ATLANTA – Big hits have been tough to find these days for the Braves.
Just look at their numbers with runners in scoring position in this series against the Nationals. The Braves have one hit – that’s it – in 15 at-bats in that situation.
Not exactly what you need when you’re trying to do two things at once:
1. Catch the Nationals and win the NL East.
2. Hold off the pack of teams trying to supplant you as one of the two wild-card teams.
The Braves have plenty of experience with the second of those scenarios after last year’s September disaster, so they’re finding ways to score even though they continue to flail and fail with runners ready and willing to run home.
And yet, even with a distinct inability to drive in runs with timely hits, the Braves are finding ways to score and win.
Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Nationals was another example of their resilience and determination to not only make the playoffs, but to catch the Nationals at the top.
“Our mindset is to go after the division until you can’t,” right fielder Jason Heyward said. “You can’t settle for anything until time’s up. Right now, we still have a chance to win the division. We have to keep playing good baseball. We have to keep hanging in there. Everything else will take care of itself at the end.”
Especially if they continue to manufacture wins, like they did on Saturday.
The Nationals led 4-0 after two innings.
Braves starter Tommy Hanson was laboring. The defense was disastrous.
But the bullpen vetoed Washington’s bats and the Braves tied it at 4-4 on Heyward’s two-run home run in the sixth.
The Braves have three homers this week, and they are in distinct contrast to how the winning run scored in the eighth.
There was a single, followed by a walk and then another walk.
The team with the inability to drive in runners from second or third, found another way to do so.
Ryan Mattheus plunked Andrelton Simmons with a pitch, allowing pinch-runner Jeff Baker to trot home.
The end was eerily similar to the Braves’ 2-1 win on Friday, when they scored an unearned run in the ninth, and continued a trend of miraculous victories.
A few other examples:
• Braves 1, Rockies 0, Sept. 5 – The Braves put together a single and a walk and scored their only run on a throwing error on a botched double play.
• Braves 1, Rockies 0, Sept. 6 – Juan Francisco, who is nicknamed “Roadrunner” for his lack of speed, scampered home from third after Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacín didn’t catch the return throw from his catcher.
• Braves 3, Mets 2, Sept. 9 – Brian McCann drives home the winning run with a sac fly in the 10th inning after the Braves loaded the bases on a single and two walks.
“It seems like we’ve been winning some ballgames some crazy ways,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ll take it.”
They scored only three runs while being swept in Milwaukee earlier this week, but returned home and recovered with two one-run wins over the Nationals that chopped two games off a deficit that’s at 6½ games.
The Braves aren’t ready to settle for the wild card.
“It’s important because our eyes are still on the division,” Gonzalez said. “The wild card is so hard with a one-game playoff. At the least, if we don’t catch them, because they have a good club, you can hang your hats.”
The Nationals won 10 of the first 14 games between these rivals this season, but the Braves have won the past three.
The mini streak has generated hope.
Just a long as they keep figuring out ways to score.