STRASBURG, RAMOS HELP NATS LOWER MAGIC NUMBER TO TWO
With their Magic Number now down to two games, the Washington Nationals could win their second NL East division title in three years Tuesday night should they continue to dominate against the Atlanta Braves.
Following a 4-2 win over their rivals Monday night, helped by a solid performance from Stephen Strasburg (W, 12-11), the Nats could very likely celebrate their 2014 playoff berth at Turner Field.
Despite reporting neck stiffness, Strasburg was sharp against a Braves team he frequently struggles to beat. Through 7.0 innings pitched, the Nationals right-hander allowed five total hits, no runs and no walks and struck out seven batters.
His one trouble spot came in the fifth inning when, after Jason Heyward led off with a single to right, Strasburg committed a throwing error in his attempt to pick off Heyward. Instead, Heyward made it all the way to third base on the error.
Fortunately for the Nats, Strasburg came up with three big outs to work out of the inning unscathed. After striking out Chris Johnson, Strasburg forced Christian Bethancourt to ground out to third, before B.J. Upton struck out to end the inning.
Before that point, the Nats had helped themselves to a two-run lead over Atlanta starter Ervin Santana (L, 14-9, thanks to a one-run double by Denard Span in the third and a lead-off solo shot by Wilson Ramos in the fifth. Ramos’ homer marked his 11th of the season.
With Luis Avilan on the mound in relief for Atlanta, Strasburg helped himself to another insurance run in the seventh inning.
After Nate Schierholtz drew a lead-off walk, Ramos lined out to center before Asdrubal Cabrera doubled to left. Then, Strasburg singled to center to plate Cabrera. The Nats threatened to tack on more runs as Span took first on a hit-by-pitch, but reliever Juan Jaime successfully struck out Anthony Rendon to end the inning.
The Nats earned one more run in the top of the eighth after Jayson Werth led off with a walk and came home by way of an Ian Desmond force out and Schierholtz RBI single.
After Craig Stammen delivered a solid eighth inning of relief, Rafael Soriano seemed to pine for his closer role. Having lost the job a few weeks ago, Soriano appeared in a would-be non-save situation in the ninth, only to immediately allow a double by Andrelton Simmons and a two-out, RBI double by Justin Upton.
Soriano got Heyward to fly out to left, but walked Chris Johnson, allowing the tying run to step to the plate.
Not surprisingly, Nationals manager Matt Williams opted to pitch Drew Storen for the save situation. Storen allowed an RBI single to Bethancourt, but successfully forced B.J. Upton ground out to end the game.
THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg has without a doubt struggled against the Atlanta Braves this season, but he showed no signs of bad habits when he struck out seven and allowed no runs and no walks through seven innings pitched. Additionally, the Nats – who were out-hit nine to six by the Braves – did enough with relatively little, going 3-for-8 with RISP and stranding just six base runners all night.
Thanks to their collective efforts, the Nats will have cause to celebrate if they can secure a win against Atlanta Tuesday night.
THE BAD: Rafael Soriano nearly undid eight solid innings of work for the Nationals’ pitching staff. In just 0.2 innings pitched, he allowed two runs on two hits and a walk.
THE UGLY: Stephen Strasburg’s pickoff attempt in the fifth inning was a far cry from pretty. Fortunately, Strasburg was in the zone through his entire outing, and pitched out of the jam without allowing a run to score.
THE STATS: 4 R, 1 HR, 6 H, 4 BB, 9 K, 3-for-8 RISP, 6 LOB