Many pundits proclaimed the Washington Nationals series this week against the Atlanta Braves to be a “statement series”, pitting the N.L. East’s two top teams. So far, that statement has been load and clear, as loud as the Nats Park fans that have supported their team through two rain delays and 22 innings of baseball.
“Come and get us, if you can.”
Stephen Strasburg simply wouldn’t allow that to happen, though, before a raucous 33,888 on soggy South Capitol Street. The dominant right-hander struck out 10 in six innings to lead the Nats over their closest division rival for the second straight night, this time winning 4-1 and extending their lead in the division race to seven games over the wilting Braves. Washington is 7-3 in their last ten games; the Braves 4-6 in the same period.
Increasing their record to 77-46, the Nats need just five wins to secure their first winning season since moving to the District in 2005. They only have 39 games in which to accomplish the task.
Strasburg was cruising with two outs in the top of the third inning, leading 1-0 thanks to Ian Desmond’s 19th home run of the season in the top of the second, when the rain halted play with Martin Prado at bat. Many speculated that manager Davey Johnson might give his ace the hook after a delay that lasted 51 minutes. But Johnson sent Strasburg back out to continue his work, and the Nats reaped the benefits.
Was Johnson nervous about sending Strasburg back out to the mound after the delay? He didn’t seem to be.
“Well, I didn’t like the way he was throwing [before the delay] so I wanted to see him go back out there,” Johnson deadpanned.
“He was throwing the heck out of the ball,” Johnson said in a more serious tone. “He had the luxury of being able to throw a couple times in the batting cage, so I felt like he was stll pretty hot. Obviously, the way he threw in the fifth he was still throwing the ball pretty good.”
“It was just a dominant outing. He had a good idea what he wanted to do and was doing it.”
Strasburg looked even stronger after the delay than before, recording six of his ten Ks after the delay, including striking out the side in the fifth. He gave up one run on four hits and one walk, throwing 94 pitches, 61 for strikes. Strasburg had all three pitches working and whiffed Prado on a wicked curveball that had the veteran bending away from it before dropping into the strike zone for strike three.
The Nats got offensive help in the bottom of the fifth, as Jesus Flores crushed a three-run home run to give the Nats all the cushion they needed.
Drew Storen and Sean Burnett threw scoreless innings in relief and Tyler Clippard nailed down his 28th save of the season to clinch the win.
THE TAKEAWAY: I almost stunned myself when I realized that 77 wins were just five away from giving the Nats their first winning season in D.C. After consecutive 100-loss seasons, the scandal in the Dominican that eventually saw the ouster of former GM Jim Bowden, the whole “Natinals” fiasco, being the butt of jokes on late night television… everything — the Nats are *thisclose* to securing their first-ever winning season.
I know a lot of folks are looking down the line at the playoffs and such, but for fans that have been with this team since the move – with the team’s offices in trailers in the parking lot at R.F.K. under stewardship of MLB until the Lerner’s took over — this milestone should not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
THE GOOD: Ian Desmond went 2-for-3 with two runs and his 19th home run. That’s four hits in two games after showing a little rust after his stint on the disabled list.
THE BAD: Michael Morse went 0-for-4 with two Ks.
THE UGLY: Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts. Braves starter lefty Paul Maholm gave Harper nothing but soft stuff away and he could never adjust.
THE STATS: 7 hits, 1 BB, 9 Ks. 1-for-3 with RISP, 3 LOB, no GIDP. E: Clippard (1), 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 pm against the Braves. Ross Detwiler (7-5, 3.25) hosts Kris Medlen (4-1, 2.03).