If the Atlanta Braves are swept by the Washington Nationals, they may find themselves focusing on the Wild Card race instead of the division. They lost their fourth straight and officially lost the series Tuesday in a 4-1 game at Nationals Park, largely because Paul Maholm couldn't quite keep pace with Stephen Strasburg.
Despite sitting through a 51-minute rain delay in the third inning, Strasburg struck out 10 batters over six innings while only giving up one run on four hits.
"He was on with everything, [his] fastball, and he threw some changeups that had almost split-finger-type, forkball-type action on it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He was good."
Atlanta had previously hit Strasburg well. He entered the game with a 2-3 record and 4.70 against the Braves, but it was clear from the first inning that Strasburg was going to pitch how he does everyone else in the Major Leagues.
"He had that look in his eye early in the game," Chipper Jones said, though he had the night off. "He knew he had his stuff."
Jason Heyward and Brian McCann recorded singles over the first two innings, but Strasburg largely shut them down with the exception of the sixth inning. Martin Prado doubled with one out and was moved to third by Heyward's second hit of the game. Freddie Freeman drove in the Braves' only run with a sacrifice fly.
Maholm held up his end of the deal by going seven innings to rest the Braves' depleted bullpen. He only made two mistakes all night while giving up four runs on seven hits, and those mistakes were costly.
Those mistakes came when Ian Desmond jacked a solo homer in the second inning and Jesus Flores broke the game open in the fifthwith a three-run bomb. With one out and runners on second and third, the Braves contemplated walking Flores and pitching to Strasburg. They decided to pitch to the former and his .220 average instead of Strasburg and his .293 average. The problem was that Maholm's attempted cutter didn't cut.
"Whenever you throw a cutter and it doesn't cut, it's kind of a BP fastball," Maholm said. "Just a bad pitch. Sometimes they foul them. Sometimes they take them. Unfortunately, tonight it went for a homer."
The Braves threatened the Nationals' bullpen in both the eighth and ninth innings and came away with nothing to show for it.
Reed Johnson singled with one out and moved up when Sean Burnett plunked Michael Bourn, but Burnett induced a double play from Prado on a comebacker.
Tyler Clippard gave up a lead-off single to Heyward in the ninth. Heyward stole second and moved to third on an error, but Clippard sat down the next three batters to end the game.
The Braves now sit seven games back and would seem to need Wednesday night's game to have even a remote shot against a team that is playing nearly perfect baseball at the moment.
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