Given how much the Braves have beaten up on the Nats this season, today was a welcome respite with a pair of feel-good wins.
Tanner Roark locked down the Braves, allowing only two hits in seven innings, and the offense came alive with three runs in the eighth as the Nats (81-70) locked down the Braves (89-62), 4-0.
The most important takeaway from this game is that the Braves cannot clinch the division in Washington, with their magic number still at four. Even if they win tomorrow’s series finale, it will stand at two. The Nats are also still 4.5 games back of the Reds after their 10-0 win over Houston.
The game began quietly on both sides. Roark and Freddy Garcia both retired the first three batters they faced, but ran into a minor bump shortly thereafter. In the top of the second, Roark gave up back-to-back two-out singles before escaping the frame. Garcia gave up a single and stolen base to Bryce Harper, who scored when Steve Lombardozzi singled to give the Nats a 1-0 lead. After the second, the two teams’ offenses took divergent paths.
The Nationals got at least one hit in each of the game’s next three innings against Garcia, but could not group them well enough. The Nats finished with seven hits against Garcia in seven innings, along with two walks, but only scored one run. Fortunately, with Roark on the mound, that was just enough.
While the Nats had their successes against Garcia, Roark did not allow another hit after the second. In fact, the only other baserunner he gave up was on a walk in the third inning. He retired the final 14 batters he faced in pitching seven sterling innings, dropping his MLB ERA to an amazing 1.08. He accompanied these three baserunners with six strikeouts in his domination of the Braves.
One of the hits Garcia gave up was a fifth-inning single to Denard Span, extending his streak of consecutive games with a hit to 28, the longest streak in baseball this season. He tied the seasonal mark in the first game of the doubleheader, equaling Michael Cuddyer’s 27-game streak earlier this year. He now stands alone, and is also second in Nats history to Ryan Zimmerman’s 30-gamer in 2009.
After the starters finished their duel, the Nats led 1-0 going into the eighth. Craig Stammen took care of business, yielding just one harmless single. In the bottom of the eighth, the Nats’ bats exploded against the once-untouchable Atlanta bullpen again.
Braves reliever Jordan Walden had a challenging outing, to say the least. Ryan Zimmerman hit his 25th homer of the season, and 10th in the past 15 days, off of him to double the Nats’ lead. With two outs, Harper singled again and was driven in by an Ian Desmond double. Adam LaRoche singled for the third straight Nats hit and third RBI of the inning, putting the lead at a remarkable 4-0 before the inning came to a close.
Rafael Soriano did his best to make the bottom half of the inning exciting, allowing base hits to the first two Braves he faced, but Ryan Zimmerman made a nice double play and the Nats worked around an Ian Desmond error to preserve the shutout and win.
In their unfailing quest to claim the NL’s second wildcard spot, the Nationals will go for the sweep of Atlanta tomorrow. Ross Ohlendorf (4-0, 3.15) will take on Braves rookie Alex Wood (3-3, 3.45) at 7:05 PM.