"So you want to know about Det?" Davey Johnson asked before any reporters even had a chance to ask after this afternoon's 3-0 Washington Nationals win over the Atlanta Braves. Det, of course, is Ross Detwiler, the Washington Nationals' 25-year-old '07 1st Round pick who threw 6.0 scoreless on Sunday to finish his season with 13.1 scoreless innings pitched in back-to-back shutout appearances against the Phillies and Braves. "I think he grew up a lot today," the Nationals' manager said, "I mean he got a little wild and didn't get overly aggressive and just stayed within himself and pitched out of a tough jam, no outs, bases loaded with awfully good hitters up there, so that was a great effort on his part."
The win gave the Nats a 2-1 series win over the Braves and tied the season series between Washington and Atlanta at 9-9, leaving the Nationals 29-25 against the Braves, Phillies and Mets this year. Washington trails Florida 10-5 with three games left in the two teams' season series. Washington's now one win or one Mets' loss away from clinching their first third-place finish since moving to the nation's capital in 2005. It's only the second time they've finished out of last place, having finished 4th of 5 in '06.
The Nats have gone 15-9 in September, sweeping four-game road series from the Mets and Phillies before taking two of three from an Atlanta Braves team that's desperately clinging to the Wild Card lead. Philadelphia was already in the postseason when they dropped four to Washington last week, however, and the Mets are long since eliminated from contention. What if anything should be taken from the Nats' late-season success?
"Any time you play teams in your division, I don't care when it is, April, May, September, there's a pride factor going out there," Davey Johnson told reporters, "and especially this homestand against Atlanta, they're playing for all the marbles. They've had a great year, they've got a great ballclub, and we didn't cut them any slack. Even though we weren't in the race, I can sense the feeling that we were and we played like we were fighting for a playoff spot, and that's a great sign."
Another great sign? The atmosphere in Nationals Park on Sunday which once again showed that there is a fanbase for baseball in the nation's capital that wants to embrace the Nats. "I think, through the whole year, there's been a gradual kind of settling here and growing up here. There's a lot of pride on this ballclub. I mean there's a lot of guys who really are not satisfied with this year. You can probably ask everybody in that room, and everyone wishes the season started tomorrow, again. That's the sense I get from this ballclub."
With Ryan Zimmerman out for an extended period, Jayson Werth underperforming, at least offensively, and Stephen Strasburg rehabbing his surgically-repaired elbow for most of the year, the Nationals still managed to improve on their 2010 record, making (as of today w/ 3 games left) a nine-game improvement in the standings. "It just tells you the young nucleus that's coming along," Davey Johnson said, "It's just a tribute to the whole organization to be at this point. We lost two key veterans, one most of the year and the other about a half of the year, and young guys that we're trying to establish carried the bulk of the load, so I mean, I tip my hat to everyone in the organization from scouts all the way down. The job they've done getting to this point is outstanding."