The math still says the Braves probably aren’t going to win the National League East, but after they completed a three-game sweep of the Nationals with a 5-1 win on ESPN Sunday night, their hearts are back in it.
“After what happened last year with us, we know anything can happen, so this put us back in the hunt a little bit,” said second baseman Dan Uggla, who did his part with a game-breaking two-run single in the seventh. “We are still going to need some magic, but there’s still time so we’ll see what happens.”
The Braves are within 5 ½ games of the Nationals with 15 games to play. The Nationals have 16 games left, and all 16 are against teams still contending in the wild card: the Dodgers, Brewers, Phillies and Cardinals.
The Braves are in pretty good fallback position too, leading St. Louis by seven games for the first of two wild card spots. The Braves’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is eight. Even if they don’t find a way past the Nationals for the division, they could see them again later in the playoffs.
“I think it was just big for us to kind of prove to ourselves that we could come out and play good consistent baseball against them for three straight games,” said Chipper Jones, who went 1-for-2 with an RBI. “…You’ve got to clear certain humps along the way, and the Nationals are one of those humps for us.”
The Braves used six strong innings from Mike Minor to complete their first sweep of the Nationals in three years, since Sept. 25-27 of 2009. They used some textbook offense against Gio Gonzalez and three more opportunistic runs on the Nationals’ bullpen to move to finish the season series 8-10 against them.
The Braves blew open a one-run game with a three-run seventh, on two walks, a hit batter and some redemption in the form of a two-out, two-strike, two-run single by Uggla with the bases loaded.
The Braves had watched Michael Bourn go first to third on a Ryan Zimmerman error and score the first run on a groundout to first. Then Uggla made up for his pop-up on the infield in the sixth inning when he helped strand two runners after swinging at a 3-0 pitch.
“It’s very disappointing in a tight ballgame like that to not get the job done,” Uggla said. “So it was awesome to get another opportunity, especially to come through.”
Pitching in his first ever ESPN Sunday night game, Minor extended his scoreless streak to 17 2/3 innings over his past three starts before Ian Desmond hit an RBI single with two outs and two strikes in the sixth.
Minor hadn’t faced the Nationals since June 30 and they saw a different pitcher. Minor gave up four runs in each of his first two starts against the Nationals while going 4-6 with a 6.20 ERA through June 30. He gave up only one run in six innings on Sunday to move to 5-4 with a 2.32 ERA since then.
Minor had faced Stephen Strasburg in each of his first two starts against the Nationals this season. With Strasburg shut down for the season, he pitched against the next best thing in left-hander Gonzalez.
But the Braves worked Gonzalez for 50 pitches in the first two innings, and by the time Jones broke through with an RBI single in the third, Gonzalez had thrown 73 pitches.
The Braves kept Gonzalez from becoming the first 20-game winner in the majors this season, but he still tipped his cap to the soon-to-be-retiring Jones as he left the field.
“He’s one of the greatest third baseman to ever play the game,” Gonzalez told reporters afterward. “It was an honor to be on the same field especially at his house.”
The Braves, who have won their last four in a row overall against the Nationals, reached 10 wins for September. They’re 10-5 for the month, a point they never reached during a 9-18 collapse a year ago.