The Nationals are starting to play better ball, and the Braves are starting to come back down to earth.
Atlanta got whooped by the Tigers 10-0 last night, with Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez striking out 17 Braves hitters in eight innings of work. After the game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was so frustrated with his team that this was the entirety of his press conference: "(Sanchez) was pretty good, and we weren't. And that's about it, boys. That's all I've got for you."
The Braves have now lost five of their last seven games. The Nationals, meanwhile, have looked really sharp the last two nights, both largely thanks to stellar pitching performances from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Gonzalez allowed one run on one hit over eight innings on Thursday. Zimmermann allowed no runs on one hit over nine innings last night. These outings come after Stephen Strasburg held the Cardinals scoreless over his final six innings of work on Wednesday.
After an inconsistent beginning to the season, the Nationals' starters are starting to heat up.
"You always want to get out to a quick start but it's not something we haven't stressed the whole time," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "We always talk about pounding the zone and getting in a groove and going out there and trusting it and that's the way you go. We pitch to our strengths. We use their weaknesses, but we're going to pitch to our strengths. Sometimes you get a little caught up in that early and try to do a little more than you're capable of.
"You've just got to go back to your roots. Here's what we do. We throw fastballs. We throw inside. Now Jordan's learned how to mix in the offspeed too, so it's really outstanding."
We've heard manager Davey Johnson saying over and over that he felt like his team was trying to do too much early this season, that the expectations around the Nationals might have gotten to them a bit. McCatty has certainly seen that from his pitchers.
"You start reading everything everybody writes and you kind of start pressing a little bit," McCatty said, "try to do more, where you've got to be the guy who's got to pick the team up where you've just got to say, 'No, I'm just going to do what I do.' That's the way you've got to take it all the time. The last two nights, they did that.
"The last thing you want to do is believe the hype. Nobody's ever going to be as good as you guys write about some of these guys. Be what you are."
Strasburg and Gonzalez get much of the attention when it comes to this Nationals staff, but it'll be pretty hard for the baseball community to keep overlooking Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler if those two keep up their recent efforts.
Zimmermann is 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his five starts, while Detwiler is 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA in his four outings.
"(Zimmermann) deserves it," McCatty said. "Ross deserves it. They've got Strassy and Gio with the notoriety that Strassy has coming into the game and Gio's had a couple years where he won 16 and 21, but those two guys definitely deserve what they're getting right now. The people in baseball know that. I think the thing that's probably more important to both of those guys is that their teammates know it. That's all that counts to them."
Next up is Dan Haren, who has his work cut out for him trying to match what Gonzalez and Zimmermann have done the last two nights. Haren is still looking to record his first out in the sixth inning this season.
He'd do well learning from what the Nats' starters have done lately - pound first-pitch strikes, work down in the zone and attack hitters. That's a recipe for success, one that the Nats are slowly learning after a shaky start to 2013.
Update: Anthony Rendon is back in the Nats' lineup after two days off. Danny Espinosa will hit second this afternoon against Reds righty Mike Leake.
For the Nats
CF Denard Span
2B Danny Espinosa
LF Bryce Harper
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
3B Anthony Rendon
C Kurt Suzuki
RHP Dan Haren