Can the Nationals do it? Top 5:
5. Quick Recap: The 86-63 Washington Nationals entered tonight's game one win over the Atlanta Braves away from clinching the NL East.
Tanner Roark and Aaron Harang traded scoreless frames through five, but a leadoff walk to Jayson Werth in the sixth put a runner on for Ian Desmond in his one-out at bat and Desmond flat crushed a 2-2 slider, sending a monster two-run home run twenty rows back into Turner Field's left field seats. 2-0 Nationals on Desmond's 23rd HR of 2014.
Roark finished seven scoreless on 89 pitches then handed the ball to the pen. Tyler Clippard threw a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 8th. Ian Desmond doubled to start the ninth, moved up to third on a groundout by Bryce Harper and scored on a wild pitch from Braves' right-hander David Carpenter. 3-0 Nationals.
STOREN WARNING!!!: Drew Storen came on in the ninth and threw a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 frame to end it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2014 NL East Champs.
4. Row-Ark: Tanner Roark stopped a three-start losing streak last time out on the mound, throwing 6 ⅓ innings in a 6-2 win against the New York Mets on the road in Citi Field last Thursday in which he gave up seven hits and two runs.
The win left the 27-year-old right-hander (5-4) in 11 second-half starts over which he's put up a 2.89 ERA, a 3.86 FIP and a .239/.278/.366 line against in 71 ⅔ IP.
The two runs Roark allowed came on a solo home run by Mets' catcher Anthony Recker in the fifth and an RBI single by rookie second baseman Dilson Herrera in the seventh in Roark's last at bat of the game.
"He was good," Matt Williams told reporters after the game. "He ran into trouble there in the last inning, but pitch count was really good. He was throwing strikes, forcing them to put the ball in play. Pitched good for us."
"I just felt like I was commanding both sides of the plate and letting it go and not trying to nibble," Roark said. "Just trying to go right after them like I always have."
Roark also spread the credit for the win around when asked about his success against the Mets, against whom he was (4-0) in his first two seasons in the majors after the win.
"Good scouting reports," were at least part of it Roark said. "[Wilson Ramos] knows them pretty well and just execute my pitches."
Tonight in Turner Field, Roark was taking on another NL East rival in the Atlanta Braves, against whom he was (2-0) in six games and four starts before taking the mound, with a 2.10 ERA, nine walks (2.70 BB/9), 24 Ks (7.20 K/9) and a .194/.276/.252 line against in 30 IP in his first two major league campaigns.
His last start against the Braves took place in Turner Field, back on August 9th, when he went seven innings, allowing six hits, three walks and one earned run in a 4-1 Nats' win.
It was Roark's second start of the year against the Braves, after he held them to four hits, three walks and one earned run in 5 ⅓ IP back in a June start in the nation's capital.
Roark's third outing of the year against Atlanta began with a single to center...
1st: Phil Gosselin took an 0-1 fastball back up the middle for a leadoff single in the Braves' first, but he was doubled up on a grounder to short off Andrelton Simmons' bat as Ian Desmond started a 6-3 DP. Freddie Freeman stepped in with two out and no one on and went down swinging at a 91 mph full-count fastball to end a nine-pitch at bat. 13-pitch first for Roark.
2nd: Justin Upton took a 3-2 fastball up high for a called strike three. Jason Heyward popped out to Anthony Rendon in foul territory off third. Christian Bethancourt stepped in with two out and went down swinging at a 2-2 slider to end a 17-pitch second that left Roark at 30 total after two.
3rd: Chris Johnson went the other way with an 0-1 fastball, singling to right to start the Braves' third. B.J. Upton popped out to right on an 2-2 fastball for the first out of the frame. Aaron Harang bunted Johnson over/gave up an out. Phil Gosselin's groundout to second ended Tanner Roark's third scoreless frame after 11 pitches. 41 total after three.
4th: Andrelton Simmons lined a 1-0 fastball to left for a leadoff single. Freddie Freeman sent a fly to Bryce Harper in left for the first out of the frame. A 92 mph 1-2 fastball got Justin Upton swinging for the second out of the Braves' fourth. Jason Heyward stepped with a runner on and two out, worked the count full and lined out to right to end a 14-pitch fourth that left Roark at 55 pitches.
5th: Christian Bethancourt sent a 2-2 slider to second for the first out of the frame. Chris Johnson was 2 for 2 tonight after he singled on a line drive to left-center. B.J. Upton sent a chopper to third for out no.2. Aaron Harang's fly to center ended Roark's fifth scoreless frame after 11 pitches. 66 total for Roark after five.
6th: Given a 2-0 lead to work with, Tanner Roark gave up a leadoff single by Phil Gosselin in the first at bat of the Braves' sixth. Andrelton Simmons popped to center for out no.1. Freddie Freeman sent a fly to center that got a rise out of the "crowd" in Turner Field, but fell short of the track where Denard Span made the catch. Justin Upton stepped in with two down and sent a pop fly to short-center to end Roark's sixth scoreless frame after 16 pitches. 82 overall after six.
7th: Jason Heyward gorunded out to second. Christian Bethancourth sent a fly ball to center. Chris Johnson did the same. Seven-pitch, 1-2-3 frame. 89 pitches overall for Roark after seven.
• Tanner Roark: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 89 P, 58 S, 6/7 GO/FO.
• I talked about the Nats, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and more with Luke Neer of Best Seat WINA Today, check out the interview here:
3. Harang: In three starts against Washington for the Atlanta Braves this season before tonight's, 36-year-old right-hander Aaron Harang was (2-0) with a 0.90 ERA, three walks (1.35 BB/9), 16 Ks (7.20 K/9) and a .240/.269/.333 line against in 20 IP.
After Harang held the Nationals to one unearned run in seven innings last week in the nation's capital, several Nats talked openly about the difficulty of facing the 13-year veteran.
"I can't tell you why he's so good against us," Denard Span said. "He just did a good job today. He just pitched well today, no ifs, ands or buts about it, he did his job and they were able to get a win today."
"He's just a good pitcher," Bryce Harper told reporters. "He goes out there with 88-89, touching 91, he just pitches. He uses all of his pitches every count, he flips the count sometimes where it's 1-2 he throws a heater right down the middle and he gets you. Sometimes you get a little frustrated against a guy like that, but all in all I felt we did pretty good."
"He just changes speeds and throw strikes to both sides of the plate at any time in the count," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said. "So he's difficult."
It didn't help, Williams said that there were shadows for both hitters from both teams to deal with during that afternoon game.
Tonight in Turner Field there were no shadows to deal with in the second game of the Nats' three-game set in Atlanta.
Outside of two strong starts against the Nationals, Harang has struggled in the second-half leading up to tonight's outing, with a 4.07 ERA, a 3.47 FIP and a .297/.346/.409 line against in 11 starts and 66 ⅓ IP.
Beautiful day at the ballpark. pic.twitter.com/BNG4tNMdO8— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 16, 2014
Harang's 12th second-half start began with a leadoff single by Denard Span and a one-out walk to Jayson Werth, but a fly to left from Adam LaRoche and swinging K from Ian Desmond ended a scoreless 19-pitch frame.
Bryce Harper improved to 6 for 15 career vs Harang with a line drive single to center in the first at bat of the second, and two outs later Tanner Roark reached on another grounder up the middle that put two on for Denard Span. Span worked the count full with two down and took a fastball for a called strike three. 22-pitch frame for Harang, 41 total after two.
Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche went down in order in a 10-pitch third by Harang, who was up to 51 pitches overall after three.
Wilson Ramos drove a first-pitch fastball back up the middle for a two-out single in the top of the fourth, but Asdrubal Cabrera's groundout to first ended Harang's fourth scoreless frame after 15-pitches. 66 overall after four. An eight-pitch 1-2-3 fifth left Harang at 74 pitches total after five.
Jayson Werth walked to start the sixth and one out later, Ian Desmond absolutely crushed a 2-2 slider from Harang sending a two-run home run to left that put the Nats up 2-0. No.23 of 2014 for Desmond. Back-to-back swinging Ks from Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos ended the frame, but not until after the Nationals took the lead. 21-pitch inning for Harang. 95 pitches total after six.
A 10-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh left Harang at 105 pitches overall.
• Aaron Harang's Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 105 P, 72 S, 6/4 GO/FO.
2. The Wrap-Up: Jordan Walden took over for the Braves in the top of the eighth and walked Anthony Rendon to start the frame. Rendon stole second with Jayson Werth at the plate, but was ruled out after a review. Werth walked on the pitch after Rendon was ruled out, but Adam LaRoche grounded into an inning-ending 3-6-3.
Tyler Clippard took the mound for the Nationals in the eighth. B.J. Upton sent a fly ball to center. Pinch hitter Ryan Doumit K'd looking at a 93 mph 2-2 fastball outside. Phil Gosselin grounded out to short. 12-pitch frame. Still 2-0 Nationals.
David Carpenter started the ninth for Atlanta. Ian Desmond hit a leadoff double to right on a 1-1 slider, took third on a groundout by Harper and scored on a wild pitch. 3-0 Nationals. Wilson Ramos lined to right-center where Jason Heyward made a diving catch. Asdrubal Cabrera sent a dribbler down the first base line and Carpenter dropped it. E:1. Nate Schierholtz grounded out to second to end the top of the ninth.
STOREN WARNING!!!: Drew Storen came on to end it, looking for save no. 7 of 2014. Andrelton Simmons grounded back to the mound. ONE! Freddie Freeman grounded out to short! TWO!! Justin Upton grounded out to second!! BALLGAME!!! Nationals win the NL EAST!!!!!!!
Nationals now 87-63