Well, the Braves did what they needed to do to keep this division race interesting.
The Washington Nationals entered this weekend’s series with an 8 1/2 game lead in the N.L. East over their opponents, the Atlanta Braves. They will exit with that lead cut by three games as the Braves finished a sweep over the team they trail in the division standings with a 5-1 win before 29,094 at Atlanta’s Turner Field.
The Nats (89-57) were trailing 2-1 in another close, tense game in the seventh inning when the game got away from them. Reliever Craig Stammen walked Michael Bourn with one out in the inning and Bourn went to third when Ryan Zimmerman booted Reed Johnson’s ground ball for Zimmerman’s 17th error of the season. Manager Davey Johnson called on lefty Sean Burnett to face Jason Heyward, and he got the slugger to roll over to first for the second out of the inning, but Bourn carried the third Braves run of the game home.
Burnett was asked to walk Chipper Jones intentionally to set up a two-out battle against lefty Freddie Freeman, but Burnett’s second pitch hit Freeman to load the bases. Dan Uggla then took a 2-2 pitch to left field for a single, which scored Johnson and Jones, before Freeman ran into an out at third base to finally end the inning.
A close 2-1 game became an insurmountable 5-1 deficit just like that.
The Nationals were held to six hits by four different Braves pitchers, including starter Mike Minor (W, 9-10, 4.31), who went six innings and allowed one earned run on five hits and two walks, striking out three. The lack of offense cost Gio Gonzalez a shot at his 20th win of the season. Gonzalez (L, 19-8, 2.95), who threw 110 pitches in just five innings, gave up just two earned runs on four hits, but he also walked four batter in a less-that-stellar outing.
The Nats’ lone run came in the sixth when Ian Desmond singled to score Bryce Harper, who had doubled and took third on a ground out.
THE TAKEAWAY: Just throw this one — and the whole series — away. The Nats are off Monday and look to get back on track against Los Angeles next week at home.
THE GOOD: Um, no one new got hurt? The Nats still hold the best record in baseball, two games in the loss column for homefield advantage in the playoffs and a 5 1/2 game lead in the division. Oh, what’s that? Is the sky falling?
(edit–1:15 am) Apparently, the joke above no longer holds true. Danny Espinosa has apparently been playing with soreness in his left shoulder and is scheduled for an MRI Monday.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond was picked off and was also caught stealing in what was a one-run game at the time. In the ninth, he swung at a ball outside and popped up ont he first pitch of the at bats instead of taking a pitch with a runner on base.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa’s weekend. He went 0-for-3 with a K and GIDP Sunday and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning for Steve Lombardozzi with a right-hander on the mound. For the series, he went 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts and is 6-for-39 (.153) over his last 10 games with 18 Ks.
THE STATS: 6 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 1-for-5 with RISP, 5 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Zimmerman (17), no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 3.01) hosts Aaron Harang (9-9, 3.79).