ATLANTA — For John Lannan, the numbers seem to belie that there are two sureties: While he almost always struggles with the Philadelphia Phillies, he almost always will beat the Atlanta Braves.
The Washington Nationals left-hander, who is 1-12 against Philadelphia (including 1-4 this season with a 5.06 ERA), flips that script against Atlanta.
In 14 starts against the Braves, Lannan is 8-4 with a 3.31 ERA and has allowed just three home runs. By contrast, he’s given up 17 to the Phillies. Lannan took the mound Wednesday night for his fourth start of the year against Atlanta. He’s 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA this season and hasn’t lost to them since 2009.
It’s a statistical oddity, much the same way as the Nationals wearing out Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens this year. Jurrjens has a 9.56 ERA against the Nationals, compared with 2.18 against the rest of the league.
One thing is certain: It’s almost entirely mental.
“No question about it,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who has had sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn around the team this week in Atlanta. “I believe in the power of positive thinking. When you think you can do something, you can do it. You can accomplish it, but you’ve got to think it first.”
The Nationals put up nine runs Tuesday night, six off Jurrjens, and hit three of their four home runs against him. He told reporters after the game that it felt just the way it looked: like he throws batting practice to the Nationals.
“It’s possible [he’s intimidated by us],” said outfielder Laynce Nix, who hit a double off Jurrjens on Tuesday and is 4-for-11 against him lifetime. “I doubt it though, because he’s the one who’s sitting over there with 13 wins and a 2 ERA.
“It’s kind of puzzling to me with the stuff I’ve seen him throw, I’m like ‘How does he have a two?’ But I credit him, because it’s not like he’s playing slouches the rest of the time. He’s getting good hitters out and beating them and maybe, it’s crazy. To me, that’s why people are in the seats. There’s no gimmes.”
Nix, who played for Cincinnati last season, recalled watching flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman make hitters look absolutely silly one day. The next, he could get hit around.
“I’m in the outfield kind of laughing, like, ‘That’s incredible,’ ” Nix said. “That’s how cool the big leagues is. You can get anybody at any time. It really is like that. I can’t explain why I have good numbers against [Roy] Oswalt [.429, eight extra-base hits, three homers), [Matt] Cain, [.400]. They’re sick. And they’re not easy for me. Then there are some other guys that aren’t nearly that good, and I don’t sniff them.”
“I just think we’re having good at-bats against [Jurrjens],” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who was 1-for-3 with a home run Tuesday. “Regardless if you get hits or not, when you have good at-bats, it builds your confidence. Then you go to the plate knowing that you have a good shot at the guy.”
The Nationals have won the season series from the Braves in two of the past three years - and entered Wednesday with a 7-6 lead in 2011. It’s no question the Braves have had talented teams in those years, just as the Phillies have - and yet the Nationals are just 6-8 against Philadelphia this season, and haven’t won more than six games in the season series since 2006.
“It’s a real psychological game,” Nix said. “It can get so that team-wise and individually, you feel like you’re good so you do well. If you don’t, you don’t. We’re always facing those battles.”