Nationals swept by surging Braves

Nationals swept by surging Braves

ATLANTA -- Outfielder Jose Guillen refuses to believe that the Braves are better than the Nationals. He pointed out that Atlanta mainstays such as Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones were not the ones that led the team to a three-game sweep. It was the bit players, such as Marcus Giles and Jeff Francoeur, who did most of the damage.

On Thursday afternoon, it was Francoeur's two home runs that helped the Braves edge the Nationals, 5-4, in front of 40,269 at Turner Field.

The Nationals are now on a four-game losing streak, 3-12 since the All-Star break and three games behind the Braves in the National League East.

"You look at all those guys that have the responsibility to win the three games. It was not Chipper or Andruw. You let me know if the guys they have are better than our guys. It's not acceptable to get swept," Guillen said. "We are playing like a Double-A team. This is ridiculous."

Right-hander Ryan Drese was the starter for the Nationals. His sinker wasn't in top form as he gave up four runs -- three earned -- in four innings.

The first run was scored in the third inning. With a runner on third base and one out, Chipper Jones hit a ground ball to third baseman Vinny Castilla, who threw to catcher Brian Schneider. But Schneider let the ball go by him for an error, allowing Rafael Furcal to score on the play.

"The throw was to my right. That's a play where you have Furcal running in. It's not a do-or-die play, but it's like I can't move my feet. If I move my feet and go catch that ball, there's no chance to get back and tag Furcal," Schneider said.

The Braves scored three more runs off Drese in the fourth inning as Francoeur hit a one-out solo home run and Giles drove in Ryan Langerhans and Furcal with a two-out double to left field.

Before giving up the Giles double, Drese said, he would have gotten out of the inning had he not tried to pitch around Furcal, who walked to put runners on first and second.

"We didn't want Furcal to jump on the first pitch, so we started him off with changeups," Drese said. "We do have a righty on deck, but, still, it's stupid to put another guy on base. I should have gone after Furcal. I didn't. I paid the price and I hung the slider [to Giles]."

Washington made it a game against Braves right-hander Jorge Sosa in the fifth and sixth innings.

Carlos Baerga, pinch-hitting for Drese, hit an infield single to bring in Nick Johnson in the fifth. The next inning, Guillen singled to right field to drive in Vidro.

But Francoeur ended up driving in the game-winning run when he hit his second home run of the game off Sun-Woo Kim in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Francoeur ended up going 5-for-8 (.625) in the series. According to Drese, the scouting report said that Francoeur couldn't hit the inside pitch.

"He turned on the fastball down and in and hit the home run," Drese said. "Maybe we stayed inside too much on him. It's tough when you don't have that many at-bats on this guy. You have to go with your instinct. Tip your hat. He hit the ball well."

The Nationals got within one run in the seventh inning, when Vidro hit a two-run home run off reliever Jim Brower.

Washington had a chance to tie the score in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Nationals had runners on first and third with two outs, but left-hander Macay McBride struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Church to end the threat.

The missed opportunity was one of many for the Nationals throughout the three-game series. When they had runners in scoring position with less than two outs, more often than not, they didn't take advantage of the situation.

"When we had a runner on third, we couldn't put the ball in play," Guillen said. "We came up and hit into double plays. ... I don't see the fire like I saw in the first half of the season. A lot of these guys look like they want to go home. That's the way we look on the field. I hope we figure out that it's a long season. We can put it together from this point on."

After the game, manager Frank Robinson had his second team meeting in as many days, but this time, he told his players that they put in a great effort on Thursday. The previous night, Robinson scolded the players for not having a lot of energy on the field in their 4-3 loss.

"I saw a better game from us tonight," Vidro said "Hopefully we will get going. I saw a better attitude out there today. I'm sure things are about to change. It can't get any worse."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.