Now, it’s the Nats who are on pace for 101 wins. The Phils are 20 games behind and trading away stars. On Wednesday night at Nats Park, the Atlanta Braves, who’d lost the first two games of this series, were so desperate for a spark that they benched three stars — Michael Bourn, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla — to cope with a dominant left-handed fastballer.
Who was that lefty-eating hurler? Ross Detwiler, the Nats’ fifth starter.
The Braves averted the unmitigated disaster of a sweep that would have put them eight games behind the Nats in the National League East, thanks to a 5-1 win behind exceptional right-hander Kris Medlen.
The 26-year-old Brave who had Tommy John elbow surgery two Augusts ago, just like Stephen Strasburg, and returned to the majors last September, just like Strasburg, has helped the Braves win his last 16 starts since May 2010. Yes, 16-0.
However, Medlen ranks high enough in their future that they have used him sparingly or out of the bullpen this season and, even now, won’t push him more than 130 innings in this regular season. Won’t that hinder their chances for a division title against the Nats? Absolutely. But the Braves define the smart, long-view organization. Since his name is not Strasburg, there is no macho-vs.-medicine debate about Medlen.
Even though a crowd of 29,111 ignored rain that delayed the start and begged all night for a sweep, the Nats still find themselves six games ahead of the Braves, two more than they were just four days ago. With 21 of their last 38 games at home and 25 of them against teams that are at least eight games under .500, the Nats should control their own fate.
A year ago, who even imagined they’d have a destiny to defend this season? If you don’t smack your forehead frequently at this total reversal of baseball reality, a lifetime worldview of the game that has been stood on its head, then pile-driven into the ground, then please pay better attention.
The Nats have a wide range of reactions to the whiplash change in their universe. “We don’t realize it,” reliever Drew Storen said. “When we are done, we can look back. Once you step outside the box and start looking in, that’s when the trouble starts.”
When this long ultra-hot spell cools, as they all do, that view will be needed even more.