Wood's strong showing not enough vs. Nationals
Quiet Braves offense unable to overcome left-hander's one mistake
WASHINGTON -- Although they accomplished their goal to win this weekend's series against the Nationals, the Braves exited this three-game set knowing they had squandered the opportunity to claim yet another sweep against their division rivals.
As the Braves prepared to travel back to Atlanta following Sunday afternoon's 2-1 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park, they were left to ponder the fact that missed opportunities put Alex Wood in a position where he could not overcome the one costly mistake he made to Ian Desmond.
"I knew right when [the pitch] left my hand that it wasn't going to be a very good outcome," Wood said in reference to the first-pitch fastball Desmond deposited into the seats to begin the bottom of the seventh inning.
Desmond's decisive solo home run provided the Nationals a lead they would not relinquish on the way to claiming just their seventh win in the past 22 games against the Braves. Atlanta was bidding to claim its third series sweep at Nationals Park since the start of the 2013 season.
"It was an all-around good game," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "They scored one more run than us. We really only made one mistake."
Wood surrendered three hits, including two infield singles before recording his first out of the afternoon. But he then retired 18 of the next 19 batters he faced before missing his spot with the fastball that jumped off Desmond's bat and traveled toward the left field wall in no-doubt fashion.
Desmond's home run forced the Braves to pay for the fact that they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The game concluded with Nationals closer Rafael Soriano stranding a pair of runners with a strikeout of Jason Heyward.
"The Braves are a really good team," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "They've got a lot of ways to beat you, exceptional bullpen. We were in two of the three, really. With the exception of yesterday, we were one swing away from that one, too. That's good. Guys are fighting hard."
Eleven of the past 19 games played between the Braves and Nationals, including two this weekend, have been decided by two runs or fewer. The two clubs exited this series tied for second behind the Marlins in the National League East standings with 4-2 marks.
When the Braves began a season-opening six-game road trip that started in Milwaukee, there was reason to be concerned about their injury-depleted pitching staff. But through the season's first six games, Atlanta has yet to allow more than two runs.
Unfortunately for Wood, two runs was enough to blemish his stellar effort. The only baserunner the Nationals produced between their fortune-filled first inning and Desmond's home run came courtesy of Chris Johnson's fifth-inning throwing error.
"[Wood] was dominant, really," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's just the way it goes. We didn't score runs. We had some opportunities, and we only got one. They got one more run than we did."
Wood battled through a long 21-pitch first inning that included Williams disputing two calls at first base. But the only damage Wood incurred came courtesy of Jayson Werth's RBI infield single that could have resulted in at least one out had Dan Uggla allowed Andrelton Simmons to field the chopper behind the second base bag.
Simmons was shaded toward third base and did not think he could have gotten to the ball in time to turn a double play. But he was ready to field a toss to second base as Uggla instead made an off-balance throw that eluded first baseman Freddie Freeman and allowed Anthony Rendon to score on the play.
"[Wood] battled today," Laird said. "He had really good stuff. After that first inning, we cruised pretty much through the innings. He had all three of his pitches working. He was working in and out. That's a good lineup over there. He threw the ball really well today and quieted a good lineup. He made one mistake today, and they beat us."
Nationals starting pitcher Taylor Jordan surrendered one earned run and six hits over 6 1/3 innings. Jordan escaped a bases-loaded, fourth-inning threat and kept the Braves scoreless through the first five frames. Atlanta mounted a threat in the sixth inning when Freeman singled and Johnson doubled to put runners at second and third base with just one out. But after Justin Upton struck out, the only run Atlanta produced came via Uggla's sacrifice fly that Nationals center fielder Denard Span caught just shy of the warning track.
After issuing a pair of walks and allowing Uggla to record an infield single in the fourth inning, Jordan quieted the threat by striking out Laird.
Along with striking out with two on to end the game, Heyward also fanned while facing left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins with Simmons on second base in the seventh.
Heyward tweaked his neck during his first plate appearance on Saturday night and then proceeded to go hitless in 10 at-bats during the final two games of the series.
"We had opportunities to win," Heyward said. "We played well enough to win the game. That is all you can ask for each day."
While the Braves can be pleasantly surprised by what their pitching staff has done thus far, there now has to be some concern about an offense that has scored two runs or fewer in four of the season's first six games.
"We're playing OK," Simmons said. "We could swing the bats a little better. We're playing pretty good defense. We just need to swing the bats a little better, but that will come."