After seeing most pundits pick Washington to repeat as division champions and hearing analysts gush over the Nationals as the best team in the National League, the Braves came to town and showed why they intend to have plenty of say in such matters.
They pounded Gio Gonzalez for seven runs in the first three innings, and Paul Maholm combined with two for a four-hitter Sunday in a 9-0 rout that gave the Braves a three-games series sweep of the Nationals and pushed Atlanta’s winning streak to nine games and its majors-best record to 11-1.
Chris Johnson had four hits including a two-run single in the first inning, and Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons each homered in the four-run third inning for the Braves, who swept a six-game road trip to Miami and Washington and have their best season-opening record in nearly two decades, plus a four-game lead over the Nationals (7-5).
“We’ve been playing pretty good and we know the Nationals are supposed to be pretty good,” Simmons said. “So it was good to make a statement early, let them know we’re going to be tough to beat. That was a great win for us.”
Washington slipped to third place, a half-game behind the New York Mets. The Nationals had been 6-0 at home before the Braves came to town.
“I don’t think they took us by surprise at all,” Nationals center fielder Denard Span said. “We knew they were a good team coming in here. They came in and gave a good, old-fashioned kick in the butt.
Justin Upton led off the third inning with his major league-leading seventh homer, and four batters later Simmons hit a three-run homer that was his first. B.J. Upton also had three hits, one fewer than he had all season prior to Sunday.