Detwiler may also be the Nats’ biggest X-factor for the postseason. Since the All-Star Game, he’s gone to almost 90 percent two-seam or four-seam fastballs. In those games, he’s raised his fastball velocity, the true “easy gas” of a 6-foot-5 crossfire lefty, into the top 15 in baseball with a 2.91 ERA. If he can thrive as a pure power pitcher with an exceptional sinker, that style tends to play even better against tight hitters in October. Or will the style tweak flop? The start against Atlanta may be a playoff-preview test.
“We’ve been telling Det that 95 [mph] is not easy to hit. It’s the same thing Davey tells [Strasburg]. As a hitter, I know that nothing bothers you more than a guy who attacks you, and keeps on attacking, with a good moving fastball,” Zimmerman said. “It makes hitters defensive. Aramis Ramirez got to third base and said to me, ‘Do any of your guys throw less than 95?’ ” Actually, the whole rotation tops at 96 to 99 mph.
Pennant race dynamics take strange forms. The Nats may have more opportunity — and necessity — in this week’s Atlanta series than they suspect. The Braves are about to begin what may be the toughest 10-day trip of their season, including seven on the West Coast, with their visit here. But after that, they play the patsies from pennant-race heaven.
The Nats may need a significant lead by Aug. 31 because a strong Braves team has one of the easiest late-season schedules you’ll ever see. After that date, they play 16 straight games against teams that are well under .500, then host the Nats for three in Atlanta, followed by 12 more in a row with losers (before closing the season with three at Pittsburgh). That 31-game run against bad teams, plus one last shot at the Nats, almost insures that the Braves aren’t going away.
“It’s not always so easy to play the teams that are out of it. I’ve been there,” Johnson said. “They have absolutely no pressure and love to spoil it.”
Washington also has an easy schedule, on paper, and 24 more home games. But the Nats’ foes are not as lame as those the Braves play — if, a huge “if,” they survive their 10-day trip that begins on South Capitol Street.
If the Nats want somebody to spoil the Braves’ fun, if they want to start Atlanta on its last long tough West Coast trip on a negative note, they’d be wise to do it themselves.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.