In a conversation with reporters this morning, before Atlanta improved to 5-1 against the Washington Nationals this season with a 10-2 win, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked about the playing the Braves and his belief that the team he and his front office assembled for the 2014 campaign is better than Atlanta's.
[I've] seen great games," Rizzo said, "They’ve come on the winning side of it more often than we like, but we feel confident against this team. We feel we’re better than this team. We respect them, we respect the organization, but we don’t fear them. We think we’re the better team and we think at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top."
Though they didn't come out on top this afternoon, there are still thirteen games to play with the 2013 NL East Champions and 150 with the other major league teams on the schedule.
Last week in D.C., and this weekend in Atlanta, the Braves came out on top, taking two of three in the nation's capital and all three in Turner Field. Last season the Braves were 13-6 against the Nationals.
Though there are clearly some things they could improve upon, Matt Williams said this afternoon that it was important that the Nationals not let the losses take the team off course.
"It's going to happen sometimes," he said, "but what we can't do is get out of ourselves. So, don't allow anything to take you out of your game. It didn't work for us this weekend, but we've got another one tomorrow, so we have to concentrate on that one."
Williams wasn't saying the Nationals did "get out of" themselves or away from their approach, but it was something he wanted to make sure to avoid.
You have to guard against it," the first-year skipper explained.
"Certainly had been playing well coming in," Williams said. "They played extremely well. We didn't. And that's the bottom line, but we've got another tough three-game series coming up, so we've got to play well."
The Nationals focused all spring on improving defensively, but over the weekend in Atlanta they committed six errors total and on the year they've now made 13 errors in 12 games.
There have been errors on defense, and bad choices and mistakes on the basepaths which neither the Nats' manager nor his players are happy with.
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"It bothers everybody," he said. "But that's going to happen. You certainly don't want it with consistency, but there's nothing we can do about it now, except go play and play well, and that's the focus."
We want to play good defense. It's important for us to do that," Williams continued, acknowledging that much of the damage has been self-inflicted.
"We hope that we've just got it out of our system early and we go on from here. It's not from lack of effort or intensity or lack of preparation, it's just happened that way. So, what do you do? You just keep working."
It didn't help that the third straight starter struggled against Atlanta's hard-hitting offense.
Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan were hit hard early in their starts in Friday and Saturday's games. Gio Gonzalez gave up a walk, three hits and three runs in the first and three more in the second as the Nationals fell behind 6-0 after two innings in the series finale.
"The ball was just up," Williams said when asked what went wrong for Gonzalez. "They put good swings on pitches and that's kind of been the MO this whole weekend. Early and often for them. We were able to come back in the first two, but not today. But Gio did take one for us today and told us that he wanted to pitch into the eighth, but it just didn't work out for him to go that far, but he threw well once he got past that."
The Nationals got runners on in each of the first three innings against Braves' starter Aaron Harang, but didn't score their first run until the fifth.
For the first time in the last six starts by Gonzalez against the Braves, the Nats' offense provided more than one run of support, but the second run didn't come until Adam LaRoche hit a solo home run in the ninth to cut the lead to eight runs.
A half-inning earlier, Atlanta had added to their lead with an RBI double by Freddie Freeman and a three-run home run by Andrelton Simmons.
The Nationals have dealt with injuries, but so have the Braves. Williams said last night, after the Nats' lost third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to a fractured thumb, that no one is going to feel bad for them.
"Nobody is going to feel sorry for us," Williams told reporters. "So we've got to play."
"The rest of the league doesn’t care," Rizzo said today when asked about the rash of early-season setbacks.
"We’re just trying to work our way through it. We’ve got a game every day. That’s the one thing about baseball. The everydayness of it is really what separates the sport. That’s why we have 40-man rosters, that’s why we have Minor League systems.
"Injuries happen and you have to prepare for them. We think we’re well-prepared and well-positioned to handle them. We’ve got games to play and games to win."
The next game starts at 7:05 pm EDT against a Miami Marlins team the Nationals swept last week in D.C. and against whom they were 14-5 in 2013.