Officially, the Braves just finished what they started against the Nationals Sunday with a 10-2 win to complete a series sweep. Unofficially? They put the finishing touches on a demoralizing weekend for their NL East rival.
While the Nationals spent three days making questionable decisions on the bases, committing seven errors and watching two of their starting eight regulars leave with injuries, the Braves padded stats.
Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman each homered Sunday to make that two each in the series and four on the season. Upton raised his batting average 121 points by going 8-for-10 against the Nationals with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs.
Upton was hitting .182 at the start of this homestand. Six games against the Mets and Nationals later, he’s hitting .386.
“He’s what you call locked in,” Freeman of Upton.
He could say the same about himself. Freeman went 6-for-12 in the series with two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs - including four on Sunday. He’ll take a nine-game hitting streak and a .442 batting average to Philadelphia.
Defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons, batting fifth in the “B-bomber” lineup Sunday came about six inches shy of hitting two home runs, settling for a triple off the top of the left field wall and his first home run of the year - a three-run shot to straight-away center.
Reclamation projects B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla were both in on the act this weekend as well - B.J. with back-to-back two-hit games, a pair of nice running catches, and his first home run of the year, and Uggla with his two RBI hits Saturday.
The Braves scored a season-high 10 runs Sunday, one more than they scored in their first three games against the Nationals in Washington, but the effect was the same. The 2014 season is a dozen games old, and the defending NL East champion Braves have already won five of six games and two series against the Nationals.
When asked if the Braves were trying to get into the Nationals’ heads at this point, Simmons said: “It’s not ‘we’ trying. We just go out there and play them. If anything, it might be in their head.”
The Nationals felt fortunate just to get out of Sunday’s game without another injury. Center fielder Denard Span suffered a concussion after colliding with Dan Uggla on the basepaths Friday night, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is out four to six weeks with a broken finger from a pickoff play Saturday.
When asked at what point frustration over these losses to the Braves sets in, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond told reporters: “About 30 games ago.”
His math isn’t far off. The Braves have won 22 of their past 29 games against the Nationals, dating back to September of 2012. “This is How We Roll,” the Florida Georgia Line country song blared from the public address system at Turner Field before the top of eighth inning, and it made sense.
The Braves head to Philadelphia scalding hot and they’re not pitching too badly either.
Aaron Harang made his third straight start like he was back in the mid-2000s, when he was the Reds’ opening day starter. He’s now 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA as a Brave, having allowed one or fewer runs in six innings in each start.
“I think the biggest thing is just being confident, knowing that I can locate my pitches and also just being able to keep their hitters off-balance,” Harang said.
The Braves continue to victimize Nationals No. 2 starter Gio Gonzalez. He is 0-6 with a 6.43 ERA in his past seven starts against Atlanta, which also dates back to September of 2012 when the Braves started this roll.
On Sunday the Braves jumped out to a 6-0 lead on him with three runs in the first and three more in the second. His best hope was bending at the waist trying to will a Freeman homer to go foul in the second inning. Instead it stayed fair, and glanced off the walkway railing separting the lower from upper section of seats in right field. The two-run shot gave the Braves a 6-0 lead.
In his next at-bat, Freeman took a Gonzalez pitch off the pinky finger but stayed in the game.
“It was more of a scare than an injury,” Freeman said. “If I don’t choke up, I think I’m done. With me choking up, it got some of that bat. I lucked out.”