Heading into the final series of the season with the Atlanta Braves last September, the Nationals were 4-12 against their National League East rivals, with an 0-6 record against the eventual division winners in games played at home in the nation’s capital.
Then-Nats skipper Davey Johnson was determined to send the Braves a message at the end of a fairly contentious, season-spanning battle between the two teams which saw several players hit with pitches intentional and questionable, ejections and even genuine animosity in what was suddenly a decidedly heated though lopsided rivalry.
In Johnson’s first year-plus on the Nationals bench, from June 2011-2012 the Nats were 16-14 against the Braves, splitting the 12 games they played after he took on the manager’s role in 2011 and taking 10 of 18 on their way to the NL East crown in 2012. As he saw it, it was the Nats’ record against the Braves in 2013 that cost them a chance to compete for a second straight postseason berth.
“The difference really in the year is that we didn’t hold our own with Atlanta,” Johnson said. “We played them a lot of close games, but we didn’t hold our own with them. We need to at least send a message to them these next three days that we’re better than them.
Six of the Nationals’ 12 losses were one-run losses, but did he really believe that the Nats were the better team?
“I’ve always believed we were better than them,” Johnson said.
That day they were, taking both ends of a doubleheader to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Nationals beat a wild Craig Kimbrel in the first game, rallying in the ninth and winning on a walk-off single by Denard Span after they were frustrated by Braves pitching throughout the afternoon.
“This morning, I said coming in here that we’ve got to show these guys we can beat them. I mean, we were 4-12. We don’t want them thinking that they can just roll over us. So that was huge, in that respect,” Johnson told reporters.
All five of the Nationals’ wins to that point were decided by two runs or less.
“It seems like every time we’ve played them, it’s been just a small difference and they’ve come out on top,” Johnson said. “But, I mean, I think they swept us last time they were here. We just have to show them, this is our home. This is our yard. You can’t do that to us.”
The Nats took the nightcap from the Braves, but dropped the series and season finale to Atlanta the next day.
The Braves took five of the six games between the teams this April, leaving them with an 18-7 record against the Nationals in the season-plus leading up to the first game of a four-game set in the nation’s capital last night.
After the Nats’ 3-0 loss, and falling to 1-6 against the Braves on the year, first-year skipper Matt Williams was asked if there were any adjustments the Nationals needed to make to change the momentum in the currently one-sided rivalry.
“I don’t think so,” Williams said. “I think it was just a good performance by their pitching tonight.”
Gavin Floyd held the Nats off the board through six scoreless before leaving the game with what was later diagnosed as a broken bone in his right elbow. The Braves ‘pen put together three strong innings after Floyd left the mound in the first at-bat in the seventh.
“Like we talked about earlier,” Williams said, referring to a postgame conversation on Wednesday about not looking ahead or back whether they win or lose, “we take it one day at a time, and they got us tonight and we’re going to do it again tomorrow, so we’ve got to be prepared to play.”
Asked how would he recognize or identify a bigger issue if there was some way to explain the Braves’ recent run of success against the Nats, Williams said he wasn’t sure he believed there was a larger issue.
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I don’t have the history. So I don’t buy into that. I think that if we execute, we do things properly, we have a chance to win every day regardless of who we play. So tonight they got us and we’ll be ready tomorrow. You can’t think any further than that. You can’t peek around the corner and you can’t look back.
“Tomorrow is a tough game for us and we’re going to have to pitch well, we’re going to have to play good defense and hit and if we do that, then we’ve got a chance.”
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.