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The good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ two games against the Braves

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In their first series against the reigning NL East champions, the Nationals split the two games that were played against the Braves...

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Uh oh, is Patrick going to leave an editor's note again if I try and claim that the Washington Nationals just split a two-game series with the Atlanta Braves instead of the result of this series being decided in a couple of weeks?

This could’ve easily been a dominant series for the Nats as they took a three-run lead into the ninth of Monday’s game. Unfortunately, they blew the lead in dramatic fashion before bouncing back on Tuesday with a nice win and the postponed game on Wednesday.

Here are the main takeaways from the two games in Georgia...

The Good

Thames getting into the flow

It’s fair to say that Eric Thames had been a disappointment for the Nats coming into this series.

He wasn’t brought in to be a star for the Nationals, but heading to Atlanta, Thames was slashing a pitiful .175/.250/.225, had a team-worst -0.4 fWAR, and had yet to hit a home run.

It’s going to take a fair bit of work to dig out of that hole, though he was able to take some good first steps during this series. He broke his long ball duck in the second inning of the first game and went 2-for-5 with three RBIs in Tuesday’s win, all from the eighth spot in the order.

“We moved him down there just so he could relax a little bit,” Martinez explained after the game. “Not worry so much about being in the middle of the order, and he’s done well.

“We want to kind of get him going a little bit and I just want him to just relax and see good pitches and hit, and he’s done that.”

Because of the positive series he had hitting eighth at Truist Park, it looks like he will at least stay there for the time being until he has some prolonged success at the plate.

“We’ll keep him there, we’ll keep getting him going,” Martinez said. “What I really like is that he’s really focused on staying in the middle of the field and not pulling off everything.

“If he can continue to do that, he’s going to hit for us, he’s hit before, and he’s going to start hitting home runs, so I like where he’s at right now.”

There’s reason to believe that there’s more to come from Thames given his hard-hit rate of 48.6%, it’s just that his launch angle has been lower than usual. Perhaps with a correction there, he could take off and become the powerful left-handed bat the Nats hoped to have.

Robles robbery

It’s tough to really read too much into a two-game series in terms of long-term takeaways to glean from the 18 innings that ended up being played. So, for this takeaway, we get to marvel at one of the catches of the year made by Victor Robles.

With the Nats leading by just one run in the bottom of the fifth, Austin Riley stepped to the plate against Wander Suero with a runner on first.

The Braves’ slugger proceeded to launch one to center field that was destined to clear the fence and give the hosts the lead.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Robles dashed from his starting position to the center field wall and glided through the air as the ball landed in his glove just over the other side of the fence.

“Awesome catch. Game-saver right there. Really was,” Martinez gushed in his post-game interview. “He went back, he found the wall, he did everything right. Got the glove up and he robbed a home run. It was a home run. Victor can do that kind of stuff. It was awesome. Great play.”

On a ball that looked ticketed for a home run, did the Nats’ manager really think he could get it?

“When I watched him and the way he timed it, I knew he had a chance,” Martinez answered. “You never know until they go up there, but when he came down and he had the ball in his glove, I can tell you, we were all excited.”

As a Gold Glove finalist last year at the age of 22, naturally, a lot will be expected of Robles in the field as he continues to establish himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Despite those expectations, plays like this will never cease to make jaws drop...

The Bad

Still no Howie

The last time that Nationals fans saw Howie Kendrick on the field was during Friday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. Since then, he’s been bothered by a tight hamstring.

After the two games that were played in Atlanta, Kendrick had still yet to make an appearance and he wasn’t in the lineup for Wednesday’s game before it fell victim to the weather.

With the DH this season and expanded rosters, it’s not quite as big of a deal having Kendrick still on the roster for a few extra days. If you believe the Nats though, they say that their World Series hero could be set to return this weekend against the Miami Marlins.

“I think he’s close,” Martinez told reporters on Wednesday. “He felt better yesterday. We tried to keep him out there today, we’ll see how he feels during the game. He’s going to run again.

“We feel with the day off tomorrow he might be ready to go Friday, so we’ll see, and then we’ll reevaluate come Friday.”

The Nationals have done this more than a few times in recent years, keeping injured players around a while on the active roster before putting them on the Injured List some time later. Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into that and Kendrick is back in the lineup this weekend.

The Ugly

Hudson blows it

After all the drama in the top of the ninth inning between Juan Soto and Will Smith in the series opener, it looked like the Nationals were going to close out the game and get a big win against last year’s NL East champions.

It wasn’t quite that simple though. Daniel Hudson, who had saved three of his four chances in 2020, trotted out to the mound looking to make it a nice routine 4-for-5 in save opportunities.

Unfortunately, his command was way off with a hit by pitch and several fastballs leaking out over the heart of the plate and the Braves pounced with two, two-run home runs. Just like that, the hosts had a late comeback victory and raised Hudson’s ERA to an ugly 7.88.

“It’s a tough loss for sure,” Martinez said after Monday’s game. “[Hudson] has been our ninth inning guy, he’s been doing well. Run him back out there tomorrow if he’s feeling well.

“I told him forget about it. Go get them tomorrow. That’s all you can do. So, these guys are battling, I know that, they’re battling, they’re playing hard, so we’ll do it again tomorrow.”

Putting this in the ugly section of the series recap is definitely harsh, but when only two of the games were played against the Braves, this was the standout poor moment for the Nats.

The good news for the Nationals is that Hudson was able to come back out the very next day, his third-straight day of relief, and lock down a three-run lead with a perfect ninth inning.

It’s not time to remove Hudson from the closer’s role yet, not by any stretch, and don’t read too much into his inflated ERA, as this is the byproduct of just two bad outings. But it’s worth keeping an eye on him moving forward the rest of this season to see if he can stay strong.

Next up: After another day off on Thursday, the Nationals head back home to take on the Miami Marlins for the first time this season. With a doubleheader on Saturday, the Nationals will likely send out Erick Fedde, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin, as well as a spot starter.