Mission accomplished in Atlanta, but Nationals fall to Braves in finale

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Sep 17, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder

Nate Schierholtz

(17) slides into Atlanta Braves second baseman

Ramiro Pena

(14) after being forced out during the seventh inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Nationals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A day after clinching their second division title in three years, the Nationals were unable to wrap up a sweep of the Braves Wednesday night, falling to Atlanta in the final regular season contest between the NL East foes.

Things got off to a good start for the Nationals as the team once again had a dominant starter on the mound. But tonight’s starter wasn’t any of the usual Cy Young candidates we see on a nightly basis; it was rookie Blake Treinen — one of the team’s most promising young hurlers.

While not an official member of the rotation, Treinen certainly stuck to the high standards we’ve come to expect from the guys who take the mound every fifth day for the Nationals. The right-hander dominated, allowing just three hits while striking out three in five shutout innings.

Treinen got some help from his offense early on when fellow rookie Steven Souza launched his first career home run off of Braves starter Alex Wood in the top of the fifth inning, giving Washington a 1-0 lead.

But the Nationals’ lead was short-lived as the Braves took the lead an inning later in one of the ugliest plays you’ll see from one of the best teams in baseball.

With Ross Detwiler on the mound, two-outs and the bases loaded for the Braves in the bottom of the sixth, Christian Bethancourt hit a sharp ground ball to the right side that was deflected by first baseman Tyler Moore, scoring two runs. The Braves added another run on the same play when the Nationals were slow to bring the ball in from right field, allowing Jason Heyward to try to score from third. Danny Espinosa, playing shortstop, overthrew home plate trying to get Heyward out, giving Atlanta a 3-1 lead.

The Braves’ bullpen held on for the win, denying the Nationals what would have been their first sweep of the Braves all season.

Despite tonight’s loss, the Nationals accomplished everything they set out to accomplish when they began the three-game series Monday night in Atlanta. The Nationals secured their spot in the playoffs with their second NL East title in three years and proved that they can beat the Braves who, after dominating the Nationals all season, have now lost two straight series against Washington and have nearly fallen out of playoff contention.

Although the Nationals have already booked their calendar for October, the team still has goals to accomplish in the final games of the 2014 regular season. Washington is still battling it out with the Dodgers for the best record in the National League — a key accolade that would give the team home field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

While there’s still work to be done, what the Nationals accomplished in this series cannot be understated. They tamed the team that had tamed them all season and they earned back the title as the best team in the NL East.  They may have lost to the Braves Wednesday night, but for the Nationals, the Magic Number is finally 0, and there’s nothing the Braves can do to change that.

Next game: After a well-earned off day on Thursday, the Nationals will continue their quest to finish the season with the best record in the National League Friday night against Tom Koehler (9-9, 3.71 ERA) and the Marlins. The Nationals have yet to announce who will be starting the game for the newly crowned NL East champions. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.

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