Through a quirk in the schedule, the Nationals won’t play the Braves again until June 19, when Atlanta comes to D.C. for a four-game series. Washington doesn’t return to Turner Field until Aug. 8.
After being swept this weekend by the homestanding Braves, it’s a good bet manager Matt Williams won’t be critical of the schedule-maker. Maybe by the time they next face one another, the Nationals will be healthier, playing better defense and will have figured out a way to beat the Braves.
By sweeping the Nats this weekend, the Braves not only improved to 5-1 against them this season, but they leapfrogged Washington and into first place in the National League East. The Nats arrived in Atlanta with a 7-2 record and a three-game winning streak; they head to Miami trailing the Braves by a game, with both center fielder Denard Span (concussion) and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (fractured right thumb) on the disabled list, and wondering what happened.
“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” Williams said after absorbing a 10-2 beating. “Don’t allow anything to take you out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend, but we got another one tomorrow, so we have to concentrate on that one.”
His assessment of the three-game sweep at the hands of the team his club is supposed to be battling for the division crown? “They played extremely well and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line,” the manager said.
This time, there were no hopeful stats about the closeness of the games between the rivals. The Braves got to starter Gio Gonzalez for six runs in the first two innings. The Nationals didn’t help themselves by committing three errors, running their weekend total for fielding miscues to seven.
Coming into the series, they had six errors in nine games. For a manager who preached stellar defense in spring training, that’s got to sting.
“It bothers everybody, but that’s going to happen,” Williams said. “You certainly don’t want it with consistency, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.”
Gonzalez committed the first gaffe today, fielding B.J. Upton’s bunt in the first and throwing it wide of first base, to put runners at second and third. But the left-hander was gone by the time the Braves exploited the Nats’ shaky gloves for four unearned runs on Ross Detwiler in the eighth to cap the blowout.
With his bullpen tired, Williams asked Gonzalez to gut it out as long as he could, and the veteran complied. Gonzalez went six innings, yielding six runs on nine hits, walking four and fanning six. Though most of the damage came in the first two innings, Gonzalez was hit hard early,
“The ball was just up,” Williams said when asked about his starter’s early struggles. “They put good swings on pitches. That’s been the M.O. all weekend. ... But Gio did take one for us today.”
Williams said the Nats pulled Nate McLouth, who was slated to start in center, from the lineup shortly before the game started after McLouth tweaked his knee. He’ll be re-evaluated Monday in Miami.
There were a couple of bright spots. LaRoche homered in the ninth inning and Bryce Harper, who moved to center in place of McLouth, reached base four times, twice via hit and twice via walk. Harper has hit in six straight games, going 10-for-21 with four walks in that span.
“The swing’s shorter, he’s seeing ball better, not pulling off the ball like he was, staying through it,” Williams said of Harper. “Taking his walks, too, when they’re giving them to him. ... You always look more relaxed when you’re seeing the ball better. Is it the chicken or the egg? He seems to be seeing it better. He’s swinging at more strikes and taking the walks when they’re giving it to him.”