“I don’t think they took us by surprise at all,” center fielder Denard Span said. “We knew they were a good team coming in here. They came in and gave a good, old-fashioned kick in the butt.”
For the second straight day, the Nationals dealt with a potentially more harmful loss. In the second inning, a few hours after catcher Wilson Ramos landed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, second baseman Danny Espinosa took an 88-mph fastball from Maholm off his right hand. Espinosa hopes to return Monday after X-rays came back negative. Sunday, he left in the fourth inning in favor of Steve Lombardozzi.
By the middle innings, Manager Davey Johnson started to pull other starters by choice, the game already well out of the Nationals’ reach. The Braves pounced on Gonzalez for three runs in the first inning, and Andrelton Simmons’s home run in the third gave the Braves a 7-0 lead before they had recorded their eighth out.
“It’s just early,” Johnson said. “Things happen for the best. We should’ve won the first [game of the series]. We were right there on the second one. We just got waffled today. I don’t put too much stock in it.”
The Nationals (7-5) knew the defense of their NL East crown would not come easy, and with 150 games remaining their World Series aspirations remain intact. But it did not have to look so hard so soon. The Nationals have lost by scores of 15-0 and 9-0, and they already trail the 11-1 Braves by four games in the NL East.
“You can’t just judge a team on the first 12 games,” Gonzalez said. “It’s impossible. You’ve got to give us a chance. Our job is to make sure we stay afloat and keep playing, turn this around and go into Miami with a new attitude.”
The Braves, even missing catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Freddie Freeman, overpowered the Nationals all weekend. They outscored them 18-5, outhit them 29-16 and made three errors to the Nationals’ four. The Nationals scored four runs in the first two innings Friday night, and then the Braves held them to one run over the next 26. Atlanta even managed to cool down Bryce Harper, who homered in his first at-bat of the series and went hitless in his final nine with four strikeouts and two walks.