The Nationals’ pursuit of a 70th win will have to wait at least a few days and will have to come on the road. Because the Braves locked up their 100th win tonight at the expense of D.C. fans who hoped not to see that happen in the home finale.
With another impressive power display, Atlanta won 8-5 to salvage a split of this day-night doubleheader that wrapped up the home portion of the Nats’ 2023 schedule.
The Braves hit two more homers, raising their major-league-leading total to 299. Compare that to the Nationals, who hit their 146th homer tonight, and you begin to understand why one of these franchises is headed to its sixth straight postseason appearance while the other is still trying to get back there for the first time since 2019.
The Nats’ 3-2 victory in today’s opener secured win No. 69 for the club. They’ve now got five more shots to reach 70, which would represent a 15-game improvement from 2022.
All five of those games will come on the road (two in Baltimore, three in Atlanta). They closed out their home slate with a 34-47 record, up from 26-55 last year. They finished this season with a total home attendance of 1,865,832, down from last year’s total of 2,026,401, though the number was depressed somewhat by the MLB Little League Classic, which was played before a sellout crowd of 2,473 in Williamsport, Pa., but counted as a home game.
"I think we've gotten a lot better at that in the 2 1/2 years I've been here," right fielder Lane Thomas said of the Nationals' performance at home.
This night actually got off to a splendid start, with Joan Adon coming out firing with nine of his first 10 pitches for strikes during a 1-2-3 top of the first. He made it through the third on 41 pitches, only two batters reaching base from the majors’ best lineup.
And then it all came crashing down. Adon opened the fourth with a leadoff walk of Austin Riley, then allowed an RBI double to Matt Olson. Even so, back-to-back strikeouts put him on the precipice of escaping the inning with only minimal damage. Instead, he gave up an RBI double to Orlando Arcia, then a home run to Kevin Pillar to cap off a four-run inning that completely redefined his start.
"The first time around the lineup, I was ahead of the count," Adon said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "And the second time, I was behind."
Adon wouldn’t even complete the top of the fifth, pulled after allowing two more batters to reach and allowing his once-impressive night to devolve into a disappointment.
"He had good stuff tonight," manager Davey Martinez said. "We jumped out and gave him a three-run lead, and after that he just decided he wasn't going to attack the strike zone. Came in that inning throwing curveball-changeup, got behind 2-0, walks a guy. And then all of a sudden, he's behind everybody. He's got to learn: We score runs for him, the next inning is a shutdown inning. He's got to stay aggressive."
Though he has shown flashes of electricity on the mound, Adon continues not to show them with enough consistency to force his way into the Nationals’ 2024 plans. He has now made nine starts (plus two relief appearances) and sports an unsightly 6.42 ERA and 1.594 WHIP. He'll get one more shot to improve those numbers, though it will come against this same Braves lineup.
"I think I have the pitches to get them out," he said. "Every time I am ahead of them, the results are very different."
The four-run fourth wiped out what was an impressive rally by the Nats in the bottom of the third, one that saw five straight batters record two-out hits off Spencer Strider. The flame-throwing right-hander, who entered the night with a major-league-high 270 strikeouts, notched only one through his first three innings, unable to put away some pesky hitters.
CJ Abrams, Thomas, Keibert Ruiz, Joey Meneses and Luis García all rapped out hits in succession, Ruiz’s two-run double highlighting a rally that also saw Thomas steal second base to become only the fourth player in club history with a 20-20 season, joining Alfonso Soriano (2006), Ian Desmond (2012, 2013, 2014) and Bryce Harper (2016). Thomas would add his 27th homer in the bottom of the ninth.
"It's one of those things where you look up, and you're close to it. It's not like you're trying to do it," he said. "You just try to get a little bit better at the whole aspect of your game, and it happens. It's really cool. A lot of these guys put me in the situation to do that stuff.
"And then you look out on the field who you're playing, and it kind of humbles you a little bit."
García would add an opposite-field homer in the sixth, with Strider pulled a couple of batters later. Atlanta, though, still led, and padded its lead with four runs off the Nationals bullpen, including – you guessed it – another home run.