You have to give the Nationals credit. The once heavy favorites to steal the NL East crown from the Braves have looked the part over the last three months after an abysmal beginning to their season, sporting a .662 winning percentage since late May – the best mark in the National League.
With 36 games remaining, the Braves have a 5-game lead over the Nationals.
The Nats have a NL-best .662 win% over 74 games dating back to May 24. They've made up 3.5 games ATL during this span.
The Nats have 38 games remaining. Over their past 38, they've gained 2 games on ATL
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) August 20, 2019
The Nationals are winners of seven of their last eight and have three games remaining in their series with the Pittsburgh Pirates – who have lost a gaudy 22 of their last 27 contests. Washington follows it with a three-game set against the struggling Cubs, two games versus Baltimore, and three against the lowly Fish. This is a stretch the Nats have been waiting to take advantage of, and it precedes a span in which they play the Braves seven times in eleven days. They are hungry, focused, and ready to make their run, but the Braves are also entering a favorable part of their schedule.
After coming up with back-to-back critical series wins against two of the hottest teams in baseball – the Mets and the Dodgers – Atlanta gets to stay at home and play three with the Marlins. The Braves are 12-4 against the Fish this year, but they did split their last series two games to two. It is imperative they don’t let that happen again. Then, Atlanta plays the Mets for three, followed by a makeup with the Rockies, two with the Blue Jays, three with the White Sox, and two with the Blue Jays again. All more than winnable ball games that could separate them from the rest of the NL East for good. But nothing can be taken for granted, especially when looking at all the injuries that have piled up.
There has still yet to be a positive update on Dansby Swanson. As far as we know, he’s no better than he was two weeks ago. The Braves have managed to make-do without him, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t beginning to worry as we inch closer to September.
The outfield is in complete shambles. Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte may not be ready to return at all this season. Austin Riley should be cleared for rehab assignments in the next week or so, and what’s left is Ronald Acuña and his band of misfits. Adam Duvall and Rafael Ortega have each helped Atlanta win some games with timely power, and Billy Hamilton just joined the team today but will be used sparingly with the bat.
Like it has been for some time, the Braves will be relying on the top four in their lineup for the majority of their offensive production. Acuña and Donaldson have been on fire in August. Let’s see if Freddie can turn it up a notch when the team needs him most.
The pitching staff will also have to be at its best. The starting rotation appears to be coming together. Mike Soroka is a superstar, Max Fried has been phenomenal in his last five starts, Julio Teheran has been a stud since May, and even Mike Foltynewicz is showing signs of a comeback. But it all starts with Dallas Keuchel, who has been inconsistent in his tenure with the Braves. His last outing against the Mets might have been his best since signing with Atlanta, and this crucial streak begins with him on the bump against the Marlins, who he gave up ten hits and eight runs to on August 8th. It’s time for him to earn his money against Elieser Hernandez and the rest of the Fish tonight at 7:20 ET at SunTrust Park.