If you had told me in April that we would suffer a walk-off, 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves in mid-September I would have guessed that it would have been a heartbreaker. But as Johnny Holliday said it last night, that was a win that meant far more to Atlanta than it did to Washington. A Nats curly w would have helped shrink the Nationals' magic number, but at the end of the day, even with the loss, the club still has the best record in baseball, and they're still up 7.5 games in the division.
As far as ninth inning losses go, you can't be too upset at how the bullpen performed. The Braves reached base on a bleeding infield single past the pitcher that Ian Desmond would have had to make an incredible play on were he to gun out Andrelton Simmons at first. Those types of base hits are the kind of thing that neither the pitcher nor the infield can help, it's just luck on the hitters side. Then a bloop single to right field allowed the base runner to advance to third, and a silly throwing error by Ian Desmond allowed that runner to score on a weakly hit ground ball. That's it. The Braves scored on two weakly hit balls to the best left-side of the infield in baseball and a bloop hit to right field. I'll take those odds every time.
While collectively it was not the team's best effort in what was in essence a playoff type atmosphere, two young players stepped up in a big way to help keep the Nats in the game.
First, was Ross Detwiler. The 26-year-old lefty threw six innings of one-run baseball. He allowed just seven hits while striking out five and walking one. While he didn't earn the win, he improved his season ERA to 3.16, which Mark Zuckerman pointed out is the exact same mark that Stephen Strasburg finished at. Detwiler has pitched just eight fewer innings on the year.
Second, was 19-year-old Bryce Harper. In a game where Washington's lineup failed to show up, Harper had two of the team's five hits, and scored the team's only home run with a solo home run in the top of the sixth. Some have wondered how Harper will adapt to the big stage, but as the young All-Star has long said, he plays better when the pressure is on. He proved that fact last night.
Some other thoughts:
- Kris Medlen certainly made the case last night of preserving Tommy John recoveries as opposed to shutting them down early. He tormented the Nats last night with 13 strikeouts in seven innings while just walking one batter. The 26-year-old has gone 7-0 since joining the rotation in late July, and has allowed just six earned runs total in that time.
- The Nationals struck out 17 times last night total. This team can't fall into a hitting slump like they were in earlier this year if they want to do well in the playoffs. They tend to not hit as well after days off, so lets see how they answer back today.
- Since August Harper has hit 10 home runs. He's found his stroke, and most importantly, he's not getting fooled by breaking pitches anymore. He is waiting back and driving off-speed pitches, while still smashing fastballs.