Tim Hudson was fantastic tonight, despite (or perhaps because of) facial expressions like this one.
If you came here looking for news about a certain pitching phenom, I'm afraid you'll have to wait a couple paragraphs. I'm not burying the lede; there was another guy on the mound tonight, and he deserves first billing.
Tim Hudson continued his incredible (and incredibly consistent) season tonight in the mugginess of Turner Field. Through seven gritty innings--all of them in a scoreless tie--Tim induced grounder after grounder, keeping the Nationals' hitters completely off-balance. He wasn't all finesse, though. He struck out 6 men, and when he needed a strikeout, he got it.
No strikeout was more important than the last one. In the 7th inning, with the score still tied 0-0, Huddy gave up a leadoff double to Roger Bernadina. After Ian Desmond bunted the runner to third, Hudson needed a strikeout to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring. And sure enough, he got it, striking out Alberto Gonzales on a nasty pitch about a foot outside the strike zone. He then retired the pitcher to escape the jam and complete his marvelous effort. Hudson's final line was 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 13/16 ground balls (81%!!!), and a whopping 0.420 WPA. Bravo.
With Hudson done for the night, the Braves had one last chance to get him the win, and boy, did they come through. Chipper Jones led off the bottom of the 7th with a walk. Brian McCann followed with a frozen-rope single to center. That's when the Braves caught a huge break (with a little help from Chipper). Troy Glaus hit a tailor-made double-play ball to Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond. Chipper (who was leading off of 2nd base) smartly stood right between Desmond and the ball, screening his view somewhat. Partly as a result of this, Desmond booted the grounder, and all runners were safe.
After that, the Braves made the Nats pay for the error. Eric Hinske smoked a deep fly ball to center for a sac fly, then Yunel Escobar ripped a single to left to score another run. That made it 2-0, Braves, and knocked Stephen Strasburg out of the game (hey, look how far I made it before saying his name!). Gregor Blanco greeted Nats reliever Sean Burnett with a perfect (non-squeeze) bunt hit, scoring Glaus. Pinch-hitter Omar Infante then drove in another run with an infield hit by bouncing a ball off the gloves of both the third baseman and the shortstop. Martin Prado capped the scoring with another sac fly, making it 5-0. The first 4 runs were charged to Strasburg, though 1 was unearned because of the error.
Strasburg struck out 5 straight in the 5th and 6th innings, the only time all night when he really looked as good as the hype. The Braves actually had a few opportunities earlier in the game to score off the phenom, but they couldn't quite come through. They had a runner thrown out at the plate to end the 1st and grounded into two double plays. Through 4 innings, Strasburg had only 2 strikeouts, and was pitching more like Tim Hudson than like himself (he finished with 10/16 ground balls, or 63%). It was impressive, yes, but not "Oh my God, I've never seen anyone this good!!!" impressive. I guess that means we caught him on a bad night. His final line: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 7 K, and a -0.003 WPA.
The difference between the two pitchers tonight was that Hudson was able to get out of his 7th-inning jam and work around some shoddy defense (Yunel Escobar made an error and could've been charged with another, and Hudson himself had a throwing error). Strasburg could not. Perhaps with some more experience, Strasburg will be able to get out of those kinds of jams, but right now, he's no Tim Hudson. And for that, I'm glad.
Tim Hudson (stat line above); fun fact: this was the 3rd time in Tim's last 6 starts in which he's had at least 80% ground balls.
All the hitters. Nobody really had a great night, but everyone contributed. Good work, fellas.
Alberto Gonzales-- 0/3, 3 K, -0.185 WPA
MVP in a Losing Effort
Roger Bernadina-- 2/3, BB, 2B, K, 0.092 WPA (higher than any Braves hitter, interestingly... though he was the only National with a WPA above 0.001)
Bernadina's double leading off the Nats' 7th (0.113 WPA)
Gonzales' strikeout with a runner on 3rd and 1 out in the 7th (-0.116 WPA)
Desmond's error on the double-play ball in the Braves' half of the 7th (-0.106 WPA)