The Nationals didn’t make a trade Sunday that bolstered their outfield — or more specifically, their center field position, but two of their divisional rivals sure did and they’ll get their first glimpse at one tonight.
When the Nationals welcome the Braves to Nationals Park this evening they’ll have a new look in center in the form of former Astros speedster Michael Bourn — the object of the Nationals affection at one time as well. The Braves had to part with four prospects to get Bourn, a price the Nationals were unlikely to pay.
Atlanta is weeks from a playoff berth and distancing themselves more and more each day. An already strong team got stronger by adding Bourn.
When the Nationals went to Atlanta out of the All-Star break, they lost two of three to the Braves and the last one was in heartbreaking fashion. It kickstarted an abysmal start to the second half for Washington and after they’re done with Atlanta, by the time they get back to Nationals Park they’ll have seen what their other divisional rival did to upgrade when they travel to Philadelphia and get a glimpse at another former Astro: Hunter Pence.
These two players could represent a host of bad memories for Washington. After dropping the series in Atlanta two weeks ago, the Nationals moved on in their road trip to Houston and Los Angeles with high hopes. Two bad teams like those? Should be a golden opportunity. Instead the Astros also took two of three from the Nationals. Bourn was 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles and three RBI in the series while Pence was only 1-for-10 but the one was a triple (and he later scored) and he walked three times.
The Nationals had to be happy to leaving both behind in Houston, especially considering the result of the series as a whole. Now they’ll be faced with them yet again and this time with a much more potent team around each of them and with the adrenaline of a pennant race involved.
Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel, who was traded at the deadline in 2010 to the Braves from the Kansas City Royals, knows a little something about that.
“I went to a contender,” Ankiel said. “That’s exciting stuff. I mean, for me, it was like a dream come true I grew up a Braves fan, I went to the Braves, now you’re in contention, you get a chance to play in the playoffs.
“I’ve always said there’s two places to play: One is the big leagues an the second is the playoffs. It’s a magical time, it’s a fun time, it’s what you work hard for all the time. The chance to go to a contender can be really exciting time.”
Both Bourn and Pence will be experiencing it when they face the Nationals while their own players struggle to figure out what their goals are for the rest of the season. They’re 11 games back of the Braves in the NL Wild Card and 17 games out in the division (as well as in last place). They’re moving Ross Detwiler into the rotation and more young pitchers could soon follow.
Now that the trade deadline has passed, they’re pretty sure this is the team they’re going to have for the home stretch. Finishing with a winning record would be an amazing accomplishment for a Nationals team. Jayson Werth says not so fast — but his uber-optimism may be in the minority.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Werth said. “We’re going to have to go on a run to do it, no secret there, but I think we’ve got the guys, we’ve got the mentality, we’ve got the club to do it. Who knows what can happen. It’s a crazy game. We need to get on a roll and don’t look back.”
“If we were fighting for a pennant I might (not bring up young pitchers),” Johnson said. “But since we’re where we’re at, it’s time to look at some young arms and give them the opportunity to establish. That’s what you do.”