A 4.5 game lead in the middle of June is far from insurmountable, but the momentum is soundly in the Braves favor. The Phillies are skidding, as things appear to be unraveling a bit in the city of brotherly love. Injuries are mounting up, pitching is faltering, hustling is optional, and fingers are beginning to point. It may only be 4.5 games, but it feels like a lot more based on how these two teams are acting.
Meanwhile, Washington doesn’t believe they are out of yet. Before one of the games in their series versus Philadelphia this week, they were wearing shirts that said: “stay in the fight” on the front and “162+” on the back.
#Nats all wearing shirts that say “stay in the fight” on the front & on the back “162+”
— Alex Chappell (@AlexChappell) June 19, 2019
Unbelievably corny for a baseball team that was nine games out of first, but whatever it takes for some extra motivation I guess. It worked, as the Nationals swept the Phillies and are now 7.5 games behind the Braves. They feel like they have life, and that will only grow with a series win this weekend against Atlanta.
Tonight, Dallas Keuchel makes his highly anticipated Braves debut, and the Nationals have decided to send out Stephen Strasburg. This is the definition of a statement game in June. Last time Strasburg faced the Braves, he got the best of Max Fried, and the Nationals swept a two-game series. Washington believes they are the better team, but the Braves have been streaking ever since.
Atlanta’s offense is scorching hot, coming off an 8-2 homestand in which they scored 84 runs. Austin Riley made this lineup great, but the emergence of Josh Donaldson has made it nearly unstoppable. The only one who has had any luck was Jacob DeGrom, and he won’t be on the mound in Washington. The Braves also didn’t have this Keuchel guy – who has a pretty good reputation. A win by him tonight would send a message to the rest of the division: the Braves are loaded and all-in – if the signing itself didn’t do that already.
Washington has hope, but this might be their last run before waiving the white flag. A series win this weekend could officially turn the NL East into a two-man race, and who knows if the Phillies can keep from spiraling. Dallas Keuchel can get it started tonight by kicking a division rival while they are down.