you win ballgames then what you want to happen happens.”
“We knew that in order to win the division you’ve got to beat them, so definitely it was a good series for us,” outfielder Denard Span said about the series. “We did what we wanted to do, which was win the series against them, and [now we’re] sitting pretty good.”
Things started well enough on Wednesday for right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg who tossed 99 pitches (67 strikes) in six innings played. Strasburg gave up three runs on seven hits while striking out eight, throwing one wild pitch, and hitting a batter. Strasburg wasn’t discouraged by the outing though. “I’m just trying to go out there and compete,” he said after the game, “[…] kind of what I’ve been doing all year, let the chips fall.”
Atlanta’s three runs scored off Strasburg came later on in the game. Outfielder B.J. Upton crushed a solo homerun in the fifth inning only to find that Washington would tie the game up in the bottom half of that same inning. Span scored on a passed ball at the plate with two out and outfielder Jayson Werth at-bat making it a 1-1 game. But the Braves answered back by tacking on a couple more runs in the sixth inning before Strasburg was pulled and the bullpen started muddling things up a bit. At the close of the sixth inning, the score was Braves 3, Nats 1.
A win did remain within the reach of either team but the trouble for Washington was starting right-handed pitcher Aaron Harang who pitched a clean seven innings and gave up six hits and one run to the Nats’ lineup while striking out nine batters on 94 pitches (65 strikes). Harang is typically hard on Washington but his appearance on Wednesday ensured he held Atlanta’s division rival in place, if only for the evening.
What blew things open for the Braves was the exit of Strasburg and the entrance of Washington’s bullpen. It wasn’t the end all of situations but the bullpen had a tough go at it Wednesday giving up an additional three runs in the seventh inning to make it a 6-1 ballgame in favor of Atlanta. Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins’ 1/3 of an inning appearance turned into two hits, three earned runs, and a walk. Right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus followed Blevins and proceeded to play stopper but not before giving up a double and walk (while striking out a batter) himself.
Reliever Rafael Soriano also entered the game to pitch the eighth and tossed a clean frame while giving up a pair of hits and striking out a batter. “I felt good today,” he said and he’s glad to be back in the game helping out where he can.
Washington attempted to come back after a clean inning tossed by right-handed reliever Blake Treinen in the ninth inning but their offense was shut down by the Atlanta bullpen. Harper launched a solo shot to the right field bleachers with one out in the ninth but Braves closer Craig Kimbrel tallied a couple strikeouts to end the game; Braves 6, Nats 2.