THE RESULT: The Atlanta Braves came into D.C. this weekend looking to solidify their chances of making the playoffs, hoping to take advantage of a last-place team. What they got was two losses out of three games to a young team learning to play, a serious dent in their plans for post-season play.
One of those young players, 25-year old shortstop Ian Desmond, hit a clutch two-out single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-2 win, before 21,625 at "Jersey Off Their Backs" Day at Nationals Park.
The Nats not only took the series, they also won the season's series with Atlanta, 10 games to eight. If Atlanta fails to qualify for post-season play, they need to look no further than a losing record against the Nats this season.
With six games remaining, the Nats record sits at 67-89. It's only numbers, but I think if you talked to anyone involved in the organization, they'd love to hit that 70-win plateau, just as quickly as they would also say they want to raise that bar higher.
Desmond was having a rough day, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but after two different Braves relievers walked the bases loaded, he drilled a single back through the box to drive in Willie Harris and Danny Espinosa without a throw.
It was that type of day for the Braves, as all four of the Nats runs came after the batter reached via base on balls.
Nats starter Livan Hernandez gave a typical outing for him in his renaissance 2010 season. He threw six strong innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out three. He allowed a solo homer to Rick Ankiel in the fifth, and back-to-back doubles that ended his day in the seventh to Melky Cabrera and Ankiel.
Livo did not get the win, however. That distinction went to Sean Burnett (1-7), who continues to mow down opposing batters. He threw two perfect innings, striking out three in the process. And Drew Storen got back on track, striking out two in a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his fifth save of the season. Storen threw 10 of his 13 pitches for strikes, displaying a wicked slider to left-handed batters.
Burnett has not been scored upon in his last 12 appearances, striking out 13 in 11 2/3 innings.
Washington got out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first two innings. Nyjer Morgan (1-for-2, 2 BBs) drew a one-out walk, took second on Adam Dunn's walk, and scored on Michael Morse's base hit in the first inning against Braves starter Brandon Beachy. In the next inning, Ivan Rodriguez lead off with a walk, moved up on singles by Alberto Gonzalez and Danny Espinosa (2-for-3, BB), and scored on Morgan's base hit.
Unfortunately, the Nats could get no more in the second, as the frame ended with Desmond flying out to short center field, and Gonzalez getting nailed at the plate on a great throw by Ankiel.
With the Phillies losing Sunday as well, the Braves magic number to be eliminated from the division race is still one game, and they trail San Francisco by a half-game in the wild card standings.
With a good chance of rain Monday, I think Nats fans wouldn't mind seeing the home game with the Phils rained out and the Braves lose their game with Florida, so the Phillies don't get to publicly celebrate their division title in Nats Park.
THE GOOD: Sean Burnett. He's been outstanding, and threw another two dominating innings today.
THE BAD: Adam Dunn. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, and committed a throwing error, cleanly fielding a grounder, but then throwing into the back of the runner going to second. Instead of a double-play, it set up second and third with one out in the fourth. Livo wriggled out of the jam, getting the next two batters to pop up.
THE UGLY: The Nats struck out 14 times, nine in the first five innings to Beachy, making the second start in his major league career.
THE STATS: 14 Ks, 7 BBs, 4-for-10 with RISP, 8 LOB, 0 GIDP, 1 E (Dunn-throw)
NEXT GAME: The Nats start a three-game set with Philadelphia at 7:05 from Nats Park. John Lannan (8-7, 4.58) hosts Roy Halladay (20-10, 2.53).