The Braves basically sealed themselves off from winning the division following their debacle against Milwaukee. Somehow, the Braves maintained their lead in the Wild Card with the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates all getting swept. Currently, the Braves hold a 5 game lead over the Cardinals. But with the Cardinals and Dodgers playing a 4-game series, the Braves must at least win the series this weekend to avoid ceding ground to either of those teams.
Things won’t be all that easy this weekend though. Braves bats have been slumping pretty badly. In the month of September, Atlanta’s team slashline is .235/.309/.333. Meanwhile, the Nationals bats have been clicking on all cylinders, with a .303/.366/.565 line since September 1st. Jason Werth has been a solid boost since coming off the DL, getting on base at a .399 clip to set the table at the top of the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman is in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak, over which he’s hit 6 HRs and posted an OPS of 1.050. Adam LaRoche, while providing consistent power from the left-handed side all year, has been on fire, hitting .346 and slugging .731 in the last two weeks. Bryce Harper has rebounded, batting .330 since August 17. Round that out with Michael Morse ( .285/.315/.444) and Ian Desmond (.295/.331/.522), and the Braves pitchers will have a very tough core to deal with this weekend.
Thankfully, Kris Medlen will pitch the opener. The Braves haven’t lost with him starting a game in a good while. He lost a bit of steam in his last outing, going 6 innings and allowing 2 runs with 3 Ks and 2 walks. He’s been nothing short of great this year though, posting a 0.81 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 7.57 K/BB ratio, and fairly even splits against lefties and righties as a starter. Detwiler has been solid this year, posting a 3.23 ERA and a 3.83 FIP in 145 innings. He throws a fastball or changeup more than 80% of the time to both righties and lefties with much more effectiveness against lefties. Righties have been able to hit his low fastballs and changeups on the button from time to time. His very strong splits against lefties portend bad news for the Braves, as lefties’ wOBA against him is .222. Rights have a .313 wOBA against him.
Hanson was ok in his last couple of starts, giving up 2 runs and going 5.2 innings in each. He seems to putter along once he hits the 5th inning and Fredi seems to have figured out to pull him before he gives out. Jackson has been decent this year, with a 3.85 ERA and 3.76 FIP. He features a fastball that sits around 94mph. He throws a sinker to lefties 15% of the time, which is more than double the 7% he throws it to righties, even though lefties have put it into play much more, hit it much harder, and whiff a lot less. His out pitch is his slider, which is he throws a little less than half the time in 2 strike counts. It has been his most valuable pitch according to Fangraphs.
Minor has turned around his season. After posting an 9.95 ERA in May and a 4.55 ERA in June, he’s posted a July and August ERA of 1.98 and 3.57, respectively. Much of the drop can be attributed to his plummeting HR/FB ratio, which was a ridiculous 22.7% in May. It has dropped to 6% in August. Gio Gonzalez has arguably been better than Stephen Strasburg this season, sporting a 2.93 ERA and a 2.84 FIP. His splits are fairly even – he’s excellent against both righties and lefties. Against lefties, he tends to open the at-bat with a 4-seamer that sits at about 94 mph. Against righties, he likes to open with a sinker that sacrifices very little in velocity. His out pitch is his curveball, which he throws a little more than a 3rd of the time when he’s ahead in the count to both righties and lefties.
The matchup will be tough for sure. The Wild Card race is getting seriously intense, and even though the Braves have a fairly large lead for the 1st Wild Card spot, last year reminds us that a playoff berth cannot be taken for granted. Some wins in this series would be helpful – not just to pad the lead, but to demonstrate to the Nationals (and Braves country) that this team can hack it with the top tier teams come playoff time.