11:02 AM PDT, August 22, 2012
by James Wagner
The Washington Post
The most frustrated team in baseball may be the Atlanta Braves. They carry the National League’s third-best record but can’t get out of second place. They’ve now lost four straight. The Nationals stole the first game of the series in a wacky 13-inning affair on Monday. And then Stephen Strasburg demolished their lineup on Tuesday. A five-game difference in the NL East standings has inflated to a season-high six and now seven games.
“I take nothing for granted,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said following Tuesday’s 4-1 win. “Eight would be better.”
On Wednesday, they’ll have that chance.
“They’ve got a fine ballclub over there but I like the intensity level that I’m seeing from my guys,” Johnson continued. “Every one of ’em is way up there, grinding and . . . everybody pitched yesterday and they were putting everything on every pitch they had.”
Strasburg pumped his fist as Jesus Flores threw out Jason Heyward in the sixth inning. Setup man Sean Burnett gave perhaps his most exuberant reaction of the season with a big inning-ending double play in the eighth. Players showed the importance of these games.
“They’re all big [games],” Tyler Clippard said. “The energy in the stadium has definitely changed throughout the course of the year. More fans are showing up. They’re more into the game, every pitch. Especially in the ninth. Especially against Atlanta.”
This season, the Braves have dropped 10 of 14 games to the Nationals. The rest of Atlanta’s schedule is against teams with losing records, except for an upcoming four-game set in San Francisco, another three-game series against Washington and a season-ending series in Pittsburgh.
The Nationals, on the other hand, have two series against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinalsand dangerous Los Angeles Dodgers. So, hypothetically, if the Giants don’t dent the Braves’ record further and both the Nationals and Braves maintain their current pace, it’ll be tougher for Atlanta to make up the difference. In other words, the Braves will be praying that the Cardinals, along with some of those teams with losing records, to help them slow the Nationals.
“The job isn’t finished,” Strasburg said following the game. “It’s still August. We’re still focused, we’re still trying to win as many games as we can. We’ve got another opportunity tomorrow.”
Johnson addressed the magnitude head-on and admitted that a series win isn’t enough. With the new postseason format in which the wild card teams play each other in a one game playoff, there’s even more significance to winning the division. (Also, in case you were curious, he’s not a fan of the new format.)
“There’s 10 times more pressure,” Johnson said. “[Players] can do the math and so that’s why this series, any time you go up against the club that’s fighting you for the division it’s more weighted,” he added. “There’s more concentration, there’s more energy level. There’s more on the table. Atlanta. After yesterday they were very dejected. After today they were very dejected because they know. They’ve got a pretty good lead on the wild card but they don’t want the wild card.”
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
FROM TODAY’S POST
Stephen Strasburg dazzles in a rain-delayed 4-1 win with ten strikeouts.
Whether he wants it or not, Davey Johnson deserves the NL Manager of the Year award, Jason Reid writes.
Strasburg focused just on pitching, Rick Maese writes: “Nobody talks to me personally about it so obviously I can either scour the Internet, watch all the stuff being said on TV or I can just keep pitching and watch the Golf Channel, I guess.”
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Indianapolis 2, Syracuse 1: Starter Tanner Roark struck out ten over six innings and allowed two runs on six hits. Eury Perez drove in the lone run.
Reading 11, Harrisburg 9: James Skelton went 2 for 2 with three RBI. On rehab,Chien-Ming Wang allowed five runs on eight hits over six innings. He walked two and struck out eight batters.
Potomac 3, Carolina 0: Starter Matthew Grace threw a seven inning complete game shutout, allowing only four hits and striking out seven. Stephen King hit a three-run home run.
Hagerstown 7, Kannapolis 6: Caleb Ramsey went 3 for 3 with three RBI. Leonard Hollins earned the win by tossing scoreless ninth and tenth innings.
Auburn 3, State College 1: Starter Pedro Encarnacion allowed only one run on four hits over six innings, and struck out six batters and walking only two. Wander Ramos went 2 for 4 with an RBI.