Instant analysis: Braves 4, Nats 0

Instant analysis: Braves 4, Nats 0
July 21, 2012, 8:17 pm
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Game in a nutshell: Only 13 12 hours removed from a crushing, 11-10 loss, the Nationals took the field for the first half of their day-night doubleheader with the Braves needing a strong performance from starter Edwin Jackson. They got it, with Jackson tossing seven innings of one-run ball, Brian McCann's solo homer in the second the only blemish. But Ben Sheets was even better for Atlanta, tossing six scoreless innings in his second big-league start since 2010. Another Henry Rodriguez meltdown resulted in an insurance run in the eighth. And then Chipper Jones' towering, pinch-hit blast in the ninth put the Nationals in a 4-0 hole they could not escape. Just like that, their lead in the NL East is down to 1 12 games, with John Lannan now asked to reverse the trend in the upcoming nightcap. Oh, and Bryce Harper had to leave this game after fouling a bunt attempt off his left ankle in the first inning. Suffice it to say, this wasn't a good afternoon.

Hitting lowlight: It's not that the Nationals didn't have chances against Sheets or the Braves bullpen. It's that they couldn't come through with any hits in clutch situations. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position over the first six innings. Then when presented with a possible opportunity in the seventh when the score was still only 1-0, Jesus Flores popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt and then watched as Kris Medlen snagged it and whipped a throw to first base to double up Danny Espinosa in a crushing moment. For a lineup that has been raking at the plate for about three weeks now, this was a weak performance.

Pitching highlight: On a day the Nationals desperately needed him to put forth a quality start, Jackson delivered. The right-hander allowed one run in seven innings, matching his season-high with nine strikeouts and most importantly churning out enough innings to give the Nats' bullpen a much-needed breather. Jackson's only mistake: his 0-1 pitch to McCann in the top of the second, which wound up in the right-field bleachers. But you can't fault him for his overall performance. Jackson didn't just pitch well, he pitched well on a day he absolutely needed to do it.

Key stat: Sheets, who hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2010, has now thrown 12 scoreless innings for the Braves.

Up next: This long day of baseball isn't over yet. John Lannan takes the mound at 7:05 p.m. to make his first big-league start of the season, with right-hander Randall Delgado pitching for the Braves in the nightcap of this doubleheader. And then the Wallflowers will take the field to perform tonight's concert.