With the pitching staff recovering from cases of whiplash in Cincinnati, the Braves head back home to face the Washington Nationals for the first time this year, also giving the Braves their first look at Bryce Harper. Despite a rash of injuries, the Nationals find themselves in first place, one game ahead of the Braves. It is scary to wonder where they would be if Mike Morse and Drew Storen would have played at all so far, plus DL stints for Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos.
Game 1: Tim Hudson vs. Ross Detwiler
One of the two lefties going against the Braves this series (of course), Detwiler has been the worst of the Nationals’ starters so far. As encouraging as that sounds, he’s still been slightly better than average, though he’s struggled his last three starts. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy who throws a four-seamer or two-seamer almost 75% of the time, inducing a lot of groundballs. Hudson has been himself, the same style as Detwiler, but with more groundballs. The defense will likely have a chance to decide this game.
Game 2: Mike Minor vs. Stephen Strasburg
Definitely the worst mismatch of the series, Minor looks to continue a slow rebound from a horrific start to the season. Keeping the ball in the park has been the biggest problem, allowing 2 homers per nine innings, basically double of the average pitcher. He may have to perform well to avoid a stint in Gwinnett. Strasburg has been great again so far, posting a 2.21 ERA and a matching 2.20 FIP. The Braves have had success against him, though his peripherals are still very good in his two starts against us.
Game 3: Brandon Beachy vs. Gio Gonzalez
The best matchup, and the ESPN Sunday Night game, two pitchers with sub-2.00 ERAs will square off. Beachy is coming off a start where he allowed 3 HR, although he really didn’t pitch any worse than he has the rest of the season. Gonzalez has been as good as Strasburg so far, keeping the ball in the park more and striking out just as many hitters. His one weakness is control, walking 10% of batters faced. While he can run it up there from 91-95, his best pitch is a power curve, 78-80 with sharp drop.
Offensively, the Nationals have been a bit below average this year, posting a team .243/.314/.391 slashline, compared to the Braves’ .259/.325/.405 mark. I will go over the Nationals’ rolling and strolling for both the season and the last two weeks, while I’ll just do the last two weeks for the Braves.
Michael Bourn (.306/.317/.565): While the walks have disappeared, a sudden power surge has helped Bourn maintain a very good line for the season.
Dan Uggla (.229/.387/.458): Despite the poor average, Uggla has walked 13 times and started to show his usual power, while not butchering anything in the field.
Brian McCann (.324/.410/.471): Despite a .303 BABIP, McCann has produced a great line by not striking out once in the 39 PA during the span.
Tyler Pastornicky (.267/.283/.311): An empty average and a -3 UZR has Pastornicky providing below replacement-level performance the last two weeks.
Jason Heyward (.192/.250/.308): Heyward has walked very little and struck out a ton lately, often getting exposed up in the zone.
Freddie Freeman (.174/.283/.304): Freeman has improved his plate discipline, just struggling through the stretch with a .200 BABIP.
Nationals (rolling, year)
Adam LaRoche (.297/.392/.545): Our old friend LaRoche is off to a great start this year, hitting his way to 1.6 WAR so far.
Ian Desmond (.275/.299/.477): The spike in power for Desmond has offset the sheer lack of walks so far, providing above average offense at a premium position.
Nationals (strolling, year)
Xavier Nady (.130/.183/.260): Getting 82 PA due to the injuries, Nady has been horrible offensively and in the field, costing the Nationals one win so far (-1 WAR).
Danny Espinosa (.221/.305/.344): After a nice first full season, Espinosa has seen his high K rate rise even more and his power has faded some.
Nationals (rolling, last 2 weeks)
Ian Desmond (.322/.333/.610): The past two weeks have basically been a higher BABIP version of his season so far.
Danny Espinosa (.295/.367/.591): Despite being on the strolling year-to-date list, Espinosa has turned it on lately, regressing to his plate discipline numbers of last year.
Nationals (strolling, last 2 weeks)
Rick Ankiel (.154/.267/.282): Ankiel has a 40% K rate the past two weeks, starting every day in center field.
The Braves are catching Washington at a time when their starting catcher, left fielder, and right fielder are all out with injuries, along with their closer and another set-up man in Brad Lidge. The Braves need to take advantage of the lack of lineup depth and take 2 out of 3 to possibly put some doubt in the Nationals’ heads. It should be a fun series, most likely low-scoring.