This was a weekend in which to sharpen Atlanta’s natural animus toward the Washington Nationals.
And now just sit on that sharp tack of hostility over the All-Star break and well into the second half of the season. The Braves won’t meet up again with the NL East leaders until mid-September. The Nats are going to have to do some significant tripping over their own shoelaces to make those games meaningful.
In the standings, the just-completed four-game series in Washington accomplished nothing. It was a push. It should have been better for the Braves, had Jim Johnson not blown a three-run lead in the ninth Friday. Leaving with a split after Sunday’s loss, the Braves are still 9 ½ games in arrears.
But, at least, you should have no doubt over which team deserves the entire focus of your negative energy in the next two-plus months.
Of the Top 10 Reasons to Dislike the Washington Nationals, nine of them undoubtedly have something to do with Bryce Harper.
But if only to diversify the list, we now can include the Nats brass, which during the opener of the Braves series refused to start the game on the mere suggestion that it might rain. The mostly rain-less three-hour rain delay – orchestrated in order to protect Washington’s starter and avoid going to its weak bullpen in event of a mid-game rain delay – was a bush league maneuver. Thanks Washington. I don’t get to use the term bush league nearly enough.
True, the Braves gained no ground in the standings. But they at least can claim the ethical high ground over Washington after this weekend.
Even Harper, on an Instagram post, labeled it a “lame rain delay, which we should've never had.” May have to revisit some of my more irrational feelings about Harper. (Most of them are petty and hair-related, anyway. Like, for heaven’s sake, man, get a batting helmet that fits properly over that luxuriant rooster comb atop your head, or start using a chin strap).
That the Nats are playing games before the actual games would seem encouraging. And indication, perhaps, that they have such serious flaws that subterfuge is their last, best hope of masking them. Resorting to lame rain delays seemed fairly desperate for a first-place team.
The bullpen is, of course, the major flaw. The one most likely to cause Nationals manager Dusty Baker to swallow his toothpick.
The Braves head into the All-Star break secure in the knowledge that the team they are pursuing has a weakness in both the bullpen and in character (at least on high, where man-made rain delays are created). Thus far this season, they are 6-7 head-to-head against the Gnats, so it’s not like they should cower at their approach.
And after all, the Braves have baseball’s Wolverine – there is no other way to describe Freddie Freeman’s fast-healing bones outside a comic book reference.
Surely Washington will address their end-of-game issue. No reason to think the Braves can run them down over the back half of the season. It is still rather cloudy as to whether the Braves should be buyers or sellers on the trade market.
But we might ask that they at least hang around. Keep the deficit in single digits. Give reason to cheer from afar that the Nats finish more games with question marks rather than exclamation points.
Let a clean, old-fashioned hate – baseball style – simmer for a couple months more.