Atlanta stays on the road to face the Washington Nationals in a four-game set beginning with a double-header tomorrow. Injuries and turmoil have been the defining marks of the Nationals 57-54 record to this point. The Bryce Harper show at this year’s Home Run Derby that was supposed to turn the season around has not resulted in any wins. Washington has stayed at arm’s length of the division lead for the entire season. Hell, it even got so bad they flirted with dealing their poster boy Bryce Harper before he hits free agency this summer. They opted to keep him in hopes of a second half push, but with 51 games left, they are inching the point of no return.
That is where the Braves come in. Not only do they enter this series needing wins to catch up with the streaking Phillies, they have the opportunity to kick the Nationals while they are down. A role Atlanta has not played in quite some time.
There is essentially only one way the Nationals can get back into the playoff mix; beat up on the division leaders from here on out. They have nine games against the Phillies and seven with the Braves remaining. However, that proposition is easier said than done, as they are a lousy 9-13 against the two foes this season.
Meanwhile, the Braves have feasted to the tune of a 34-17 record against the NL East, including a 7-5 mark versus the Nationals.
Two rookies will take the ball in Game 1 on Tuesday. Max Fried has shown potential even though he boasts a 1-4 record. In four starts this season, he has a 2.75 ERA. The Nats are calling up Jefry Rodriguez for a spot start. Rodriguez made his MLB debut June 3rd against the Braves, throwing 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. The rest of his major league appearances have not gone as smoothly. He has allowed 15 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings.
Tuesday’s night cap should provide an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Sean Newcomb takes the mound for the first time since coming a strike away from a no-hitter. He will be up against Max Scherzer, who is in line for an incredible third Cy Young award in a row. The 33-year old is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts against the Braves this season.
Game three features Mike Foltynewicz and Tommy Milone. The All-Star, Foltynewicz holds a clear edge in the matchup. Although, Milone has been a rock in his two starts with the Nats this year. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. However, those are far better than his career averages. In the past, he has bounced across the league and really struggled to avoid the long-ball.
The finale pins Anibal Sanchez against Gio Gonzalez. On name value alone, Gonzalez looks to have an advantage, but it has actually been Sanchez that has been pitching like an All-Star of late. in 14 starts, Sanchez is 6-3 with a 2.89 ERA. Perhaps even more impressively, his WHIP is sitting just a hair above one. He has not allowed more than four earned runs in any start, and opponents have only reached that number three times. Gio Gonzalez on the other hand has been a mess, especially of late. His ERA has blown up since June, and he only went 3 2/3 innings in his last start, allowing ten hits and five earned runs.
The Red Sox pretty much crushed the Yankees chances by sweeping them in a four-game series over the weekend. Atlanta has a similar opportunity to shut the door on the Nats 2018 playoff chances and maybe even World Series hopes for the near future. There will be a lot of movement in Washington over the next year, and the Braves can kick-start that process by winning three out of four.