Thursday starts a big four-game series that could decide the fate of the National League East. The Washington Nationals travel to Atlanta to take on the Braves as they sit seven games back for the lead in the division.
Both teams have been red-hot heading into this series. The division-leading Braves have won 14 of their last 16 games, including six straight, to give them an 86-54 record. The Nationals have won 10 of their last 13 games to catapult them to a 78-60 record. This run by Washington has launched them into the first Wild Card spot in the NL by three games.
What an absolute doozy of a pitching matchup we get in the opener. Two bonafide studs going head to head in September in a playoff race. This is what baseball is all about.
For the Nationals, former first overall pick Stephen Strasburg gets the ball to make his 29th start of the season. He’s had another excellent season in Washington so far, going 16-5 with a 3.47 earned run average.
The scary thing here is that he has been untouchable this season against the Braves. He’s made three starts against Atlanta, and he has won all three with a 3.93 ERA. He has also only lost one road start since the end of May. Not to say pitching at SunTrust Park would be a problem for him anyway, as he owns a 3.21 career ERA pitching in Atlanta.
The Braves will send out fellow Cy Young candidate in the NL, Max Fried. Fried will be making his 27th start in what has been his first full season in the majors. All he has done in that first season is put up a 15-4 record with a 4.05 ERA.
It’s not even like he’s getting lucky pitching on a great team either, because his peripherals are incredible. His K/9 is 9.48, his BB/9 is 2.66, and his HR/9 is 1.07. The analytics say he’s actually pitching better than his ERA suggests, with both his FIP and xFIP being much lower.
Fried has only made one start against the Nationals this season, and it ended up being a loss. He went 5 2/3 innings and gave up four runs while walking five batters and giving up nine hits. He has been terrific of late, however, winning his last six decisions.
Batters To Watch
I get it. Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger have been insane this season. But Anthony Rendon has quietly been just as great. Rendon is batting .338 with 32 home runs and 114 runs batted in. His OBP, SLG and wRC+ are pretty much identical to that of Bellinger. Oh, and he just got done hitting nearly .400 with eight home runs in August. So why are we forgetting about Rendon again?
The Braves really need Ronald Acuna Jr. to break out of this mini-slump for this series. He only has three hits in his last 38 at-bats.
I really think the Nationals have the potential to take three of these four games from the Braves based on the pitching matchups. The first game will be a tough test, but I think they get it done. Take the Nationals.