Braves head into critical series with the Nationals as hot as ever

dkb180921038 braves vs phillies

The Braves have looked adversity straight in the eye and punched it square in the face. Ever since the All-Star break, it’s been injury after injury. Nick Markakis, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, Brian McCann – the list goes on. Rafael Ortega, Matt Joyce, Adam Duvall, Adeiny Hechavarria, Francisco Cervelli have all filled in admirably, as the red-hot Washington Nationals have attempted to chase down the NL East leaders – but the Braves – they never wavered.

Following the Nationals loss yesterday, Atlanta stretched their lead to seven games with only 22 remaining on the schedule. Their magic number is down to seventeen, and perhaps the most daunting thing for the Nationals is their division rivals are finally getting healthy. Dansby Swanson has returned to the starting lineup. Brian McCann is back. Austin Riley has played nearly ten games in Gwinnett and is awaiting the call, and Nick Markakis has begun playing catch again.

So I’m not going to call this the most significant series of the season like most. Those have already happened weeks ago, when the Nationals wouldn’t stop losing, and the Braves matched them blow for blow. But it is the first opportunity for them to put a bowtie on the division and leave the pesky Nats planning for a one-game play-in the rest of the way.

The four-game set will feature a bevy of entertaining pitching matchups that remind you how fun a series between these two teams would be if they indeed meet in October. The Braves will send Max Fried to the mound tonight against Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg has had the Braves number this year, winning all three games he has started, but he does carry a mediocre 3.93 ERA in those matchups. A win for the good guys is not unfathomable with Fried on the mound, who had a 3.53 ERA in August. Although, he surrendered nine hits and four earned runs in 5.2 innings in his only outing against the Nats this season.

A battle of lefty maestros will take place in game two. Patrick Corbin, who has been worth every penny in his first year with Washington will face off with Dallas Keuchel. We know Corbin is going to make it tough on the Braves’ bats, but Keuchel has been the best pitcher on the staff over the last four rotations, allowing just three runs (1.08 ERA) since being walloped by a lowly Marlins offense.

The Braves will have the edge in Game 3 with Julio Teheran on the mound against Joe Ross. Ross is 3-4 with a 6.17 ERA. Teheran has a 2.73 ERA since May 5th. His ability to overcome his struggles of the past has been nothing short of amazing, and many of us were prodding the Braves to trade him this offseason – myself included.

The ultimate showdown will occur in the series finale, as two Cy Young award candidates may decide how competitive the final weeks of September will be. Max Scherzer and his 2.60 ERA and 207 strikeouts will face Mike Soroka – who has been the best pitcher for Atlanta all year and the most consistent arm in baseball.

If the Nationals have any chance of chasing down the Braves; they have to take at least three of four this weekend. And with the way Atlanta has been performing in all three facets (offense, starting pitching, bullpen) that is going to be extraordinarily difficult to do. A split is a win for the Braves, and this might be the last chance for the Nats to make their division rivals sweat before October.

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