Nationals 6, Braves 3: Second Look

The Nationals are back to two games above .500 after beating the Braves 6-3 on a night where they didn’t do much of anything particularly well. They won anyway, though, thanks to a bullpen that couldn’t be much better than it has been and a starting pitcher who kept his team in the game despite having to take a more circuitous round through the Braves lineup than he would have liked.

Wins like these are the handiwork of good teams, and the Nationals are producing more of them early this season than anyone would have expected. While most of their stats suggest this is a mediocre team simply playing above its head, the Nationals talk, think and act like a legit contender waiting for the six- or eight-game win streak to fashion the matching record. Until then, they just keep plodding along, avoiding losing streaks and winning ugly.

“It’s like a coin flip whether you win or lose,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “If you go out there and put in as much effort as you can, you’re bound to win some. You’re definitely not going to lose as many as you win.”

Golden Geese
Tyler Clippard: What a revelation the right-hander continues to be in the setup role. He pitched 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday night, striking out two with his twiggy delivery that had the Braves off-balance through Clippard’s entire stay on the mound. He gave up one hit, his ERA is 0.46 and his WHIP is 0.117. Manager Jim Riggleman stressed again how the Nationals need to find another reliever to take some heat off Clippard, who has worked 19 2/3 innings in 13 games this year. But when he’s pitching this well, it’s difficult to go away from him as the bridge to Matt Capps (by the way: I’ll restate that the nickname “Ciip and Save,” which you’re starting to see claimed on all corners of the Web, was started by reader SteveRep44 in MASN’s nightly in-game chats).

Roger Bernadina: The right fielder missed an easy catch in the first inning, letting a Martin Prado liner bounce off his glove when he took a quick glance to see what runner Nate McLouth was doing at second base. But he redeemed himself with a spectacular diving catch in the third inning, robbing Troy Glaus of a base hit and saving a run. He also went 2-for-4 at the plate, driving in a run in the eighth inning.

Ian Desmond: With a 2-for-4 day at the plate, including a solo homer, the shortstop is showing what he can do at the plate if he’s given the chance to play consistently. He also made a number of impressive plays at shortstop, showing his range to his right once again.

Goose Eggs
Miguel Batista: The Nationals had a 6-2 lead in the ninth and didn’t need to use Matt Capps for save No. 11, until Batista came in, faced three batters and put two of them on base. Then Riggleman had to go get Capps for the final two outs, when the closer could have had a night off had Batista been able to finish the game.

Nationals Park scoreboard: The 4,811-square foot board in center field was on the blink on Tuesday night, to the point where PA announcer Jerome Hruska had to tell fans the count after every pitch, because the scoreboard wasn’t displaying it. At various times, it would show only a player’s picture; at others, it would go out completely. At least there was no Blue Screen of Death.

In Case You Missed It:
--Give credit to left-hander Sean Burnett, whose role has diminished greatly this season but who allowed only a hit in his inning of work, helping the Nationals get from Livan Hernandez to Tyler Clippard without any trouble. Burnett could be a key to the Nationals’ bullpen; he seems to have fallen out of favor somewhat with manager Jim Riggleman, but he’s been a late-inning reliever before and could emerge to take some pressure off Clippard.

--The Nationals nearly had a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play in the sixth inning, but Desmond missed a tag on the Braves’ Brooks Conrad.

--Desmond’s homer came on the first pitch in the fifth inning, when Kenshin Kawakami threw him a 68-mph curveball on the first pitch. That’s a pitch that might have fooled other young hitters, but Desmond was waiting for the curve, and sent it deep to left center.

Talking Points:
1. We saw a little bit of everything from Ian Desmond on Tuesday night -- good (2-for-4, a homer and a number of rangy plays at shortstop) and bad (a throwing error on a play he should have made, and a missed tag at second). On balance, what do you think of the shortstop at this point? To me, his range absolutely makes a difference on defense, and he’s already got a 2.5 UZR, meaning he’s saved 2.5 runs already this year. If he’s doing that, I think you can live with the errors. What do you think?

2. The Nationals have yet to lose three games in a row this season. This has been a team given to long losing streaks in the past. How significant a development is it that they’ve been able to avoid the lengthy slumps, and is that a sign of a more well-composed team than we’ve seen in the past?

3. Bernadina and Justin Maxwell each made nice offensive contributions on Tuesday - Maxwell walked and scored a run, and Bernadina was 2-for-4. Are you comfortable letting those two split most of the time in right field, or would you prefer something else, like the Willie Harris-Justin Maxwell platoon that reader JCA suggested on Monday?

Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments, and we can kick those around for the rest of the morning.