Baserunning mistakes hurt Braves in loss to Nationals

AP photo by Brynn Anderson / First base umpire John Tumpane calls the Atlanta Braves' Vaughn Grissom out on a double play in the fifth inning of Wednesday's game against the visiting Washington Nationals.

ATLANTA — Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker wants his players to pay closer attention when they're running the bases.

A fifth straight postseason awaits the reigning World Series champions, and the Braves remain in contention for a fifth straight National League East Division title. Snitker knows the team can't afford to make mistakes on the basepaths.

"As a baserunner, you have to zero in on the guy in front of you and nobody else because he might fall, he might not see things the way everybody else does," Snitker said. "Your main focus is the guy in front of you when you're running the bases, and we weren't real aware in some situations today."

Joey Meneses hit a go-ahead two-run homer off Jesse Chavez in the seventh inning, and the Washington Nationals stopped the Braves' five-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory Wednesday afternoon as Atlanta cost itself with poor baserunning.

Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in an early run and scored another for Atlanta, which clinched a spot in the playoffs on Tuesday night — but whether that's as a wild card or the division champ depends on whether the East's second-place Braves (93-56) can supplant the first-place New York Mets (95-56) down the stretch over the next two weeks.

Atlanta missed an opportunity to draw even Wednesday with the Mets, who lost 6-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Braves trailed last-place Washington by a run in the bottom of the eighth when Michael Harris II hit a one-out single to right with Austin Riley on second and William Contreras on first. Third base coach Ron Washington held up Riley, who had rounded the bag toward home, but Contreras was nearly at third and was thrown out returning to second by catcher Tres Barrera, who had received the throw from right fielder Lane Thomas.

"Wash was giving me a go the whole time and then at the last second put up the stop sign, and I think at that point Contreras was already there," Riley said. "It's tough. It happens."

Snitker said the Braves just held a meeting about baserunning Tuesday to go over the intricacies of staying alert.

"It's just when your playing close games, those are the things you can control," Snitker said. "There's so many things in this game you can't control, but we can control our baserunning. It's the awareness more than anything. We talk about it a lot. We show them different videos and different angles.

"Most of them are visual learners. We do that quite a bit."

In the fifth, Washington center fielder Victor Robles ran forward to his left to make a diving catch of Acuña's fly ball, stood up and threw accurately to first to make rookie Vaughn Grissom the second out on a double play. The Nationals ended the bottom of the seventh with a double play when Dansby Swanson struck out and Grissom was caught stealing.

The Braves had won 10 straight home games, outscoring opponents 47-16 in that run, and they're 52-26 this season at Truist Park. Of Atlanta's 13 remaining regular-season games only three are at home — their final scheduled matchups with the Mets on Sept. 30-Oct. 2, with each team playing one more three-game series against other NL East foes after that.

Atlanta's 71-29 record since May 31 leads the majors, but the Braves will have to keep pushing without much of a break. Their only remaining scheduled day off in the regular season is the day before the Mets visit, and Atlanta begins a four-game series Thursday at Philadelphia with the third-place Phillies still in the playoff picture.

The Nationals are very much out of that picture, but they avoided being swept when Meneses, a 30-year-old rookie, put the visitors up 3-2 with his 10th home run, a 420-foot drive to left field. He leads Washington with 57 hits, 10 homers and 25 RBIs since his MLB debut on Aug. 2.

Atlanta had won 11 of 12 against the Nationals and began the day 26-8 in the series since the start of last year.

"I can't say enough about what Joey has done for us since he's been here," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's been hitting balls, doubles, homers, getting on base, but today was all about the team. We came out with a victory."

Andrés Machado (2-0) pitched a scoreless sixth, Carl Edwards Jr. escaped a jam with a runners on first and third in the eighth when Eddie Rosario lined out, and Kyle Finnegan pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save in 15 chances this year.

Chavez (4-2) was charged with one run on one hit in two-thirds of an inning.

Atlanta took advantage of Paolo Espino's erratic throws to first base to make it 1-0 in the first. Acuña led off with a single, advanced to second on a throwing error by Espino on a pickoff attempt and scored when Contreras reached on an infield single and Espino threw wildly to first again.

Braves starter Bryce Elder gave up one run with two walks and six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

"He went into the sixth and gave us a chance to win the game," Snitker said. "I thought he did a really good, solid job. He pitched around some different things, but it was solid, very solid."

Elder stranded a runner in scoring position in the third. He hit Josh Palacios with a pitch in the fifth, and Palacios advanced to third on Barrera's single before Thomas' sacrifice fly trimmed the lead to 2-1.

Espino gave up four hits and two runs (one earned) in four-plus innings. He has a 4.94 ERA in 17 starts.