Breaking down the head-to-head beatdown

CHICAGO - Why do I have a feeling the Nationals are plenty happy to be out of Atlanta and done with trips to Turner Field for the rest of the season?

The Braves have absolutely dominated the Nats this season, and if that wasn't already evident just by watching the games, you can look down at the game logs and see that yesterday's 2-1 Braves win boosts their record in the season series between these teams to 12-4.

Yeah, that would qualify as domination.

The strange thing, however, is that so many of the games between the Nats and Braves this season have been tight, hard-fought contests. Yeah, there were a couple blowouts that went Atlanta's way back in April, but lately, these games have pretty much all come down to the wire. The Nats just haven't found a way to emerge victorious.

Eight of the 16 games have been decided by just one run. The Nats have gone 2-6 in those games.

Twelve of the 16 games have been decided by two or fewer runs. The Nats have gone 4-8 in those games.

That says something. When you are a poor situational hitting team, have a shaky bullpen and a subpar bench, you won't win many close games. The Nats are hanging with the Braves when these teams meet head to head, but they just don't have what it takes to consistently earn wins in tight ballgames.

"It's not like we're laying over and letting these guys walk all over us," Gio Gonzalez said. "We're fighting, (playing) 2-1 games. (Saturday's) game was a perfect example. It's not like they're destroying us and doing big damage. They're just playing small ball and finding their hits."

Then, Gonzalez delivered a line that I believe brings the point home.

"That was us last year," he said. "Now we see it from the other side."

The 2012 Nationals played smart, steady baseball. They got really good pitching, ranking second in the majors in team ERA, executed when they had offensive chances and played solid defense.

That's been the Braves this year. The Nationals have seen the script flip.

"They're pitching very well. Their bullpen has been great. And their bench is doing an outstanding job," manager Davey Johnson said. "Their run differential is over 100. That's the formula. That's what we did last year, which we're not doing this year.

"I think they have a heck of a ball club, and they're playing at a very high level. Even the guys coming off the bench are playing very well. And that was our strength last year, too. Unfortunately we haven't been able to carry it over this year."

The Nationals still believe they're as talented as the Braves, or at least close to it. That might be true, it might not. You can form your own opinion on that topic.

But the players in the Nats clubhouse look down at the standings and see that they're 15 1/2 games back of Atlanta. They see that they've only won one-quarter of the games between the two teams this season. And those numbers make them shake their heads.

"I'm gonna be honest with you, it just seems like they find a way to win," Denard Span said. "Even (Saturday), we were able to win, but they've broken our hearts time and time again. We've had the leads. I think they've probably come back at least four of those (12) wins, and that can crush a team.

"I haven't played against a team like that in a while where they just have our number. You've just got to tip your cap off to them."

Unfortunately for the Nats, that's all they can do at this point as they spend the next six weeks watching the Braves reclaim the National League East title.

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