This was supposed to be the big series. Fresh off a four day break, and posting an even 46-46 record, the Nationals headed to Atlanta. The Braves are who the Nats are “chasing” in the NL Wild Card race. Even though we know the Nationals should stay focused on the future, some people pegged this serious as the kickoff of a big playoff run. Ben Goessling of MASN declared this series the “biggest one they’ve played since 2005.” It was not those plucky, Chad Cordero-led Nats of 2005 out there, as the 100-loss teams of 2008 and 2009 showed up instead.
We do not need to spend too much on how ugly last night’s loss was, but we can hit the highlights (or, more appropriately, the lowlights). The 11-1 drubbing the Nats took last night was their worst loss of the season. Those 11 runs were not all a result of hot Braves’ bats, either, as the Nats chipped in with five errors (two in the first inning and three total from Michael Morse). It had been a little while since the Nationals had been historical futile, but last night they became the first team since 2007 to commit five errors in a game twice in a season.
The Nationals did not just help the Braves out with poor defense, and chipped in with nine men left on base. The pitchers also chipped in with four walks and a wild pitch. Livan Hernandez got himself in holes all night, throwing just 10 first-pitch strikes to 23 batters. The inning that truly put the Nats away, a three-run sixth from the Braves, was kick-started by a Tim Hudson double (who got to third on that wild pitch).
After the game, the Nats moaned about the infield (but failed to mention the Braves had no errors on the same surface). Ross Detwiler, who came out guns blazing with two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 fifth, had to leave the game with a twisted ankle. Most importantly, anyone who watched the game could clearly see that the Braves and Nationals are in completely different leagues (do not forget Hudson is, at best, the Braves’ third starter).
This column is not all about doom and gloom, however, as long as you can keep looking forward. Last night’s loss probably showed 2011 is not going to be the Nats’ year, but there were plenty of good signs yesterday for 2012 and beyond. Even with that rough 6th (and he gets a pass since he is not a reliever by trade), Detwiler did show off some nasty stuff. His ankle appears to be fine, and he looks set to get some starts down the stretch. Another pitcher who could get some late-season starts is Chien-Ming Wang. The longtime project was hitting 94 mph in AA yesterday and posted six scoreless innings. A healthy, effective Wang (could we get Cialis to sponsor him?) in 2012 would be a great reward for two seasons of the Nationals’ patience.
In even better news, Stephen Strasburg threw live BP for the first time post-op yesterday. He threw 45 pitches, and had absolutely no problems. He is scheduled to do so again in Viera on Monday, and should pitch in live games in a matter of weeks. Encouraged by his rehabilitation, GM Mike Rizzo had this to say, “If his rehab progresses on schedule, there is a chance he could get a Major League start in September.” Sweet music to Nats fans’ ears.
For those hanging onto hope for this season, last night was rough. The team regressed to its 2008 and 2009 form, booting balls, making excuses, and missing the strike zone. The Braves, a legitimate contender, exposed just how unprepared the Nationals are. If you believe in the Nationals process, however, yesterday was a good day. One young pitcher flashed some talent, another potential rotation piece had his best outing for the franchise, and the team’s prize possession made a huge step to recovery. The Braves decisively won this battle, but the Nationals are mobilizing for the war.
News and notes from Nationals Park:
- Speaking of recovering pitchers, John Lannan will be back on the mound tonight for the first time since taking one in the grill.
- Sticking with medical issues, Pudge hit some balls off a tee yesterday.
- If you need proof of how bad things were last night, here is a full recap.
Small notes from around the Bigs: The Pirates are in first place. Read that again. Yes, after 4-0 win over Houston last night, the long-suffering Buccos are in a first-place tie in the NL Central. How is this possible? Besides the fact that the Pirates boast a lower payroll than your local Walmart, they have only scored 358 runs this year (that is just five better than the Nats and dead even with the Astros, the worst team in baseball). It all comes down to pitching. The team’s 3.40 ERA (the Nats, by the way, check in at a solid 3.57) is fifth-best in the NL. The rotation is a rag-tag bunch of former top prospects (Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens) and reclamation projects (James McDonald, Kevin Correria) that are all having career seasons. The real key, however, is Nationals castoff Joel Hanrahan. Forced to close out tight games for a team that cannot score runs, Joel Hanrahan is a perfect 26-26 in save opportunities this year and allowed just six earned runs.
As always, check out Patrick’s homepage for all of his thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow Patrick on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: Bon Iver – “Perth” (Paper Tigers Remix). And speaking of remixes, this is just kind of crazy.
Nats Video of the Day: Bryce Harper tells NBC4 that his critics keep him motivated.