'Contagious' Nats offense erupts, blasts 5 HRs to beat Braves

September 30th, 2023

ATLANTA -- The Nationals entered Atlanta on Friday coming off a two-game series in Baltimore that had produced just one run on nine hits. Their next opponent was the Braves, who are charging toward the postseason with triple-digit wins and a 51-28 record at Truist Park.

For three innings, the Nats’ offense remained quiet. Then, jump-started by a three-run blast from third baseman and Georgia native , they belted five home runs by the end of the seventh inning.

The slugfest lifted the Nationals to a 10-6 victory and their first 70-win season since 2019. With two games remaining, Washington has already improved its record from last year by 15 wins.

“Every win’s really important, but to get to 70 -- when honestly, we started the season, we didn’t know what to expect -- it feels good,” said manager Dave Martinez. “... Today, we fought back, and it was a good win, a good victory.”

Kieboom and Jake Alu homered off starting right-hander Allan Winans in the fourth. Keibert Ruiz knocked his 18th homer of the season off Winans in the sixth, and Dominic Smith went yard with a two-run, go-ahead home run against former Nationals lefty Brad Hand in the same frame. Lane Thomas brought the runs total to double digits by hitting home run No. 28 of the year in the seventh off righty Jesse Chavez.

“[The offense] was very contagious,” said Smith, who set a new career high with 12 home runs on the year. “We were down and kind of didn’t have much life, but [Kieboom] comes up big right there … just like that, he sparks the whole team, the whole lineup. 

“That’s what you need in this game. You see other teams do it. You see us do it from time to time. But the really good teams, when they do score, they score a lot and when they do have clutch hits, it becomes contagious. I think that’s kind of what happened tonight. We were able to get it going and score some runs.”

The Nats tied a season-high tally in home runs, last accomplished on May 31 against the Dodgers with dingers by Ruiz (two), CJ Abrams, Jeimer Candelario and Luis García. 

“They were getting a pitch to hit,” Martinez said. “We’ve been chasing a lot. When we get the ball in the zone, they hit the ball hard.”

Washington also matched its most home runs against the Braves in team history (2005-present). It had previously done so on May 8, 2015, at home (two by Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper, one by Jayson Werth) and Sept. 6, 2008, in 10 innings in Atlanta (Elijah Dukes -- two, Willie Harris, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Langerhans). 

“They played really well,” said Martinez. “Every day, they give me everything they’ve got. The effort’s there, the energy’s there. Coming into this place here, I think the guys love it, I really do. The fans are great, they play really hard. To beat a team like that -- we know that they took some of their guys out -- but it seems like they didn’t care, they want to keep playing and win the game, and we ended up winning.”

The Nats will look to build on that win total this weekend with two games remaining in the season. The offense they had been searching for made the road trip to Atlanta. 

“I know we had a tough series in Baltimore, and we were able to come back out, put some good at-bats against a good team,” Smith said. “I think it just goes to show that we work hard, and we don’t really want to give outs away. We know we’re out of it, but we still want to compete at a high level. It shows the potential of this group that we can go compete and go toe-to-toe with some of the better teams in this league.”