After Braves’ sweep, Nats’ pressure lifted
By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter
The Nationals entered 2013 with legitimate World Series aspirations, as well as the enormous pressure that comes with them.
With each loss, that pressure grew. The Nats pressed. The pressure grew. The season snowballed to the point of potential failure, a three-game series against the Braves last week. The pressure bottlenecked at that series, and when the Nationals were swept by Atlanta, extinguishing any hopes of a second straight National League East title, that pressure vanished.
The Nationals have won five straight since.
“Maybe we just said, ‘Screw it,’” Jayson Werth said. “We just got our [butts] kicked. What do we got to lose? It was definitely a flip that was switched. Hopefully it was the right one.”
After every brief winning streak this season, players were asked if this would be the streak to ignite their season. And after every ugly loss, they were asked if they had finally hit rock bottom. Tyler Clippard said that being swept by the Braves was finally it.
“This game, it kind of beats you down so bad at times that I feel like we hit rock bottom and we’re like, ‘All right, let’s just go out there and play and not worry about what’s going on and who is winning what games and focus on ourselves,’” he said. “Unfortunately we did lose three to the Braves, but it let us take a step back and be like, ‘All right guys, let’s just play baseball and see what happens.’ And that’s what we’re doing right now and it’s a lot more fun that way, these last five games.”
Manager Davey Johnson always says that baseball is 90 percent mental. Early in the season, he tried to build confidence in his bench and bullpen by using struggling players in important situations. He has shuffled the lineup to help hitters find a mental comfort zone. But when asked Wednesday if this winning streak was the result of lifted pressure, Johnson said the Nationals are simply playing better baseball.
“Throughout the lineup we’re swinging the bats better,” Johnson said. “Water seeks its level and sooner or later everybodys going to start getting hits with runners in scoring position. We’ve got too good of talent.”