Denard Span struck out to end the ninth inning, and all that could be heard were the sing-songy chants of Braves fans ringing through the mostly-empty stadium on a chilly Saturday night.
The Washington Nationals had again suffered a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Braves, losing not only the game, 6-2, but also the series and the opportunity to make the season-opening statement to their division rival they had hoped for.
The game started in favor of the Nationals. Stephen Strasburg struck out the first two batters he faced, and lit up the radar gun, reaching 97 mph on multiple occasions. Adam LaRoche blasted a gargantuan two-run home run into the third deck of seats over right field in the first inning. The fans were loud and hopeful for a win.
But by the fourth inning, the game got ugly, and it all started with a Ryan Zimmerman two-out error.
With Justin Upton on second base, Zimmerman picked up what should have been a standard groundout by Andrelton Simmons, and sent it soaring across the diamond in a high arc that didn’t even pretend to come close to Adam LaRoche at first base.
Instead of ending the inning, the wild throw allowed Upton to score, and Simmons to advance to second base. Braves pitcher Julio Teheran then helped his own cause by smacking a single to score Simmons and tie the game, 2-2.
The error was Zimmerman’s second of the young season, and he did not retake the field after the fourth inning. He told manager Matt Williams that he felt pain in his shoulder after that play, which Williams said was alarming in light of Zimmerman’s history of injury to that shoulder. Zimmerman will be evaluated by a doctor and possibly have an MRI on Sunday, Williams said.
The ugly situation didn’t get any better for Strasburg when he retook the mound in the fifth inning. After one strikeout, one walk, one Bryce Harper error and four singles, Strasburg was also removed from the game, on the hook for the loss.
Strasburg allowed a total of eight hits, six runs (three earned), three walks and six strikeouts in four and one-third innings.
Strasburg’s outing was markedly worse than his Opening Day start, which was also not characteristically Strasburgian, but this time he didn’t have any offense to back him up.
The Nationals were outhit by the Braves 13-5, and only LaRoche reached base multiple times, going 2-for-2 with two walks and the home run. Teheran gave up only three hits to Nationals hitters in seven innings, and struck them out six of 10 times.
The Nationals’ offense bore a frustrating resemblance to the offense of 2013, which stranded base runners with zeal. On Saturday night, the leadoff man reached base five times, but the Nats went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
After the fifth game of the season, despite it marking the first series loss to the Braves, there is still no need to panic, a point to which Williams agreed.
“Yesterday’s game was a crazy game,” Williams said. “Today they really hit with guys in scoring position against one of our best guys. They’re a good hitting club. So is it a big deal? Well we lost a couple of games, but in the grand scheme of it we still got to play the rest of them.”
The Nationals have 17 games to go against the Braves, including tomorrow’s series finale. Though panic would hardly be an appropriate response to an early season loss, the Nationals are going to need to pull it together if they wish to compete with contenders like the Braves and avoid becoming notorious for cracking under pressure.