For all of the talk about how much the Nationals struggle against the Braves, it’s the team’s record against another divisional opponent that should be raising a few eyebrows.
Following Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Mets, the Nationals hold a 10-2 advantage against New York in 2014, having outscored them 62-34. Sure, the Mets don’t appear to have any hopes of playing in the postseason, while the Braves and Nationals fight atop the division, but with the regular season schedule pitting divisional teams against each other on a regular basis, continued success against any team isn’t anything to sneeze at.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t explain it,” Adam LaRoche said. “We come in here and play well somewhere or against a team and you’ve got a little more confident going into it. But it’s just one of those things. It’s like us against Atlanta. Why can’t we make a run against those guys. Unexplainable.”
There’s no need to harp on the Nationals’ troubles versus the Braves in recent history, as it’s a topic that’s been beaten into the minds of Nationals players and coaches throughout the 2014 campaign. But by finishing off a three-game sweep of the Mets on Thursday, the Nationals are taking the necessary steps to distance themselves from all of their NL East opponents and earn a postseason berth for the second time in three years.
Whether or not they return to the playoffs rests largely on the shoulders of the team’s offensive production. While the team’s pitching staff has earned praises for its depth and talent, the Nationals’ offense has remained the big question mark, but Thursday night it showed that despite the skepticism, it’s a lineup that packs a punch. Both LaRoche and slugger Bryce Harper hit two-run home runs in the 4-1 victory, with LaRoche’s coming in the top of the first inning and Harper’s in the top of the fourth.
“It felt great,” Harper said of the home run. “That’s one of the best balls I’ve hit all year, so that was really nice to be able to get that lead.”
It was just Harper’s third home run since July 19, but his second in three games. A small sample size, maybe, but potentially a sign that the 21-year-old is returning to form following his rehab process. Now the Nats have to hope they can carry the success they seem to channel against the Mets with them back to Washington, where they’ll begin a 10-game homestand against the Pirates.
“We’ve got to keep playing,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “I’m proud of them for coming in here and bouncing back from the Braves series and now we have a chance to go home for a long homestand. They’ve played really well (in New York) and that’s all we can take from it. We played really well here and now we have to go do that at home.”