The Nationals are playing better baseball on both sides of the ball compared to the last time they faced off against the Braves. Especially when you consider the games in early April when Atlanta set the tone, winning five of the first six meetings between the clubs.
Atlanta is in their worst spiral of the season, losers of eight straight.
On July 28, the Braves were 58-48 and had won three in a row. They trailed the Nationals by 1/2 game and the D.C. squad was still trying to figure out it’s plan without Ryan Zimmerman for an extended time.
The Nationals were 57-46 on that same date. They have gone 5-5 since that mark, but added Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt Thornton. The Nationals lead is 4 1/2 games over Atlanta. The Braves have added former Nationals speedster Emilio Bonifacio and designated Jordan Schafer for assignment.
During the last series with the Braves in D.C., Atlanta raced out and won the first two games. The Nationals responded with two wins in a row.
Rewind to late May of 2012. A weekend series in Atlanta. The Nationals had played pretty well to start the season, but that series put them on the map, especially in the Braves eyes, plus one game was televised nationally. Chien Ming-Wang, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez beat the Braves in a series sweep. The Nationals scored at least seven runs in each of those wins.
A repeat of that weekend this time around would go a long way in setting their placement for the stretch drive.
The Braves have had the number of the Nationals for a while. So have the Cardinals. But with 19 meetings this season, and nine remaining starting tonight in the regular season, there are always plenty of chances to turn around trends.
I noticed a quiet confidence from these Nationals this week in listening to Jayson Werth after a loss, and Adam LaRoche after a win. Werth never panicked this week and repeated the tone of the clubhouse that there would be some minor bumps in the road, but that he believes in this team and how good it can be. LaRoche, a former Brave, also has deep respect for Atlanta, but also knows that when the Nationals are right they have as good a shot as any.
Seeing Denard Span playfully tackle Bryce Harper after his walk-off homer is a good sign about their mending relationship after Harper’s comments about who plays where in the outfield. Rookie manager Matt Williams apologized to the media after Thursday’s win for lashing out regarding Harper and his struggles.
These are some good vibes for a team that is ready to take the first step in slaying a dragon that has been lurking in their yard for a couple of seasons.