There wasn’t much that happened during the Washington Nationals’ series sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves this week that the team’s fans haven’t seen over and over again during this long, Irish wake of a season. The only difference was after this one, the Nationals’ hopes of retaining their division crown are well and truly gone.
The Nationals once again saw the Braves score late to take the lead Wednesday, and once again flailed hopelessly with runners in scoring position, all leading to a 6-3 Atlanta win at Nationals Park that finished off not only the three-game dusting but any chances Washington had of getting back into the division race. The Nats fell to a season-worst six games under .500 and currently sit a whopping 15 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and are nine games adrift in the wild card chase.
None of the numbers are flattering, but at this point in the season it is too late to say anything except that the Nationals “are what they are” — a struggling baseball team who isn’t doing the little things necessary to win ball games, coupled with a hellacious, season-long streak of bad luck. On Wednesday this manifested itself in the usual ways: Washington struggles to get men on base, and when they do, they can’t do anything to get them over or get them in, and the bullpen can’t find a way to shut down the opponent in the late innings.
As has been the case in all three Atlanta wins in this series — dropping Washington to 0-6 at its home park against the Braves this season — the game was tight late, with both teams in prime position to pick up a win. But Washington fans who have watched the team all year likely had a pretty good idea of how the end of the game would go down.
For seven innings, the game was a battle. There were no repercussions or echoes from the previous game’s intentional plunking of Bryce Harper by Julio Teheran — both sides obviously smartened up and decided to play baseball instead. Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann was shaky from the outset, giving up two runs on seven hits in only four innings before coming out with what manager Davey Johnson mentioned was a sore neck — which came as news to Zimmermann. The Nationals did make the most of their only hit through the first six innings, a Jayson Werth two-run homer that briefly tied the score in the fourth inning.
Werth had Washington’s next hit, in the seventh, and scored another tying run on a fielder’s choice groundout by Ian Desmond. But when faced with the prospect of holding Atlanta’s offense down, the Nationals bullpen wilted.
It all happened with two outs in the eighth. Ryan Mattheus gave up a double to Andrelton Simmons and then walked pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich. With lefty Jason Heyward coming up, Johnson went to Ian Krol, who got ahead of Heyward 0-2 but then served up an RBI single that put Atlanta ahead. Justin Upton then doubled home two more runs and the Nationals had to try and make up three runs off one of the best bullpens in baseball.
It took until the ninth, but the Nationals did threaten — of course, that was all they did. They’re like the guy on the internet trolling people and making inflammatory comments, but when push comes to shove, you know nothing will come of it.
Harper led off the ninth by scorching a double off Craig Kimbrel, and Werth then walked to bring the tying run to the plate. After a couple of strikeouts, Anthony Rendon also walked, loading the bases for Wilson Ramos. The catcher lined a ball straight at Heyward in right, ending the game in predictable yet still heartbreaking fashion.
The Nationals get a day off on Thursday before the Phillies come to town on Friday to start a three-game series. Dan Haren (6-11, 5.14 ERA) will look to continue his string of strong starts against old friend John Lannan (3-4, 4.10).