Saturday, June 21, 2014

Game of the Day (6/20/14)

Braves 6, Nationals 4 (13). Atlanta's Mike Minor (and bullpen) faced off with Washington's Stephen Strasburg (and bullpen).

Freddie Freeman started the scoring with a first-inning homer off of Strasburg, and after a perfect first from Minor, the Braves threatened to extend the lead in the second. Chris Johnson doubled with one out, and Andrelton Simmons singled, though the infield hit kept Johnson at second. A force and a steal moved the runners to second and third, but Minor lined out to end the inning, and Ian Desmond homered in the bottom of the second to tie the game.

Strasburg threw a 1-2-3 third, while Minor worked around a Denard Span double. Atlanta recaptured the lead in the fourth on singles by Jason Heyward, Johnson, and Simmons, and after a scoreless bottom of the inning, extended that lead in the fifth when Freeman and Evan Gattis singled and Heyward doubled them both home.

Minor cruised through a spotless fifth, and allowed only an Adam LaRoche single in the sixth. Strasburg was pulled for the top of the seventh, in which Drew Storen allowed a Tommy La Stella leadoff double before stranding the runner at second. Danny Espinosa led off the bottom of the inning with a single and moved to second on a passed ball; two outs later, Span tripled to bring Espinosa home and close the Washington deficit to 4-2. Craig Stammen worked a spotless eighth, while Anthony Varvaro allowed singles to Ryan Zimmerman and Desmond before leaving them both on. Stammen was flawless once more in the ninth; Craig Kimbrel walked Nate McLouth to start the bottom of the inning, but then retired the next two hitters. That's when Anthony Rendon homered on a 2-1 pitch to tie the game at 4.

Rafael Soriano and Luis Avilan traded perfect tenths, and Tyler Clippard kept the bases clear in the eleventh as well. Denard Span broke the string of outs with a walk against Juan Jaime in the eleventh, but was left on. Jerry Blevins retired the Braves in order in the twelfth, while Ryan Butcher walked LaRoche, then induced a double play from Zimmerman. BJ Upton became the first Brave to reach in extras when Blevins started the thirteenth by walking him; he then moved to third on a Freeman single and scored on a hit by Gattis. Heyward grounded out, advancing the two runners, Johnson was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Simmons hit into a run-scoring force at second. Jordan Walden threw a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning to finish off the victory.

The Nationals, of course, had the best record in the NL in 2012, and were regarded as an up-and-coming young team. Since the beginning of the ensuing season, they have gone 116-91 against all of their opponents but one, a healthy 91-win pace.

Against the Braves, they have posted a 7-20 record, which is rather less impressive. The 6-13 record of 2013 made most (though not all) of the difference in the division race, and the 1-7 mark they've managed so far this season has put them a half game a team that has a losing record against non-Washington opponents.

If the Nats are going to live up to their persistently high expectations, the road to those division titles they're supposed to win apparently goes through the Braves. And that means they'll need to do a better job of scratching out wins in games as close as this one.

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