It would have been easy to be pessimistic about this game when the lineup featuring Kevin Frandsen, Nate McLouth, and Sandy Leon was revealed. But behind a strong start from Taylor Jordan, the Washington Nationals (4-2) weathered some great pitching from the Atlanta Braves (4-2) to grab a win in the series finale.
The Nats were feeling the pressure against their NL East competition, having dropped the first two games of the series, but pulled through when it mattered the most. They got just enough offense, even without Bryce Harper, Jose Lobaton, and Ryan Zimmerman, though Zimmerman appeared as a pinch hitter.
Braves starter Alex Wood (L, 1-1) was the story of this game for a while. After a rough first inning, in which he gave up three hits and a run to the first three batters he faced, Wood settled in, to say the least. The only Nat to reach base after those three and before the seventh inning was Sandy Leon, who got to first thanks to an error on Chris Johnson. But in the seventh, Wood made his lone mistake, which would turn out to be crucial. He gave up a monster home run to Ian Desmond leading off the inning, putting the Nats up 2-1 and giving them a lead they would never relinquish.
Matching Wood pitch for pitch was Jordan, who was stellar in his first start of the year. He limited Atlanta to just one run on six hits and two walks in six and one-third innings, inducing many weak popups and groundouts. He only struck out three, but his hallmark is efficiently pitching to contact, and he did a great job of it on Sunday. He was at only 89 pitches when pulled, so he could have gone longer, but Matt Williams likely preferred the matchup of the left-handed Jerry Blevins (W, 1-0) against lefty Jason Heyward.
As the five near-perfect innings thrown against them today would indicate, the Nats’ offense was not firing on all cylinders this afternoon. They mustered just four hits to Atlanta’s eight, but all directly led to runs: the first three off of Wood in the bottom of the first, and Desmond’s solo homer. The Nats also drew no walks and struck out six times.
Atlanta may have reached base six more times than the Nationals with its eight hits and two walks, but the Nats did an excellent job of spreading hits around to avoid damaging big innings. The Braves were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and scored their lone run on a sacrifice fly by Dan Uggla in the top of the sixth. Those ten runners were spread out over five innings, which gave Atlanta a few good opportunities. They had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth and runners on second and third with no outs in the seventh, but managed just one run from those two situations.
With the win, the Nats move back into a tie with the Braves for second in the NL East. They host the division-leading Miami Marlins (5-2) for a three-game series starting April 8. Can you tell it’s early in the season?
– In his first save opportunity of the season, Rafael Soriano made things interesting, putting two runners on and going to a full count against Heyward with two outs before ending the game with a strikeout. I consider myself a standard bearer of the #BelieveInSoriano campaign, but I’ll get some gray hairs if all of his appearances are like that.
– Tyler Clippard came in and recorded two outs in the eighth, popping out Johnson and striking out Justin Upton. The appearance is not notable until you consider that Clippard had allowed runs in each of his seven previous appearances against the Braves (h/t to Adam Kilgore for that factoid).