Slumping Nationals Swept by Braves

By Carla Peay
Updated: July 28, 2005

Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla with Manager Frank Robinson. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla with Manager Frank Robinson. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Coming off three series losses since the All-Star break, the Washington Nationals limped into their most important series of the season, a three-game set with the Atlanta Braves. Despite posting a 3-8 record to start the second half of the season, the Nationals were still in first place, locked in a tie with perennial NL East division champ Atlanta. Manager Frank Robinson pulled no punches when addressing his team’s chances, quoted as saying that if the team went to Atlanta playing this way, they didn’t have a chance. Robinson’s words would prove to be prophetic.

The Nationals, who led the league in one-run victories in the first half of the season, have now lost 9 of their last games decided by one run. The tide has clearly turned for this team, and with the National League East division getting closer by the day, this team needs to find a way to right the ship.

Not one for holding team meetings in order to state the obvious, Robinson prefers to address his team only when he has something new to say. After the Nationals dropped games one and two in their series against the Braves, each by a one-run margin, Robinson felt that the time had come to let his team know exactly what was on his mind.

All season long, this team has been at or near the bottom of the league in runs scored, but still managed to win games with solid pitching and stellar defense. For the first time this season, the two areas the Nationals were able to count on seemed to fail them, and Robinson was having none of it, holding a team meeting following the game two loss to let his players know exactly how he felt about their lackluster play. Uncustomary defensive lapses have plagued the team in the series with the Braves, including misplayed balls in the outfield, infield errors and wild pitches.

The often overworked bullpen, normally a bright spot on this offensively challenged team, gave away game one of the series, wasting a stellar performance by ace Livan Hernandez. Hernandez gave up only one run in eight innings of work, turning over the ball to closer Chad Cordero in the ninth inning, whose 34 saves still tops the majors. But the Braves hitters were lying in wait for Cordero’s fastball, and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on three pitches. In the tenth, reliever Luis Ayala walked in the winning run.

In game two of the series, starter Esteban Loaiza, plagued by third worst run support in the majors, also pitched an outstanding game, but the Nationals defensive lapses caused the game to get away. An error on struggling shortstop Christian Guzman allowed the eventual winning run to advance to second base by dropping a pickoff throw from catcher Brian Schneider.

In game three, starter Ryan Drese lasted only four innings, giving up four runs before being replaced by long reliever Sun Woo “Sunny” Kim. Kim surrendered a homerun to Jeff Francoeur in the sixth, Francoeur’s 2nd of the game, giving up one run on two hits in two innings of work. In the seventh, the Nationals pulled to within one run on a two-run homer by Jose Vidro, but were unable to score again to complete the rally, and dropped the final game of the series to the Braves 5-4, again, losing by a one-run margin.

The Nationals continue their swing through division rival teams, as they head to Florida to face the Marlins for a three game series beginning Friday evening. In the hotly contested National League East, the only division in baseball where every team is above .500, and less than 6 games separate top from bottom, the Nationals will need to find a way to start coming out on top again in those one-run games, or the phrase ‘one-run wonders’ so affectionately used to describe this team by loyal fans in the first half of the season, will begin to take on an entirely new meaning.