The Nationals came into this four-game series against the Braves having won 12 of their last 16 games. They sent Jordan Zimmermann, a guy who had allowed just one run in his last 26 innings, to the mound last night.
The Braves entered the series losers of 13 of their previous 21. They had just gotten swept by the Phillies in Atlanta, and were playing last night’s game without left fielder Justin Upton, who didn’t start because of dizziness.
Even though a number of factors seemed to be in their favor, the Nats were unable to turn the tide last night. They put up three hits, dropped a 3-0 ballgame to the Braves and fell to 7-19 against Atlanta over the last two seasons.
Include the Cardinals in there, and the Nats are 9-30 against those two ballclubs since the start of the 2013 campaign. Against teams not named the Braves or Cardinals, the Nats are 114-80 over that same stretch.
There’s no doubt the Nats have loads of talent in their clubhouse. There’s no doubt they can win ballgames in bunches.
So why the issues with those two teams, specifically Atlanta?
“I don’t know what it is,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “You’ve got to think losing that many games, it’s not all coincidence. They play us tough, plain and simple. They come up with some big hits and we seem to not get a whole lot of action on the basepaths. I don’t know what it is. At this point, between them and St. Louis, we’re just kind of snake-bit.”
It’s not like the Braves have blown the Nats out in most of these games. Five of the seven contests between these two teams so far this season have been decided by three runs or fewer. Three have been decided by a single run.
A large factor here is that the offense against Atlanta and St. Louis just hasn’t been there like it is against seemingly everyone else. The Nats have scored an average of 4.6 runs per game against teams not named the Braves or Cardinals, but just 2.3 against Atlanta and 1.7 against St. Louis.
LaRoche, for his part, indicated that he felt execution is partially the issue, but that adjustments could also be made from the Nats’ perspective.
“When we do have opportunities, we need to execute,” LaRoche said. “When we get pitches to hit, we need to not miss them. Probably a combination of that, being more patient. Defensively, it seems like when we play these guys, regardless of how we change our defensive placement, they find a way to find holes. That’s just kind of been their track record against us. So it’s not necessarily the longball or the double, it’s just a lot of well-placed singles.
“They continue to do it, and we don’t.”
Nats players are obviously aware of their struggles against the Braves and Cardinals, but they insist that’s not something that they think about between the lines. Once a game starts, it’s time to perform, regardless of what colors the opposing team is wearing.
“I don’t think anything is psychological,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “They’re winning games. Just like two years ago when they couldn’t beat us. Just something that happens in baseball. Just continue to go out there and try and win each game.”
Many people around the game seem to feel the Nats are the most talented team in the National League East and will end up winning the division. They point to the pitching staff, the depth of the lineup and the number of proven major league players on the roster.
Winning the division would be made much easier, however, if the Nats could find a way to improve upon their 1-6 record against Atlanta this season and create some separation from these head-to-head matchups.