Nine times out of ten, Stephen Strasburg has had an absolute devil of a time playing against the Braves, especially so in Atlanta. Tonight, with his team only 2 wins in Atlanta away from clinching the division, that was not the case. Strasburg pitched 7 and also drove in a run, as the Braves lost their 4th straight after yet another sluggish performance at the plate.
Despite the offense spending the vast majority of the game in complete struggle mode, Ervin Santana was up for the game. Santana made it through 6 innings with only 2 earned runs allowed, 3 hits allowed, and 6 strikeouts. Unfortunately, 2 of those hits were of the run-scoring variety for Washington, and the first of those came in the 3rd inning. After a leadoff walk and a sac bunt put Wilson Ramos in scoring position, Denard Span cashed in that run with a double to make it 1-0. This is despite the fact that B.J. Upton made one of his best defensive plays of the season to get out #1 of the 3rd inning.
Wilson Ramos led off for the Nats again in the 5th inning, and he reached base again. Unfortunately, not only did he reach base, he touched all of them after hitting a leadoff home off of Santana to make it 2-0 and also make it 20 straight road games in which the Nationals have hit a homer. Meanwhile in the bottom half of the 5th, the Braves had a golden chance to get on the board. After Jason Heyward poked one into center to get on with a leadoff single, Stephen Strasburg's pickoff attempt went horribly wrong, and the throwing error allowed Heyward to mosey on over to 3rd base. Now, the Braves had a runner on 3rd base with nobody out. If you're one of the brave souls who have stuck around this long to see this calamitous season finally end, then you probably knew that this was going to end without the Braves scoring. After a strikeout from Chris Johnson, a ground out from Christian Bethancourt, and a strikeout from B.J. Upton, no runs were scored. Time is indeed a flat circle.
The bottom of the 6th brought even more frustration. First off, this was when Ervin Santana was removed in an effort by Fredi Gonzalez to be more aggressive on offense. The problem was that the pinch hitter was Jose Constanza. Naturally, Constanza struck out and our bat-licking friend failed to kickstart a Braves rally. However, Andrelton Simmons did his best to start something by hitting a 2-out double. The frustration continued when Freddie Freeman was handed a backwards K on a strike call that would have made Eric Gregg proud. Freddie turned his bat into firewood and immediately received an ejection from the umpire, then Fredi Gonzalez also got the hook for arguing the call. To be totally honest, it was nice to see that the team actually had a bit of a pulse when it came to their emotions, but the bottom line was that despite the awful call, it was still yet another case of the Braves squandering a scoring chance.
In the top of the 7th, the Nationals made the Braves pay for squandering their chances by putting another run in their account. Luis Avilan was the pitcher, so we really shouldn't be surprised that the other team ended up scoring. What was a surprise was that the man who ended up driving in Washington's 3rd run of the night was none other than Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg dropped one into center field for a base hit that brought in Asdrubal Cabrera from 2nd base to make it 3-0. Avilan plunked the next batter he faced and was summarily pulled from the game by acting manager Carlos Tosca, and hopefully we won't have to see much more of him. The Nationals added another run in the 8th to make it 4-0.
Once again, the Braves offense didn't wake up until late in the game, and boy did they really wait this one out. Rafael Soriano had another shaky 9th inning, and it started with Andrelton Simmons hitting a leadoff double to kick things off. After a Joey Terdoslavich strikeout, Justin Upton delivered a double of his own to get the Braves on the board. With 2 out, Soriano somehow managed to walk Chris Johnson. Anytime that happens, you deserve whatever your fate is, and in this case, Soriano's fate was getting the hook in favor of Drew Storen, who was called in for what had now become a save situation. Christian Bethancourt worked a full count and then rolled one into center field to make it 4-2. A wild pitch put runners on 2nd and 3rd with B.J. Upton at the plate. Bad Upton grounded out to 2nd base, and the game ended there.
The positive about this game was that, even though the offense didn't show up until the 9th, the team actually did put out a solid effort. The negative is that it still wasn't enough. The Braves are now at .500 for the first time since April 1st, and the Nationals are now one win in Atlanta away from clinching the division. The Braves now have 2 chances left to make sure that it doesn't happen, but Strasburg getting over his Atlanta "phobia" in a huge game for Washington has to be extremely demoralizing.