Whatever the case, there's suddenly not as much reason for Atlanta to worry about the embarrassment of finishing in the National League East cellar. While having their previous dominance against the Braves halted, the Nationals have once again provided reason to believe they'll remain in the basement until the end of the season.
Most of the embarrassment experienced at Turner Field on Friday night was felt by Jason Bergmann, who was soundly victimized during a seven-run third inning that Atlanta used to claim a 10-5 win over Washington and notch consecutive victories for the first time since Aug. 9.
"The way we've been playing lately, every win for us is big," said Jair Jurrjens, who allowed one earned run over five innings and earned his first win in the five starts that have followed his Aug. 9 victory in Arizona.
While winning the first two games of this four-game series, the Braves (62-80) have recorded half as many wins as they'd totaled in their previous 14 games against the Nationals. More importantly, they now own an eight-game lead over Washington.
Just to continue a September tradition that was annually used during their unprecedented string of 14 consecutive division titles, the Braves' magic number for securing fourth place in the division standings is 13.
"It's embarrassing to finish last," said Kelly Johnson, who fueled his recent hot streak with a team-high three-hit performance. "It's good to get these first two wins."
Johnson, who is hitting .467 (14-for-30) over his past seven games, aided the seven-run third inning with a double that scored Jurrjens, who had helped his cause with a leadoff single. From there, Bergmann (2-11) began to unravel. The right-hander, who is 1-3 with an 8.15 ERA in his past seven starts, walked three of the next four batters he faced and never threw more than five pitches while issuing any of those walks.
After Bergmann's night concluded with Casey Kotchman drawing a bases-loaded walk, Marco Estrada walked Jeff Francoeur before allowing Brandon Jones to drill an 0-2 fastball to right-center field for a three-run double.
Johnson doubled and scored in the fourth inning and added a fifth-inning RBI single. The extra runs proved beneficial, especially after Elmer Dessens allowed the Nationals (54-88) to construct a three-run seventh inning that was highlighted by former Brave Ryan Langerhans' two-run double.
"Kelly is on fire right now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Three more hits tonight and he's played great defense. You can't ask for anything more."
As he continues to show some fatigue as he nears the end of his rookie season, Jurrjens (12-9) certainly appreciated all of the offensive support. The 22-year-old hurler needed 50 pitches to complete the first two innings, and he escaped the first inning unscathed when Roger Bernadina ended the threat with a bases-loaded groundout.
Bernadina exacted some revenge with a two-out third-inning RBI triple that briefly tied the game. But with the sizable advantage he gained in the bottom half of the inning, Jurrjens faced just one more than the minimum in his final two innings.
"[Jurrjens] just had too many pitches," said Cox of his young hurler, who needed 98 pitches to complete five innings. "He threw the ball excellent."
Jurrjens, who was 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in his previous seven starts, wasn't as thrilled with his effort. He issued a pair of walks during a 29-pitch first inning and then issued his final free pass of the evening to Willie Harris with two outs in the second inning.
While recording 12 wins, Jurrjens has totaled 170 1/3 innings this season. Last year, he had set a professional high by completing 144 1/3 innings.
"It's been a struggle for me during the first two innings of my last two starts," Jurrjens said. "I'm just losing control with all of my pitches."
As for the Braves, they once again find themselves in control of fourth place in the NL East. It's not exactly where they wanted to be. But it's much better than the place they were nearing before finally managing to solve the Nationals.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less