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Head games

Apr 13, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

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ATLANTA — It would be one thing if the Nationals’ struggles against the Braves were limited to one bad weekend, as was the case the last three days at Turner Field. Or a couple of bad series, as has been case the last 10 days.

But the lopsided nature of this NL East rivalry has been going on much longer than that. Go back to the start of the 2013 season, when a supremely confident Nationals club sported a 7-2 record and then got swept by Atlanta, beginning a chain reaction that continued through Sunday.

A 10-2 drubbing at Turner Field was only the latest — and most disheartening — development. It left the Nationals 1-5 against the Braves this season (compared to 6-0 against everyone else) and 7-18 against the Braves over the last two seasons (compared to 86-63 against everyone else).

Put in other terms: Since the beginning of 2013, the Nationals have played at a 94-win pace against the rest of the NL and six interleague opponents … and at a 45-win pace against that pesky ballclub from down south.

“Maybe when we’re out there playing them, we do well for whatever reason,” Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons told reporters after Sunday’s game. “If anything, it might be in their head.”

That’s the fear, that the Nationals have let this rivalry disrupt them to some extent, that they haven’t been mentally strong enough to play these big games against their biggest rivals and defending division champs.

Washington’s players, coaches and executives have been trying to downplay that angle, insisting these games carry no more weight than others. There were, however, clear signs of aggravation (and perhaps some resignation) after this weekend’s sweep.

Asked when this moves beyond simple losses to a rival and becomes frustrating, Ian Desmond replied: “About 30 games ago.”

“I feel the same way pretty much every time we play these guys,” the shortstop added. “It’s tough. It sucks getting beat. We know we can play with them. Maybe try something different next time.”

If anything, the Nationals might have tried too hard this weekend. They consistently made mistakes in the field (seven errors), struggled to produce in key spots (going 7-for-34 with runners in scoring position) and dug themselves into big holes early (they were outscored 14-1 in the first and second innings during this series).

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said. “Don’t allow anything to take you out of your game. It didn’t work for us this weekend, but we’ve got another game tomorrow. We have to concentrate on that.”

Sunday’s series finale saw Gio Gonzalez, who had given up only one run in his first 12 innings of the season, get tagged for six runs only 12 batters in. He opened his afternoon with a walk, then was charged with an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt, then served up towering home runs to Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman.

“Against a good-hitting team, you leave the ball up, any single mistake, they’re going to make you pay for it,” Gonzalez said. “That’s exactly what happened. We were basically beating ourselves up.”

That was the common theme all weekend. While giving credit to Atlanta for playing well, the Nationals also realized they didn’t help their own cause the way they played.

“It sucks coming here to lose,” said outfielder Bryce Harper, one of the few bright spots after reaching base 10 times in 14 plate appearances. “Nobody wants to lose. But like I said, it’s part of the game. Sometimes you gotta tip your cap a little bit, and hopefully when they come back to our place, win that series.”

The Braves won’t be coming back to D.C. anytime soon, not until June 19. And the Nationals won’t be venturing down this way for an even longer stretch, not until Aug. 8.

Maybe that’s for the best.

“Great games, and they’ve come out on the winning side of it more than we’d like,” general manager Mike Rizzo said prior to Sunday’s game. “But we feel confident against this team. We feel we’re better than this team. We respect them and we respect their organization. But we don’t fear them. We think we’re the better team, and at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top.”

Maybe so. But eventually, the Nationals are going to have to beat them head-to-head. Or, at the very least, hold their own against a rival that has become much more than just another opponent.

  1. Sonny G 10 - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    Maybe, Rizzo, you should fear them. Maybe you try harder to put together a team that can beat them.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:48 PM

      It’s like they press when they play the braves… This wasn’t the same team that faced the Mets (who we came back from a number of times) and the Fish (we gutte it out there too)…

      Give me a performance with no errors and no stupid baseball and we win…

      The mess started on the mound and then effectively spreaded around….

    • David Proctor - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:49 PM

      This is largely the same team that won the season series 2 years ago. These things are cyclical and can change on a whim. Tearing down your whole team is not exactly the best solution to the problem.

    • mauimo22 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:50 AM

      Seriously? Rizzo has done everything in his power to provide a HUGE upgrade from last season. He does not blow saves or commit simple throwing errors or go 1-14 with RISP. The players have to take responsibility for this series!

  2. scnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    Maybe we should have some pitchers act like stars and not give games away

  3. knoxvillenat - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    Re-posting from the previous thread:

    “….who have perhaps gotten into their heads……”

    You better belief they have. Look at the body language, look at the unforced errors…..yes the Barves have darn well gotten into the collective heads of the Nats. As Pedro Martinez might say, ” they are my daddy”.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:22 PM

      Well, I can’t speak for the players. But for me and a lot of the Nats fans, the Braves have gotten into our heads. Intellectually and logically I know that this level of ownage is cyclical, not sustainable. But I’ll be REALLY happy when the team has gotten through it.

  4. scnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    And this is a much different series (and turnout the last two years) if Clip doesn’t come in against the Braves and throw meatballs appearance after appearance. He doesn’t allow the HR in game 1 of the series we get some momentum.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:49 PM

      +1000

      Losing the first game really hurt…. Ugh, I can’t even think about it anymore…

  5. Natsfool - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    After 2012, they put together a team that could beat the Nats. Rizzo never responded. Crappy General manager.

  6. knoxvillenat - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    “Great games, and they’ve come out on the winning side of it more than we’d like,” general manager Mike Rizzo said prior to Sunday’s game. “But we feel confident against this team. We feel we’re better than this team. We respect them and we respect their organization. But we don’t fear them. We think we’re the better team, and at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top.”

    Time to put up or shut up.

    • scnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 6:58 PM

      +1

    • Jimmy Natitude - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:13 PM

      I agree 100%

    • therealjohnc - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:25 PM

      This quote is a complete non-story. What did you expect him to say/do? Rend his garments and proclaim the Braves the superior team 12 games into a 162 game season? He praised the opponents and then praised his own players. Yeah, that’s ridiculous.

      • pchuck69 - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:54 PM

        What he should be doing is ripping into the team because they deserve to be ripped into.

        No one in this organization expresses even the slightest bit of anger or, hell, embarrassment for the way they’ve played against the Braves.

        Losing like this, with this frequency is so unacceptable.

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:28 PM

        +1 to realjohn.

        Pchuck–what he says in public doesnt necessarily bear any relation to what he thinks or says in private. Calling your players a bunch of good for nothing sh!tbirds in public usually means you’ve lost control of your organization and/or your mind.

        There may be a time for that tactic, but it’s not after game 12.

      • pchuck69 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:50 PM

        @Hiram Hover

        All keeping things “in house” has gotten us is pummeling after pummeling after pummeling at the hands of the Braves, each pummeling worse than the last.

        I’m all for that…at least I was all for that 15 Braves games ago but clearly that’s not working. There is no indication that the players have any respect for the keeping things in house strategy, based on their continued ineptness on the field.

  7. Jimmy Natitude - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:00 PM

    I’m going to say something unpopular but this is the straight up truth. The Atlanta Braves are better than us. ESPN and all these other outlets (plus winning the division in 2012) inflated everyone’s ego and now they act like they are better than everyone. What exactly did we win? A Division Title? They won 14…IN A ROW. You can talk about their playoff failures all you want. But I bet it would love to have that level of success as a fan for our team.

    The team, the fans, we are cocky. Way too cocky without having earned anything. The Braves showed us who the real power in the East is. If we want to beat them, the attitude needs to change. For two years now all I’ve heard from players and the general manager is how much better we are than them. The numbers don’t lie my friend. Get with the program actually do something to beat this team and stop running your mouth!

    • scnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:34 PM

      I disagree. We have more talent but right now they are a better team, no doubt about that.

      • Jimmy Natitude - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:42 PM

        Believe me, I want this team to do well. I think they will do fine this season. But I also think this division belongs to the Braves until we prove we deserve it. Right now, we haven’t. Everyone has it in their heads that since we have more talent we should be given wins. Wins are earned on the field, not on paper.

    • umbertoecho - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:10 AM

      You’re insane. I don’t know any Nats fan who have been cocky and presumptuous -especially about the Braves. Mostly, Nats fans assume they will lose to the Braves, that they will lose in close games, that they will fall behind in tight situations. The general feel I get from Nats fans, including myself, is a general lack of self-esteem. I would love to hang out with these Nats fans you seem to know, who tout their awesomeness and superiority and strut like cocks on the walk. I would love to see those Nats fans, actually. Where the hell do you hang out?

    • lplipty - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:03 AM

      +1000

  8. Barved - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:12 PM

    Has Desmond been given a day off yet? How about Laroche? I think their play recently has shown that they are getting worn out. With Zim out its tough to rest them but I think regular rest of certain players, especially Laroche would do wonders for the mental and physical side of this team. Laroche should be a 5 day a week player. Desi needs a mental day off here and there. Hopefully Matty sees this.

    • scnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:14 PM

      Desmond had 4 months off. He will be fine.

      • NatsLady - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM

        ONE

    • NatsLady - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      Yes, and LaRoche had no trouble sending on into the stands in the 9th inning, so how tired can he be? His weight looks fine. He’s streaky, just hope he gets on a hot streak.

      • NatsLady - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:34 PM

        Grrr, that went to the wrong place.

        LaRoche had no trouble sending ONE into the stands…

  9. NatsLady - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:14 PM

    You know what? If by June we have a 10 game lead the “head games” will miraculously disappear. Worry about the next series. Forget about them. Chew up the Fish and come home for a nice long time…

    • Jimmy Natitude - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:19 PM

      We are beating everyone else so hopefully that will help matters.

  10. DCTown - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    It’s only April, but I’m worried.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:26 PM

      That’s because you’re a fan. A player can focus on the next game, the next task, on getting better, on pacing himself for a long season. All we can do is stew in the now.

    • wjm20155 - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:15 PM

      You should be worried. The Braves lost two quality starters; and they still beat up the Nats. Plus anyone who has ever competed knows the physical and emotional stress that is expended when you play against your chief rival, especially if you lose to them on a consistent basis. So don’t buy any of that “it’s too early to start worrying about the Braves” because they already are. Plus the Zimmerman “problem” won’t go away. They have some problems that don’t appear they will go away anytime soon.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:23 PM

        No one is saying it’s too early to worry about the Braves. You misunderstand. Some fans are saying that it’s too early to push the panic button, kick the table over, fire the manager or otherwise to make major changes.

        The Zimmerman “problem” is not his arm at this point; it’s that his bat won’t be in the lineup for 4-6 weeks.

        The advantage for the Nats is that most of their injured players should at least be back sometime in the first third of the season. Zimmerman, Ramos, Fister, Span – all should be back in the short to medium term. Medlen and Beachy are not returning to the Braves rotation. They are still a dangerous team, and the battle for the Division is likely to be waged for most of the season.

  11. NatsNut - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    We need one of those Men in Black memory neuralizer thingys for this team. Hell *I* need one too!

  12. nats128 - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    I taped the game. The first inning alone looked like a replay of the last 2 nights. I thought the Nats were built around starting pitching.

  13. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    Only thing I can’t get out of my head is that “stupid chop.”

    • DCTown - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:11 PM

      “Stupid chop” we have a slogan that opens the door for ridicule by everyone: Natitude. But of course you bring up the chop and you only come off as jealous. Want them to stop doing it? Then maybe our team should play better.

  14. Attitude of Natitude - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:24 PM

    Hate to say it but I am worried too. We figured to be very good IF healthy. Losing Fister, Ramos, and Zman alone takes a ton of All-star-caliber talent off the table until May at least. Add on Ohlendorf and Hairston, both of whom are very effective if used correctly, and you’ve got trouble. Plus Span out for a week (and looking like First Half Span even when healthy). And Werth with the nagging groin injuries flaring up already. We are snakebit, hard. Yes, it’s early, but this was supposed to be the cakewalk part of our schedule. It won’t get easier. Conclusion: never give up, never surrender, hope springs eternal, but if you’re worried, it’s not irrational, and you’re not alone.

  15. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    Watched the replay of Span and Uggla collision. Still clueless to why Uggla was where he was. Totally not in a position a 2b would be on a play like that.

  16. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    Watch this replay in the NY Boston game. Same as Nats yesterday. Here we go.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:31 PM

      Safe in the case of the Yankees. Out in the case of the Nats.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:33 PM

      I was just about to say the same thing… Same exact play… And they got it right here and wrong in our game..

      Which doesn’t surprise me…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:35 PM

        National TV audience. Nats get shafted more than any team. The overturn of Desi’s inside the park HR that’s wasn’t lodged just shows how poor the system is

      • nats128 - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:41 PM

        I would have felt alot better if they didnt reverse the call just now in the Yankees game. Exact same play as in the Nats game yesterday.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:41 PM

        I still laugh at the fact that the same play happened the next game and Frandsen didnt throw his hands up… He went after the ball… Ugh….

  17. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:32 PM

    Foot on bag before ball in glove in yank games. Just like last night.

    Reversed correctly today. Is that because in Yanks gamfarrell tossed as he was arguing yesterdays blown call.

  18. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    It is not that hard to do the replay. Why are they having so much trouble? It is a piece of cake as far as I can tell.

    Today was right? No different than the one they screwed yesterday.

  19. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:47 PM

    Had they missed the call I could bitch more. However I still do not understand why last night was an out. I would love to discuss this with the reviewers,.

    Did you see the yanks replay from yesterday? To me that was a no brainer. Now reviewers say they didn’t have the feed? How is that I saw in on my MLB EXTRA innings. Is my TV better than their video?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:50 PM

      I think they make excuses to cover their tracks. I have seen many reviews now and still baffled how they overturn the Desi inside-the-park-HR that was called a HR on the field. There was no convincing evidence that the ball was lodged and the measuring stick proved it couldn’t have been. That cost the Nats a run and an extra out after Desi was caught stealing.

      Where do the Nats get a break?

      • nats128 - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:55 PM

        “Where do the Nats get a break?”

        Besides Zim’s thumb, the Nats never get a break and alot of that is becuz they do stupid things to themselves and some of this is a lack of respect from the umps because all the p***** managers the Nats had that would never stick up for there players. Like you said earlier they do dumb plays like they are playing High School ball. In basketball they call it playground.

  20. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:10 PM

    Break we have is McCann no longer on the Braves

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:21 PM

      Gattis is working out so far…

    • Eric - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:39 PM

      He is… But he’s not a complete and total dbag on the field, imo.

  21. manassasnatsfan - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Yanks now 0 for 9 RISP

    • nats128 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Did you see Beltran had to move to 1st base due to an injury to their catcher. Beltran has never played 1st base before. Probably doesnt even have a 1st basemans glove. Doubt he will complain about it or Yankees fans will make a big deal about it. Ballplayers move around all the time to other positions. Look at Frandsen. Catcher, SS, 2B and CF in that order are the toughest positions on the field for position players.

  22. Sonny G 10 - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    Jimmy Natitude – Apr 13, 2014 at 7:42 PM
    Believe me, I want this team to do well. I think they will do fine this season. But I also think this division belongs to the Braves until we prove we deserve it. Right now, we haven’t. Everyone has it in their heads that since we have more talent we should be given wins. Wins are earned on the field, not on paper.

    Right. So don’t give it to the Barves until they earn it…and they haven’t earned it yet!!!

  23. veejh - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:02 AM

    As long as we keep sweeping the rest of the games, this Braves thingy isn’t even an issue.

    • veejh - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:03 AM

      * teams

  24. rabbit433 - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:24 AM

    The series against the Braves is why you love and hate baseball at the same time!

  25. edshelton2013 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Let’s face it—these guys dominate us in all phases of the game: hitting, pitching, base-running and defense.
    Best case: we win the “wild card” and hope the Cards or Dodgers take out the Barves for us.

    • nats128 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:45 AM

      After 12 games you want to decide the division winner and have the Nats best case for Wild Card?

      What the Nats need is better pitching against them. It starts there.

  26. edshelton2013 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:53 AM

    Agree, we need better pitching against them. Don’t forget better hitting, better base-running and better defense.

  27. ehay2k - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    My silver linings playbook. Too nice a day yesterday to watch bball inside, and I had yard work and car stuff tomdo. Silver lining, I mercifully missed the game. But I did hear snippets from the later innings on the radio as I worked in my yard.

    Bad news about Zimm, except maybe that the silver lining is it will give his shoulder a complete rest.

    Uggla, he is worthless. I still don’t know what he was doing in front of Span. Silver lining, I am very happy about the way the Nats are treating Span.

    To me, the Nats’ issue is that they get so focused on trying to Beat the Barves, but they really need to focus on playing good baseball. When they do the former, they fail to do the latter. Silver lining, they have until June to ingrain the latter.

    How many times were they picked off against the Mets? Against the Fish on Thursday, they held Harper at 3rd. Against the Barves, they sent ALR (those words should never be together when discussing baserunning) from 2nd (!!!) on a WP. This has only a 50% chance of working even if the ball has gone into the stands. Stop sending Moses! Silver lining, they have to know that by now.

    I was always told that if you try to win, you will likely lose. But if you try to play well, you have the best chance of winning. Seems to fit here. The Nats need to focus on playing good ball, trusting their abilities, and just competing. When they do that, they roll over teams. Silver lining, here come the other teams.

    • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Uggla gives his explanation in the story linked to below. I was really POed at him until I read his comments about Span later (they’re evidently friends). Hope Span will be okay after some rest.

      http://www.ajc.com/news/sports/baseball/nats-dl-span-after-collision-with-uggla/nfYjw/

      • ehay2k - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        Thanks for posting that 1a. Nice to know he was just playing uglly, not being uglly.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        Nonsense. Uggla was trying to get in Span’s way. And threw something very close to a forearm shiver. Dirty play, plain and simple.

        From Boz’s chat yesterday:

        Uggla should be ashamed of his clumsy or borderline dirty play in crossing Span’s path between first and second.

  28. chaz11963 - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Dave Schoenfield on ESPN.com: “The Nationals are 6-0 against the Mets and Marlins, 1-5 against the Braves … which sounds a lot like 2013, when the Nationals went 6-13 against the Braves and 80-63 against everyone else. Until they prove they can beat the Braves, I’m going to withdraw my preseason evaluation of the Nationals as one of the three best teams in baseball.”

    • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there’s always been a division team that owned us, whether it was the Marlins, Phillies, or lately, the Braves.

  29. natsfan1a - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    test.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB MN
WASHINGTON 78 58 -- 19
ATLANTA 72 66 7.0
MIAMI 67 69 11.0
NEW YORK 64 74 15.0
PHILADELPHIA 63 74 15.5
Through Monday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Dodgers, 3:10 p.m.
THU: OFF
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Braves at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
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