There was a time, really not all that long ago, when any victory by the Nationals over the Braves was cause for celebration, something to be savored given how rare it was.
Not so much anymore. These days, anything other than a win over Atlanta is cause for concern, as if something must be wrong with the Nats.
With a 6-1 victory Tuesday night at Turner Field, the Nationals continued to flip the script that had brought about so much consternation the last few years. They’ve now beaten the Braves in nine straight games, a streak that began April 28 with a certain record-setting, come-from-behind, 13-12 victory capped by Dan Uggla’s towering home run.
Are the Braves a far different team now than they were in 2013 and early 2014, when they owned the Nationals? Sure. But they’re still a big-league club, and nine straight wins over any big-league club is a noteworthy accomplishment.
So is taking down one of the NL’s best pitchers the way the Nats took down Shelby Miller on Tuesday. The 24-year-old right-hander entered this start boasting a 1.94 ERA and an impressive run of consistency, having allowed two or fewer earned runs in 13 of his 15 starts to date.
The Nationals, of course, piled up five runs off Miller, the most he has surrendered this season. And they pounced on him early, scoring four runs in the top of the first.
How rare was that? Well, in 15 previous starts this season, Miller had given up a grand total of one first-inning run, with only three hits surrendered in 46 at-bats. Four of the Nationals’ first six batters on Tuesday recorded hits off him, with Denard Span and Danny Espinosa setting the tone and then Clint Robinson sealing the deal with a towering home run.
All of which made life easier on Jordan Zimmermann, who cruised and continues to look more and more like the dominant right-hander we’ve come to expect over the last few seasons
With 7 2/3 scoreless innings, Zimmermann continued his mastery of the Braves. His total pitching line over his last two starts (both against Atlanta): 15.2 IP, 12 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K.
Most impressive about Zimmermann’s latest outing: He threw strikes. A whole boatload of them. Zimmermann’s 85 strikes thrown Tuesday matched his career-high (set June 20, 2013 vs. the Rockies) and trailed only three pitchers in Nationals history: Livan Hernandez (93 strikes on July 31, 2005 vs. the Marlins), Esteban Loaiza (87 strikes on Sept. 4, 2005 vs. the Phillies) and Max Scherzer (86 strikes in his 1-hitter at Milwaukee two weeks ago).
So that’s no small accomplishment for Zimmermann, who lowered his ERA to 3.16, better than his career mark entering 2015.
Zimmermann’s lights-out performance extended the Nationals’ run of dominant starting pitching. The rotation now owns a 1.69 ERA over the last 10 games (nine of them wins). Throw out Tanner Roark’s rough outing Sunday in a spot start necessitated by the rainout in Philadelphia, and that ERA plummets to 0.68.
Is it any wonder the Nationals are enjoying every opportunity they have to face the Braves right now?