The DC Report: Nats need to figure out Braves

Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper isn’t the only Nationals player having a tough time figuring out the Braves. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The first few weeks of the season have left the Washington Nationals with a 7-5 record, not too bad considering the injuries the team is dealing with already. Break that record down, though, and you see the continuing trend of struggle against the Atlanta Braves. The Nats record against teams who aren’t the Brave is 6-0; against Atlanta, it’s 1-5 including the weekend sweep at Turner Field.

Most Nationals fans were buoyant in spring raining, as additions Doug Fister and Nate McClouth looked to strengthen an already good team, whil the Braves struggled to put a rotation together with the loss of Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to the 60-day DL, and Mike Minor on the 15 day DL. Since the start of the season, injuries have taken out half the Nats’ everyday lineup with Ryan Zimmerman (thumb) and Denard Span (concussion) joining Wilson Ramos (hand) and Fister (strained lat) on the sidelines. All of a sudden, the roster doesn’t look as deep as it did in Florida.

It’s an understatement to say the Braves have had the Nationals’ number in recent years. Since the start of last season, the Nats are 7-18 against the Braves with a run differential of -37 and a team batting average of just .213, OBP of .275 and dismal .167 average with runners in scoring position while striking out 209 times — that’s once every four at-bats.

After a pretty shaky series in DC, the Nats looked beaten almost before they took the field on Friday, which is surprising considering the week started with a sweep of the Marlins, where the Nats outscored Miami 22-8, including a dramatic win on Wednesday courtesy of a grand slam from Jayson Werth. But the Braves seem to be a different problem.

Things started going wrong almost immediately on Friday as Tanner Roark got tapped for four runs in the second inning, thanks to a three-run homer from Ramiro Pena. The Nats did battle back to level things up and force extra innings before a walk-off single from Justin Upton, who reached base 11 out of 13 times during the series.

Saturday wasn’t much better, despite a first-inning home run from Anthony Rendon. Taylor Jordan got knocked around for four runs in the first inning and never recovered. The Nats’ 6-3 loss included a pathetic 1-for-16 effort with runners in scoring position.

When Gio Gonzalez took the mound on Sunday, there seemed to be hope of preventing a sweep, but he struggled to locate his fastball and ended up conceding six runs in the first two innings. When the Nats went down in the top of the ninth, despite a long ball from Adam LaRoche, it was almost a relief.

The main theme of the weekend, though, was the errors Washington committed — seven, including four for Ian Desmond, who now has five on the year. The new aggressive base running introduced by Matt Williams also continues to go wrong; on Saturday, Bryce Harper was picked off and caught stealing, and Zimmerman also got picked off. When the team is struggling to get men aboard, they can’t afford to be giving away easy outs.

The good news is the two teams don’t meet again until June 19 and, by that point, the Nats could be cruising toward the postseason. The bad news is as the team takes on Miami and St Louis this week, there may be psychological scares from the weekend that take a while to clear.

It is, of course, still very early in the season, and most of the above is based on a small sample size, but the issue of the Nats continuously surrendering against the Braves is a concern.

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