There are a few mileposts by which the Nationals can measure progress this season, little slices of improvement in another last-place season. They passed one of those mileposts on Sunday.
With their 4-2 win over the Braves, the Nationals took two out of three over Atlanta, continuing their solid play against the NL's would-be wild-card winners. Washington finished its season series 10-8 against the Braves, and if Atlanta misses the playoffs this week, the Nationals will know they had plenty to do with it.
"It's huge," reliever Sean Burnett said. "Eventually, it's the next couple years, that's a team we have to beat to get to the top. They've got everything to play for. They've got their season on the line. You're going to get their best shot, and we got two out of three from them. That's a pretty good confidence builder."
Here are the awards from yesterday:
Sean Burnett: We discussed Burnett plenty yesterday, but he deserves mention here for his two-inning, three-strikeout performance, which kept the game tied and allowed the Nationals to take the lead. Since Burnett started throwing a slider to righties, at catcher Ivan Rodriguez's insistence, he's taken off, and he has a 2.20 ERA for the season.
Nyjer Morgan: In his second game back from an eight-game suspension, Morgan did an impressive job in the No. 2 spot, going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, scoring a run and driving in another. It's tough to find fault with that performance from your customary leadoff hitter.
Drew Storen: The rookie reliever had struggled in save situations lately, blowing his last one last Sunday against the Phillies by giving up four runs in the ninth inning. But he earned his fourth save on Sunday with what might have been his most impressive outing of the year. Storen got through the ninth in order, striking out two batters with his hard slider and a sinker that was working better than it has in recent outings. Storen threw just 13 pitches, 10 of which were strikes, and looked in complete command of the ninth inning.
Adam Dunn: The slugger came up to a few more "Sign Adam Dunn" chants, though they were more faint than they have been in the last few days. Dunn's performance didn't add much fuel to the fire; he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, slamming his bat into the ground after the last one. Dunn did walk once, though.
Roger Bernadina: He continues to alternate impressive performances with ineffective ones, and Bernadina went 0-for-3 on Sunday with a walk, after hitting .316 with a homer in his previous five games.
In Case You Missed It:
--The Nationals drew seven walks against the Braves on Sunday, four of them off Braves relievers. Johnny Venters' walk to Nyjer Morgan came on a pitch low in the strike zone that could have been a called strike, but it loaded the bases for Ian Desmond's go-ahead single in the seventh.
--On the single - a hard chopper back up the middle - Desmond said he was trying to avoid a walk from Venters, even though it would have brought in the go-ahead run. The reason? Dunn was coming up, and Desmond wanted to avoid the lefty-lefty matchup. The Braves are capable of throwing lefty relievers at Dunn throughout the latter stages of the game, and Desmond was hoping to prevent one of those matchups there. He came through with a two-run single, and the at-bat brought some vindication for Desmond, who was fuming after his called third strike in the fifth inning.
--Both of the Nationals' double plays involved a little luck; Brian McCann hit a liner right to Dunn in the first inning, and Dunn stepped on first to double off Martin Prado. And in the sixth, Alex Gonzalez hit a hard grounder right at Alberto Gonzalez, who stepped on third to force out Prado and threw to first in plenty of time for the double play.
--Gonzalez tried to tag up at third with two outs in the second inning, but was thrown out by Rick Ankiel on Ian Desmond's fly to center. You could've argued for Gonzalez staying at third with Dunn due up, but it would seem odd not to take a shot with two outs.
--The Nationals honored retiring Braves manager Bobby Cox in a nice ceremony before the game. Team president Stan Kasten, who of course worked with Cox through the Braves' championship run in the 1990s, and general manager Mike Rizzo presented Cox with a plaque containing a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol last week in Cox's honor. The U.S. Navy Band, which makes its home at the nearby Washington Navy Yard, also stopped by to perform the national anthem and the songs of all five branches of the armed forces.
1. What do you make of Sean Burnett's year? Has he established himself as a valuable piece of the bullpen, or are you worried about it being a fluke performance? And what kind of role can he have in the bullpen in the future?
2. How significant is it to you that the Nationals took the season series from the Braves? Nice accomplishment, or meaningless in the grand scheme of things?
Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments section.