Given Washington’s young roster and Atlanta’s year-to-year stability, Monday’s showdown could become a familiar scene, the brash new kid fending off a perennial power. Then again, two teams built off a similar blueprint could be entering the season’s final month as little more than trains passing in the night.
“I can sit here and say unequivocally I think Washington is going to be a force in the National League for the next four or five years,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said before the Nationals’ 5-4 victory in 13 innings. “I can’t sit here objectively and say that about this [Atlanta] club.”
The Nationals took a methodical approach to building the organization and eight seasons later they boast a formidable roster that aims to treat Washington fans to postseason baseball for the first time since 1933. The Atlanta fingerprints are impossible to miss. Former team president Stan Kasten came to town after serving in the same capacity for the Braves. Roy Clark, the Nationals’ current assistant general manager, started as a Braves’ scout in 1989 and eventually spent 11 seasons there as director of scouting.
“We’ve seen over the last 10 years, franchises return to the player development model,” said Braves General Manager Frank Wren, “and use that to help themselves get back to prominence or remain in prominence. I think what we’re most proud of is we’ve never left that model.”
The Nationals took the field Monday night with 12 players who began their careers with the Washington organization, including starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. On its 25-man roster, Atlanta had 11 homegrown players.
While the Nationals have young stars such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg locked up for years to come, the Braves make their playoff push knowing that change is on the horizon. With little money guaranteed beyond 2012, Wren will have a lot of flexibility this offseason to decide how Atlanta can remain a division contender.
The Braves will say goodbye to Jones, 40, who’s already announced this season will be his last, but Atlanta has club options on right-hander Tim Hudson and catcher Brian McCann. Outfielder Jason Heyward, reliever Johnny Venters and right-hander Tommy Hanson are all available for arbitration and should have a significant impact on the 2013 payroll.
“There’s going to be a lot of turnover,” Jones said. “Personnel-wise, talk to me in spring training when I see what the roster looks like. I don’t know. I can’t really say. Number one, I’m not going to have a say-so in any of it. Number two, I don’t know how the Braves are going to choose to spend their money this offseason.”