Results tagged ‘ Atlanta Braves ’
The Nationals traveled to Lake Buena Vista Tuesday afternoon, where they were greeted with their second rain delay in the opening four days of the Spring Training slate, and their first look at what largely resembled a real Opening Day lineup.
The host Braves started five or six regulars (depending on your analysis of their third base situation), including both Upton brothers, Freddie Freeman, Jayson Heyward and Dan Uggla against Washington starter Ross Detwiler. The even-keeled lefty took the challenge in stride in what was also his first outing in the Grapefruit League this year.
“You saw the lineup they put out there today,” he said, referencing Atlanta’s projected regulars, most middle-of-the-order types. “I could have gotten embarrassed pretty easily.”
Detwiler more than held his own however, looking very sharp through two frames before allowing a single run in the third. He didn’t allow a single extra-base hit, but perhaps the most impressive part of his outing was his breaking ball, which he located for strikes with great movement.
“It’s coming along a little bit,” he said, modestly, of his hook.
That’s an understatement, considering how much Detwiler relied on his two fastballs last year. He used three effective breaking balls to neutralize one of the National League’s better left-handed hitters in Heyward over a pair of at-bats on Tuesday, striking him out looking on a front door bender in the first inning.
“He’s got a lot of weapons,” said manager Davey Johnson of his developing southpaw’s expanding repertoire. “[That] makes the fastball that much better.”
When asked if the outing would help prepare him for the competitive outing Detwiler is slated to encounter in the World Baseball Classic, the 26-year-old’s response served to foreshadow the type of intensity the Washington-Atlanta rivalry may well have this year.
“I just played a competitive game,” he deadpanned.
Never one to ease into things, Detwiler’s most supportive teammate in the lineup was Bryce Harper, who continued his hot start to the spring. The young slugger legged out a chopper over Freeman at first for a double, swatted a Mike Minor offering to the opposite field gap for another two-bagger, and finished his afternoon with a rocket off Freeman’s mitt for a single. His 3-for-3 afternoon left him hitting (small sample size alert) .750 for the spring. Harper kept the gaudy numbers in their proper perspective, though.
“Facing Minor during the season and facing him right now is a little different,” he said of the Braves starter, who was also throwing in live action for the first time. “I don’t want to say I’m relaxed or comfortable, because I never want to be that way.”
Just because others are easing into the first days of the schedule doesn’t mean Harper is. He already lobbied his way into the lineup Wednesday afternoon, which will be his first chance to play with both Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche this year.
“I’d like to get in that lineup every day, pretty much,” he said, and Johnson was persuaded to agree.
The Nationals take on Miami in Viera at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday afternoon as Dan Haren makes his first start in a Washington uniform. See below for today’s lineup, along with spring results to date.
Nationals 2/27 Lineup:
1. Span CF
2. Harper LF
3. Werth RF
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Tracy 3B
6. Espinosa DH
7. Suzuki C
8. Lombo 2B
9. Walters SS
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5
Before Monday night’s Nationals-Mets tilt in Port St. Lucie – the second between the two clubs in the same location in just over 48 hours – skipper Davey Johnson mused aloud that teams with good Minor League depth often posted strong Spring Training records. If the game itself was any indication, Johnson, who relishes the opportunity to see such players in person, must have liked what he saw.
Led by a bevy of rising stars, the Nationals impressed at the plate and on the mound as they notched their first Grapefruit League win, by a 6-4 final.
The logic behind Johnson’s reasoning stemmed from the heavy innings that non-regulars log during the Grapefruit League season, and never was that circumstance more on display for the Nats. With a starting nine featuring just one 2012 Opening Day roster member in Steve Lombardozzi (plus Gio Gonzalez pitching), Washington’s youngsters peppered New York pitchers all around Tradition Field to the tune of 17 hits in a victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.
Outfielder Eury Perez leaned on his strongest tool – his speed – to accumulate a trio of infield singles and a stolen base, scoring from first on a double in the third and from second on a single in the fourth. Anthony Rendon, vying for a home run for the second straight day, was robbed of a longball at the center field fence, but later lined a seed the opposite way for a single. Eight of the nine starters pitched in hits, with Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole demolishing a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat.
On the mound, Skole’s counterpart Nathan Karns – Washington’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year – turned in perhaps the most noteworthy performance. Following two hitless innings from Gonzalez in his first spring start, Karns fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and top Mets prospect Travis d’Arnaud, allowing only a David Wright flare single over two scoreless innings.
“He’s got a great future,” said Johnson of Karns, whom he saw live in game action for the first time Monday night. “He had an explosive fastball, threw first pitch strikes. Very impressive for the young man.”
Karns overthrew a couple of curveballs early, but settled in and spun a beauty to put away d’Arnaud. He attributed the early inconsistency on the pressure of facing Major Leaguers for the first time.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous in the ‘pen, I’m not going to lie,” Karns said of the experience, but he took Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s advice between innings. “Breathe, breathe. I guess I was a little red in the face, a little sweaty.”
Karns’ stuff played just fine, his fastball sitting 93-96 with great life. When asked if that was a normal velocity range, he was non-committal, but referenced his offseason conditioning program.
“I was around there last year,” he said of his fastball velocity. “This year I felt like I did a lot in the offseason to strengthen my lower body, give me some more endurance. So if I get a couple more ticks on the radar, that’s a bonus.”
One veteran in the clubhouse within earshot took notice.
“A couple more ticks?” interrupted Ryan Mattheus, who earned the save with a scoreless ninth, incredulously from the corner of the clubhouse. “What do you want, to throw 105?”
The radar gun at Tradition Field actually misfired and flashed 143 miles-per-hour after one high fastball out of the 25-year-old’s right hand.
“Yeah, I can say I threw 143,” Karns said nonchalantly.
It’ll be a story for the grandkids.
The Nationals hit the road again Tuesday afternoon, where they will face the division-rival Braves for the first time this spring at 1:05 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista.
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. After a short hiatus, we are back at it with one of the Washington backstops, catcher Jesus Flores.
With the myriad of injuries beset upon the Nationals catching crew in 2012, there was one constant behind the plate, one man who was there, day in, day out, working with the pitching staff. Jesus Flores had nearly as many at-bats (277) as the fellow quintet of backstops he shared time with combined (303), appearing in over half of Washington’s games this year. Defensively, he caught nearly 47 percent of all innings thrown in 2012 by Nationals pitchers.
Flores was thrust into the starting role after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on a rainy Saturday night, May 12 in Cincinnati. When Chase Headley ran over Sandy Leon – the latter only a couple innings into his Major League debut – just 72 hours later, even more pressure landed on Flores to handle the league’s best pitching staff. He responded both defensively and offensively with his best stretch of the season, batting .320/.352/.500 through June 3, his first 15 games following Ramos’ injury.
Flores’ offensive contributions this season were sometimes obscured, though. His first home run of the year was overshadowed almost immediately, as it was followed by Stephen Strasburg’s first roundtripper of his Major League career, when the duo went back-to-back off Orioles starter Wie-Yen Chen on May 20 at Nationals Park. Flores’ next three longballs all came against Atlanta, each in crucial wins. He opened the scoring off Brandon Beachy with a solo shot in the fifth inning of a 2-0 victory on June 2, then went deep against Randall Delgado on June 29 to help Washington to a 5-4 triumph. Finally, his three-run blast off Paul Maholm on August 21 provided the difference in a 4-1 Nationals victory.
Meanwhile, the backstop continued to improve defensively. After never posting a range factor above 7.00, Flores notched a 9.16 mark over 80 games in 2012, while logging a career-high 687.2 innings behind the plate. He held down the fort throughout the spring and early summer until the arrival of Kurt Suzuki in early August, at which point he returned to his backup role for the stretch run.
With Ramos set to return sometime next spring, the Nationals will have some decisions to make about the future of their deep and experienced catching corps. Flores is entering the final of his four arbitration years (he was a Super Two, starting back in 2010), and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season.
At nearly 70 years of age, there isn’t much that Davey Johnson has yet to accomplish in the game of baseball. He has already won a World Series as both a player and a manager, one of just five living men to do so. Coming into 2012, he had skippered three different franchises to the playoffs. And yet, he managed to notch a whole bevy of firsts in his first full season at the helm of the Washington Nationals. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the second BBWAA Manager of the Year Award of his career.
He guided the franchise to a Major League-leading 98 wins, 17 more than the previous franchise high, set back in 2005. That success translated into the franchise’s first NL East title and Washington D.C.’s first postseason berth in 79 years. Mind you, of course, that while nobody else predicted such unprecedented success from the club, Johnson calmly and confidently told the baseball world exactly that – his team would be in the playoffs, all the way back before Spring Training began.
Despite a ton of early-season injuries to a good portion of his starting lineup, Johnson’s club either led the NL East or shared its top spot for all but 10 days this season. When the dust had settled, they owned the best run differential in Major League Baseball, outscoring their opponents by 137 runs over the course of the year.
Johnson, along with Executive VP of Player Personnel and GM Mike Rizzo, made the decision to keep Ross Detwiler in the Major League rotation at the end of Spring Training. That, along with the healthy returns of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson gave the skipper the National League’s best rotation ERA at 3.40. Once fully healthy, his offense went on to produce 194 home runs, second most in the league, establishing both franchise (1969-‘12) and D.C. baseball (1901-‘71, 2005-‘12) single-season marks.
Johnson registered the seventh 90-win campaign of his managerial career and joined the legendary Billy Martin as the game’s lone skippers to take four different teams to the postseason. Since shifting from a consulting role and returning to the dugout to assume the Nationals managerial helm on June 27, 2011, Johnson’s Nationals are 138-107 (.563). Just how good has he been at guiding his young squad? In that same time span, only the Braves (139) have won more games among NL teams.
Among those to manage 1,000 or more games, Johnson’s career winning percentage (1,286-995, .564) ranks second among all living managers behind his former skipper, Earl Weaver (.583). He will have one more season to improve upon those impressive credentials, having agreed to manage the 2013 season before retiring from the bench, back to the Nationals front office in 2014.
Congratulations, Davey. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for your grand finale.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We begin the list with everyone’s favorite selachimorph, Roger “The Shark” Bernadina.
The Curacao-born outfielder played in parts of four seasons for the Nationals before 2012, compiling a slash line of .242/.304/.364 in just under 900 plate appearances. His athleticism and flashes of superior defense gave fans hope that he might progress into a steady Major Leaguer, an evolution that finally took form this season. Bernadina posted the best all-around numbers of his career, hitting .291/.372/.405 with 11 doubles and five home runs in just 261 plate appearances. A midseason switch to a lighter bat helped him go on a 41-game tear over which he batted .395 (32-for-81) from June 28-August 17, raising his average by 73 points.
However, he was at his best during the crucial four-game home set with Atlanta in mid-July (over which he went 8-for-13) and on the team’s season-long 10-game road trip in early August, where he turned in a four-hit game in San Francisco and this season-defining catch to win a game in Houston.
With his tremendous speed and range in the outfield, Bernadina offered the Nationals a versatile option as a left-handed pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement off the bench this year. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013, but remains under team control through the 2016 season.
Shark fans out there may not have to wait until Spring to see Bernadina play, as he is rumored to be taking part in the World Baseball Classic as part of Team Netherlands, the country that stakes ownership to the Antilles islands, including Curacao.
Washington Nationals (98-64) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94)
The Washington Nationals begin the franchise’s first-ever Postseason in the home of the defending 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards knocked off the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 on Friday night, in the one-game Wild Card Playoff to reach the National League Division Series.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Nationals Manager Davey Johnson on leading his fourth different team to the Postseason:
“It’s not my first rodeo… We know who we are, we know what we do well.”
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Gonzalez LHP
Washington features the staff with the lowest ERA in the National League at 3.33, helping lead to a league-best 98 wins. Nationals pitchers also ranked third in the league with 1325 strikeouts. St. Louis, meanwhile, posted the league’s sixth best mark as a staff (3.71), including 10 shutouts. Gio Gonzalez’s only start against the Cardinals his season resulted in his first career shutout, a five-hit masterpiece in D.C. on August 31. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, meanwhile, had one great start and one rough one against the Nationals, going 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA (7 ER/8.2 IP).
The Cardinals featured the second-highest scoring offense and second-highest batting average in the National League. However, they were out-homered by the Nationals, 194-159, and Washington actually posted better second-half numbers across the board.
This matchup features Major League Baseball’s oldest (69 year-old Davey Johnson) and youngest (42 year-old Mike Matheny) managers, marking the largest age difference between skippers in Postseason history.
There was much speculation as to who the Nationals would be better off facing in the National League Division Series heading into last night’s Cardinals-Braves Wild Card game. With the dust now settled and the team in St. Louis, we’re here to provide an objective analysis of the three National League teams that Washington has the possibility of encountering this postseason and how well the Nats match up against each. First, though, let’s take a look at what the Nationals have working in their favor, regardless of their opponent.
For the Nationals to be successful in the postseason, they will need to stick to the same approach they have had all season long: win the series. That has been the mantra since day one, and while a five or seven-game series differs from a two, three, or four-gamer, the principle remains the same. In that vein, the Nationals finished the 2012 regular season with a 32-12-8 series record. In other words, they won 32 of their 52 series outright (61.5%), and earned at least a split in 40 of them (76.9%). Washington was swept only four times all season long, while returning the favor on nine occasions, including three-game sets at Atlanta in late May and at home against San Francisco in early July.
SHOW ON THE ROAD
While Washington’s 50-31 home record was tied for the top mark in the National League, it is their nearly equal 48-33 road mark that stands out. Not only is that the best away tally in all of baseball, but it includes 2-1 records in both Cincinnati and San Francisco and a 5-4 mark in Atlanta. The Nats ability to win away from D.C. will be a crucial factor in how far their October ride will take them.
St. Louis Cardinals
88-74 overall, 11.0 GB in NL Central (Second Wild Card)
Nationals record vs. St. Louis in 2012: 4-3
World Champions until they are eliminated, the Cardinals are a dangerous opponent that features the highest scoring offense of any postseason club in the National League. Combined with their veteran rotation and playoff experience, the Cards will not be an easy out, but it’s hard to say how Washington will match up, with both teams winning their home series convincingly during the regular season. The good news: the Cardinals rotation (Garcia: 0-1, 10.13; Lohse: 0-0, 6.94; Lynn: 1-1, 9.82; Wainwright: 1-1, 7.27) has not fared well against the Nats bats. We’ll have more on the Cardinals in a full NLDS preview tomorrow.
97-65 overall, NL Central Champions
Nationals record vs. Cincinnati in 2012: 5-2
Reds fans will point out that all of the seven matchups between these two teams occurred very early in the season, when ace Johnny Cueto was on the Disabled List. However, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both missed the second series, while Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse for the first matchup and Michael Morse was absent for both. It could be very reasonably argued that the Nationals team the Reds could face in October is significantly better offensively (perhaps defensively as well, with Zimmerman and Harper) than the one that took five-of-seven from Cincinnati in April and May.
San Francisco Giants
94-68 overall, NL West Champions
Nationals record vs. San Francisco in 2012: 5-1
The Giants have improved offensively down the stretch, despite the loss of Melky Cabrera, but will rely on their formidable starting rotation to try to replicate their 2010 World Series run. However, the Nationals have fared particularly well against the San Francisco starters as well, with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong’s worst individual starts of the year ALL coming against the Nats. In fact, add in top starter Matt Cain and the quartet that went a combined 55-36 with a 3.42 ERA (294 ER/772.2 IP) against the rest of baseball managed just a 1-4 record with an 8.80 ERA (30 ER/30.2 IP) against Washington this year.
This morning, Jeffrey Hester and his son Alan jumped in their car to begin a journey of over 400 miles, from their home in Winchester, VA to Knoxville, TN. They are going as baseball fans, but not going to see the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliates of the Chicago Cubs, whose season ended a month ago. Hardly a baseball hotbed this time of year, Knoxville is simply the logical stopping point in a larger journey, the yield sign at the fork in the road between St. Louis and Atlanta, the two possible destinations where their beloved Washington Nationals will play their first-ever playoff game, set to take place this Sunday.
“I looked at the map and Knoxville seemed to be a good halfway point,” said Hester over the phone on Thursday, a day after he watched the Nats wrap up the best record in baseball in person at Nationals Park.
Originally an Orioles fan, Hester gave up his old fandom in the late ‘90s, only to pick it up once again when the Nationals moved to the Nation’s Capital in ’05. A season ticket holder ever since, he has found his baseball spark reignited this year from a fitting source.
“They broke my heart when they fired Davey Johnson,” recalled Hester of the Orioles and their former skipper parting ways. “It’s kind of funny how things come around.”
Now Hester and his son are all in on the Nats, and are prepared for both contingencies. Should the Braves knock off the defending World Series Champions at home, the Hesters will have just over 200 more miles left ahead of them to get to Turner Field for Game 1 of the NLDS. Should the Cardinals finally solve Kris Medlen and extend their season, it will mean another nearly 500-mile trek to the Gateway to the West.
“My son and I, we don’t want to do the trip in one day, especially if it’s St. Louis,” explained Hester of the journey, which could end up being over 1,800 miles round trip.
Either way, they plan to be back in D.C. in time for Game 3 on Wednesday and each of the eight possible postseason home games. The elder Hester estimates he has attended between 25-30 games at Nationals Park this season, but this won’t be the first time he has seen the Nationals away from the District, as he was able to catch the Sunday finale of the Nats sweep at Fenway Park in June. In Boston for a friend’s wedding on Saturday, it was the only logical way for a die-hard fan to complete the weekend. Now, their journey will take them to eastern Tennessee as they await the Nationals next opponent – and their weekend destination – to be determined.
Every signature moment in this 2012 Washington Nationals season has composed its own storyline. With dramatic victories woven throughout the tapestry of a thrilling campaign, it would have been understandable to expect some sort of coup de gras to cap off a season’s worth of celebration. Maybe the Nationals didn’t provide the storybook clinching moment that television producers dream of, with a dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound, as they missed their first chance to wrap up the division title on Sunday in St. Louis. There was a pretty brilliant, sparkling silver lining, though, knowing that the team would return home leading by 3.0 games with three games left on the regular season slate.
That presented the opportunity to clinch the division at home against the five-time defending division champion Phillies, who had thrice celebrated their own glory with wins over the Nationals. But what if Washington didn’t win, and instead had to rely on Atlanta, one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, to lose? Would that turn of events scrub some of the luster from Washington’s shiny division crown?
On Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the division would be decided, Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler refused to allow such a scenario to take anything away from the accomplishment.
“There’s no such thing as ‘backing in’ when you win 96 games,” he declared.
Based on the celebrations taking place on the field Monday night – after the Nationals 2-0 loss to the Phillies became a mere footnote in their 2012 National League East Championship season, thanks to the Braves 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh – the players agreed. While they maintained their composure nearly two weeks earlier, following the clinch of the first postseason berth in D.C. baseball since 1933, they held nothing back upon taking the division.
They jumped around in jubilation, spraying each other with any beverage available. When Mike Rizzo was being interviewed live on MASN, Wilson Ramos emptied an entire bottle of champagne over his head. As soon as players huddled together in the clubhouse in celebration, Michael Morse unleashed a tidal wave of water from a Gatorade bucket into the middle of the fray. By the end of the night, Jayson Werth’s home white number 28 jersey was stained pink from his red undershirt bleeding through the mix of beverages.
“It was kind of odd,” said Werth, of the way the evening unfolded. “We’re getting beat, but we’re celebrating. But this team deserves this. We’ve come a long way.”
This was, after all, what Werth envisioned when he made the decision to leave the team occupying the visitor’s dugout for the final series of the regular season to join the Nationals before the 2011 campaign. He has become a leader on this Washington club, not only taking rookie Bryce Harper under his wing, but guiding the offense at the top of the lineup since his return from a broken wrist in early May. He is batting .308 with a .392 on-base percentage, scoring 32 runs over 53 games during that span, and his ability to continue to set the table will be key for the Nationals in the postseason.
“It’s gratifying, it’s quite an accomplishment,” he said, of winning the division. “We’ve come quite a long way in a very short time, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a good young club. I think we should do this every year.”
Before Werth’s strong stretch drive, and before Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse helped Washington assert itself as one of the National League’s top offensive clubs in the second half of the season, another veteran made his biggest mark on this team. Adam LaRoche carried the club through the early part of the year, on his way to matching his career-high in home runs with 32, sitting just one RBI shy of the century mark with two games to play. For his efforts, he will be rewarded with his first trip to the postseason since 2005.
“It means a lot personally,” said LaRoche as he gazed up from the field at the fans behind the Nationals dugout, still screaming and cheering nearly an hour after the end of the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs.”
Asked if he had forgotten the feeling of clinching, the mix of ecstasy, accomplishment and relief, he admitted that he had.
“You do, when it’s been this long,” he said. “You see the other team celebrate, you want to be out there and be a part of it. There’s a big difference.”
Amid the mess of congratulatory hugs, handshakes and post-game interviews, one tall, shaggy-haired man stood to the side, shivering in the cool fall night, his freshly printed NL East Champions shirt already steeped in celebration. Perhaps no man’s journey to standing on this field, literally soaking in the division title, was as trying as John Lannan’s, who took his first loss in six starts for the Nationals this season Monday night, despite pitching well yet again. It was his first start, the back-end of a doubleheader on July 21, that proved to be a turning point for Washington, stopping the division-rival Braves after they had narrowed the division gap to a game-and-a-half, never letting them pull any closer. Looking up at the fans, he was happy to enjoy every bit of the moment at hand.
“This has been awesome,” he said of the celebration. “These guys (the fans), they deserve it as much as we do. It’s something special. I’m just glad to be a part of it. The win would have been icing on the cake, but as soon as the champagne was popped, it was all forgotten.”
The man who seemed to be enjoying the moment the most, though, may have been Gio Gonzalez, who alternated celebrating with his teammates, family and the fans, ducking in and out of interviews. His Cy Young-worthy season has marked the difference between a team that may have simply been competitive and one that has brought the first division title to D.C. in 79 years. Coming from an Oakland team that never made the playoffs during his tenure, his first taste of such success left him living in the moment, riding the wave of emotion, not worrying yet about the challenges that lie ahead.
“This is unbelievable,” he exclaimed. “I don’t want to wake up, boys. I’m still dreaming.”
Here’s to hoping the dream doesn’t end until November.
Whenever two good teams tangle for a series, the difference in the game often rides on the starting pitching matchups. Make no mistake – despite being eliminated from National League East contention last week and sitting on the brink of missing the postseason entirely, the Phillies are certainly a good team. Since bottoming out on July 13 at 37-51 following a 6-2 loss at Colorado, Philadelphia has gone 41-25. To put that in perspective, the Nationals are 43-27 over the same span, with the Braves coming in at 42-26 during that time. Arguably the biggest difference between the Phillies slightly above .500 campaign and the Nationals division leading season was Washington’s ability to weather early season injuries with its depth compared to Philadelphia’s inability to do the same.
Behind Cole Hamels, the Phillies defeated the Nats 6-3 in the series opener on Tuesady night. While Ross Detwiler – who has pitched extremely well all season long, carrying a top 10 ERA in the National League into last night’s contest – shouldered the blame for the loss, Tuesday night’s game was arguably one the Phillies should have won. They had Hamels throwing, their best pitcher all season long, and perhaps their best overall at this point as he enters his prime and considering their other aces’ age. It was a matchup that, at least on paper, favored the home team.
Looking ahead at the series finale, the Nationals have Gio Gonzalez, their 20-game winner, ace and Cy Young candidate slated to pitch. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has yet to announce their starter, after pulling back Roy Halladay, who has struggled through an up-and-down season. Whomever they fill Halladay’s slot with will understandably be an underdog in a head-to-head matchup with Gonzalez. Which brings us to the swing game, tonight.
Now the series turns to John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick, two back-of-the-rotation starters in a nationally televised game (ESPN 2) that seems like a toss-up on paper. Kendrick has gone 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) against the Nationals this year. Meanwhile, Lannan faces off against the Phillies for the first time in 2012 after going just 2-4 against them overall in 2011, but winning two of the final three matchups, including his final victory of the year on September 21 at Citizens Bank Park.
Manager Davey Johnson prefers to throw left-handed starters, like Lannan, against the lefty heavy lineup that Philadelphia features. He reconstructed the rotation to start three consecutive southpaws for this series, knowing it might give him an edge. Hamels safely in the rear-view mirror, the focus is on what’s in front of the Nationals.
“We’ve just got to win tomorrow,” said Johnson Tuesday night. “It’s going to be a battle until the end.”
Up four games in the National League East with eight to play, a win would leave their Magic Number to clinch the division at no higher than four at night’s end. That’s how the Nationals have gotten where they are, winning the swing games of series, leading to overall series wins. It’s what has helped them go 30-11-8 in series play this season, including a 15-6-3 mark on the road.
Recently, the Nationals have traded wins and losses over their last eight games. They are hoping that trend continues for one more night to give them a chance at another series win on Thursday.