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Bullpen walks late-inning tightrope as Braves sweep Nationals, 3-2

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Luke Jackson, Grant Dayton and Will Smith all picked up crucial high-leverage outs in this one as the Braves managed to pull off the road sweep of their divisional rivals.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After getting six good innings from Drew Smyly and just enough offense to get out in front, the Braves bullpen managed to get the job done in the final three innings as Atlanta held on to beat the Nationals, 3-2.

Just like everybody predicted, the first three innings of this game turned into a pitcher’s duel, as Drew Smyly and Jon Lester traded zeroes to start off the game. In fact, Lester went through Atlanta’s lineup without giving up a hit his first time through. That changed as soon as Lester began his second trip through the lineup, as Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the fourth inning with a liner. After a stolen base and a throwing error, Acuña found himself at third base and was joined on the basepaths by Ozzie Albies after he took a walk. Marcell Ozuna picked up where he left off yesterday and delivered a big RBI knock to put the Braves on the board, then Ehire Adrianza came through with two outs as he ambushed Lester on the first pitch and hit a looper to center to plate Ozzie and Ozuna.

The Nationals responded in the fourth inning, but Drew Smyly was extremely unfortunate to give up the run that he did. After Smyly picked up a one-out walk, Kyle Schwarber came up with two outs and smacked a double to right. This should’ve been just a double with runners on second and third — however, Ronald Acuña made an uncharacteristic gaffe in collecting the ball from the ground and as it rolled past Acuña’s grasp, Schwarber made it to second base and Josh Bell’s walk was cashed in. Fortunately, Smyly picked up the third out by taking care of business against Jon Lester to end the inning after an intentional walk.

The seventh inning was a crucial one for the Braves, as we ended up getting everybody’s favorite part of any Braves game: A high-leverage outing for Luke Jackson. Drew Smyly’s good day ended when he walked Kyle Schwarber to lead off the inning, then Jackson entered the game and immediately gave up a single to Victor Robles. That meant that Luke Jackson would have to face both Juan Soto and Trea Turner with two men on, the lead on the line and nobody out at that point.

In typical Luke Jackson fashion, things got extremely interesting but he ultimately found a way to get the job done. Juan Soto put some good wood on a fastball, but Marcell Ozuna was able to track it down and snag it in left field for out number one. Jackson then induced a grounder out of Trea Turner to get the runner at second for out number two. With Washington’s two dangerous hitters out of the way, Jackson coaxed another grounder out of Yadiel Hernandez to end the scoring chance for the Nationals and keep the Braves ahead by two.

The eighth inning ended up being even more dramatic. After Edgar Santana gave up a leadoff double to Josh Harrison (which was really, really close to being a home run), a walk and a one-out RBI single that made it 3-2, he gave way for Grant Dayton to clean up the second mess in as many innings for this bullpen. Dayton dominated Kyle Schwarber on a three-pitch strikeout, then things got really interesting for the Victor Robles at-bat.

You see, the home plate umpire had been having a bit of an adventure all day when it came to balls and strikes, and this at-bat ended up being the climax. On the seventh pitch of a tense battle between Dayton and Robles on a full count, Dayton tossed a curveball that was pretty low. Robles tossed the bat as he took off for first base, only to end up heading to the dugout after the umpire called it strike three. Dayton cleaned up the mess and the Braves somehow held on to their one-run lead.

The drama continued into the ninth inning. For the third straight frame, the Nationals got the leadoff man on and for the second straight inning, it was a double. This time, Ryan Zimmerman came off the bench, smacked the double into left field, and then promptly exited the game. After Trea Turner hit a productive flyout to move pinch-runner Andrew Stevenson to third base, the pressure was really on for Will Smith to keep that runner at third base.

It helped that Jeff Mathis was making some solid saves behind the plate in order to make sure that a wild pitch didn’t turn into a game-tying run for Washington. It also helped that when Smith had his pitches under control, he picked up a strikeout against Yadiel Hernandez for the second out and then got Josh Harrison to hit a fly ball to right field. Ronald Acuña made the easy catch and the bullpen had pulled off the magic trick of preserving the lead and the victory for the Braves.

It’s always nice to pick up a win over a divisional rival. It’s even better to sweep them, and it’s just plain wonderful to do it in their home stadium. That’s exactly what the Braves just got done doing, and now they’re one win away from wiping out their four-game losing streak with another four-game winning streak. The Braves will now be heading back to Cobb County after turning what could’ve been a disastrous road trip into an acceptable .500 six-game venture away from home.