With the offense sputtering, the Braves leave Atlanta and head to Washington to face one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Braves have not fared well against the Nationals this year, posting a 4-8 record. Five games back in the division, a series win is probably the only way the Braves will have a shot to earn the division title.
Hudson has been hit hard by Washington this year, allowing 13 runs in 12.2 IP. He is coming off a scoreless 6.2 IP against the Padres. Zimmermann has flown way under the radar in Cy Young discussions, sporting a 2.38 ERA in 151 IP so far. This will be the WI native’s first start against the Braves this year. While only striking out an average percentage of hitters, his walk rate is nearly half the league average and he keeps the ball in the park.
Talk about contrasting styles… This will be the Nationals’ first look at Maholm’s finesse style. The Padres sure did boost the confidence of the Braves starters, as Maholm’s 1-run, 7 IP performance was the worst of the three starting this series. Strasburg has the much-ballyhooed innings limit hanging over his head, so we’ll see how much it can distract him through the end of the season. He has had a start in each start against the Braves so far this year, with the Braves managing 11 runs in 20.1 IP.
Medlen is coming off his first career shutout against the Padres last time out, hopefully cementing his place in the rotation from here on out. Out of the bullpen, Medlen has been hit around by Washington this year, allowing eight hits in 5.2 IP. Detwiler has thrown 18 unspectacular innings so far this year against the Braves, though he is 1-0 in his three starts. In his last starts, the Mets managed three runs in six innings, while the lefty walked and struck out one batter.
The Nationals are 14-5 this month, still relying on the great pitching, while their hitting starts to catch up. Danny Espinosa has been the star of the month, posting a .307/.381/.547 line. Jayson Werth has returned from his wrist injury posting a BABIP-fueled .389/.476/.500 line. Ryan Zimmerman has been solid, though the power has been lacking. The catcher spot has been a sore spot since the Wilson Ramos injury, as Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores have been struggling.
The Braves are 11-7 this month, as the pitching comes around with a 2.50 ERA. The offense has been very patient, posting an 11.2% BB rate this month. Michael Bourn has recovered from a poor July, posting a .407 OBP this month. Chipper Jones is still raking, churning out a .300/.407/.580 line at age 40. Jason Heyward has struck out a ton but is managing a 136 wRC+ in August. Brian McCann has been the Braves’ sore spot this month, with his average hovering around .100 with no extra-base hits.
Following this game, there will be 38 games left on both teams’ schedules. If the Braves fall six games behind the Nationals, the Braves would have to finish 25-13 if the Nationals coast in at .500 the rest of the way just to tie them. With the number of quality arms in the starting staff, I don’t see them doing much worse than that, even if Strasburg gets shut down early. The Braves likely need to win this series to avoid the one-game drama, which will be a tough task. I even managed to get through a Nationals preview without mentioning Bryce Harper (DOH!)