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Washington Nationals stay ‘close enough so we have a chance’ but fall to Atlanta Braves, 2-1

Even after Ian Anderson befuddled them for seven innings, the Washington Nationals had a chance to win, but fell 2-1.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever the outcome of the 2020 baseball season, the Washington Nationals and their fans have signs of hope that could take off the hard edge.

One of them is that the Nationals and Atlanta Braves — at the bottom and top, respectively, in the National League East — played some compelling games, including Saturday night’s 2-1 Braves’ victory. Atlanta’s Ian Anderson had the Nats guessing for most of the game, but the Nats still found a way to put the tying run on base in the eighth, when Juan Soto struck out, and loaded the bases in the ninth, when Victor Robles flied out to end it.

“You just want to stay close, close enough so we have a chance,” manager Davey Martinez said in a postgame Zoom chat. “We had a chance in the ninth inning, we had the winning run on second base, we just couldn’t pull it off.”

Martinez hit the key lesson on the head: Even in a year when their streak of eight winning seasons is likely about to come to an end, it’s comforting that the Nats give themselves a chance to win more often than not.

“Once again, I’m proud of the boys for not quitting,” said Martinez.

The Nationals had a chance to win Saturday because Corbin had sharp command of his slider and used his eight strikeouts to escape several situations with men on base.

Despite surrendering nine hits, he allowed runs in only two innings. Kyle McGowin provided two perfect innings of relief.

“He (Corbin) knew our bullpen was hurting a little bit, he went out there, he felt good, he gave us seven inning, which was perfect, we just didn’t score any runs for him today,” said Martinez. “I love when he’s out there every five days, I know we have a chance to win.”

Corbin was impressed with McGowin’s effort.

“You see some of the swings that he’s getting, he’s throwing sliders in the zone that are freezing them for strikes, so that’s good to see,” said Corbin.

Trea Turner, who brought the Nats within a run at 2-1 with an eighth-inning RBI double, said he enjoys the competition with his division rivals.

“A lot of guys that haven’t played in, I guess, big games,” said Turner. “A little adrenaline going at the end of the game, facing closers, extra innings, tight ballgames.”

When the teams complete the season series Sunday at Nationals Park, the Nats will have a chance to even it at five games apiece. In the previous nine games, the Braves have outscored the Nats 58-53. Half of those games have been decided by one run, and in those one-run games, the Nats are 2-3. Three have been walk-offs, including Friday night’s 8-7 12-inning Nats’ victory.

When the teams first met this year, in Atlanta, Juan Soto and Will Smith were barking at each other when Soto homered off Smith in the top of the ninth to give the Nats a 6-3 lead. But it was Smith and the Braves who had the last laugh, scoring four in the ninth and winning on Dansby Swanson’s first career walk-off.

The next night, the Nats used eight pitchers while the offense pounded out 17 hits, and Hudson held on for the save in an 8-5 Nats’ victory.

Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Trea Turner was mashing the ball while Soto was sitting with a sore elbow. But the teams split a four-game set that included a seven-inning double header and a stretch where the Nats scored 20 runs in 16 innings, winning 10-9 in the nightcap of the doubleheader and again 10-4 in a nine-inning game the next day. Turner had a homer in the nightcap win, and Brock Holt came up big with four hits and two runs scored in the nine-inning win.

The first three games in this final series with the Braves have all been one-run contests.

“I like that we faced the Braves for the last two weeks,” said Turner of the Nationals’ young relievers.

“So those guys had to face the same hitters, and they’re still getting people out and still making great pitches, so I think from that standpoint I really like what they’ve done.”