(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Washington – So….where do the Braves go from here?
Last we saw them, a few short hours ago, they had given up three infield hits (one ruled generously) in an unlucky 13th inning that ended with a ball stuck in Dan Uggla’s glove and Danny Espinosa scoring from third. And the Braves had lost 5-4 in their longest game of the year, and in some ways the most excruciating.
To fight that hard and that long only to have the game come down to something so fluky, and in the situation the Braves were in last night – against the team they’re chasing, with the clock ticking louder and louder. The clubhouse was as subdued after the game as I’ve been around this season.
But simply put, the Braves are going to have to find a way to drop it and move on. They’re going to have to do exactly what the Nationals did the last time the Braves were in town. Remember that Braves comeback win from nine runs down against Strasburg? The Braves were dishing out the demoralizing that night in an 11-10 win in 11 innings and followed it up with six shutout innings from Ben Sheets in a 4-0 win the next morning (well it felt like it), in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the second game and could almost taste being within a half game of the Nationals in the NL East. But Randall Delgado gave up a run on a wild pitch, and the Nationals turned the game around. They came back to win the second game of the doubleheader 5-2 and split the series by jumping all over Jair Jurrjens.
The Nats had short memories in that series. The Braves, now six games back in the NL East, have got to do the same or they’re going to be facing their largest deficit of the season, with only 39 games left to play.
“We fought the whole game, didn’t have enough right there in the end,” Tim Hudson said last night, after giving up four runs in the first and none over the next five. “They had some crazy plays that got them in position to score and there’s really nothing you can say. They beat us. We’ve got to put it behind us and come out tomorrow and try to win tomorrow’s game.”
Strasburg vs. Maholm
So there’s the furor about Stephen Strasburg and when he’ll be shut down and yadda yadda. But frankly, it’s starting to look like it’ll be the last two weeks or so of the regular season and by then the Nationals could be about to wrap this division up. Yes, it matters for the Nationals from there, and the possibility of heading into the postseason without their ace. But from the Braves point of view, at least on a day like today, it’s not a big factor. What matters for the Braves is how they fare against Strasburg tonight.
If the Braves don’t win these next two games, those Sept. 14-16 games might not be as big of a deal as we think. (By my math, Strasburg, who is at 139 1/3 innings now, could go six innings in five more starts and be shut down at about 170 innings right before that Braves series in Atlanta. But just a total guess because Mike Rizzo could shut him down anywhere from 160 to 180 innings, I’m told.)
And consider the rest of the Nationals rotation. Not too shabby either. Since May 15, two of Strasburg’s teammates in the rotation actually have better ERAs: Jordan Zimmermann 2.71, Ross Detwiler 3.48, Strasburg 3.49, Edwin Jackson 3.68, and Gio Gonzalez 3.71. They all throw 95 mph plus too, something the Braves might see from an entire rotation only one other time – later this trip against the Giants.
“They have very good arms,” Jason Heyward said of the Nats’ rotation. “If you look at a couple years ago, Zimmermann was the ace of this team. Now he’s their No. 3. And you’ve got Gio Gonzalez who’s another ace, and you’ve got Strasburg, and Edwin Jackson who’s thrown a no-hitter and Detwiler is very good as well.”
The Braves are 4-9 against the Nationals this season, and two of the wins have come in games started by Strasburg, including that nine-run comeback mentioned earlier. Strasburg gave up four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings that night on July 20, which is about what he did in his first start against Atlanta on May 26 (four earned runs in five innings).
The other two starts against the Braves, Strasburg was really, really good – seven shutout innings on four hits June 2, and really, really hot – he came out after allowing three runs in three innings with dizziness and heat-related problems on a 100-degree day in Atlanta June 30.
If there’s anybody who needs something good to happen tonight, it’s Uggla and he’s got a history of doing it against Strasburg. Uggla is hitting .533 (8-for-15) with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs in his career against Strasburg.
That Braves are putting a lot on Paul Maholm tonight, and would love to see him continue to do the good work since joining the Braves at the trade deadline. He has gone 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts, including a complete game shutout two starts ago against the Mets.
Maholm is he’s 1-5 with a 5.56 ERA in nine starts against the Nationals for his career, but has not faced them this season. (I gave you some phantom stats on him for this season yesterday. Honest to goodness have no idea where I got those numbers. Taking mental overdrive to another level.)
But the Braves could also use another deep outing from Maholm tonight and Kris Medlen tomorrow , considering they’re already a man short in the bullpen while going to this six-man rotation and just covered seven innings from the bullpen last night.
Long night last night for both Chipper Jones (and his 40-year-old knees) and Brian McCann (catching 13 innings). Jones is out of the lineup tonight but McCann is back in. Fredi Gonzalez said last night he might send both Sheets and Tommy Hanson down to the bullpen to be available in emergency duty. There are two guys who have a combined zero relief appearances between them in 348 major league games.
1. Bourn CF
2. Prado LF
3. Heyward Rf
4. Freeman 1B
5. Uggla 2B
6. McCann C
7. Francisco 3B
8. Janish SS
9. Maholm P