Jun 22, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT
Winning two games out of a four-game set technically goes down as a split, as both teams leave the park without a series win. But for the Nationals to take two against the Braves this weekend, given the recent history between the two, this one sure feels different for Washington.
Before Thursday’s series opener, the Nationals were 1-5 against Atlanta this season and 7-18 dating back to last year. Then they lost the first two games, including a 13-inning heartbreaker on Friday night.
It took some timely hitting and two excellent outings by Doug Fister and Tanner Roark, but the Nats rebounded convincingly to leave D.C. with their 1 1/2 game division lead intact.
After their 4-1 win on Sunday, the Nats now face the Brewers – owners of the NL’s best record – with a little momentum on their side.
“It’s not going to be easy playing [the Braves] ever, there are going to be some tough wins and there are going to be some tough losses,” Danny Espinosa said.
“That’s a tough team. They have good pitching, good hitting, a good all around ballclub. Coming out here after the first two, to be able to split the series and be able to maintain the lead even though it’s early is a good feeling.”
Several Nats players noted the Braves’ recent dominance, as if recovering to split the series proved they still belong with their rivals down south.
“That’s obviously a really good team over there that has had our number the last year and a half [to] two years,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s a step in the right direction. They’re still a really good team, and I really don’t think they’re going anywhere. We’re going to have to continue to play well against them if we want to get to where we want to go.”
“A split’s a split, but it’s nice to end on a good note, especially with those guys,” Tyler Clippard added. “We had been struggling against them all year and it’s not a secret. It’s good to get those two wins under our belt moving forward.”
Getting two consecutive victories against the Braves won’t fix their lopsided record in recent years. They are now just 9-24 against the Braves since Aug. 22 of 2012. As the beginning of this series proved, order can be restored rather quickly.
The Nationals and Braves entered the series on very different trajectories. The Nats had just swept the Astros, while the Braves were swept by the Phillies. Then, when they took the field Thursday, the Braves found their groove while the Nationals fell back down to Earth.
Manager Matt Williams credits his team for coming back with two wins, just when it looked like they were close to falling apart.
“I’m proud of the guys for staying in there,” he said. “We’ve talked about it many times – you have to have a short memory. After the first two, we got two really good pitching performances and the guys battled and hit some runs and played good defense and executed. That’s what we’ll have to do to win games.”
So have the Nationals turned a corner, have they gotten over the hump that is the Atlanta Braves? Not so fast says the skipper.
“I’ve been around the game a while, and I’ve realized that the next time we play them the same questions will come. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter to them. We want to win tomorrow’s game. Today’s over. We want to win tomorrow, and that’s as far as we look.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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