Braves-Nats series preview

782690.png

Braves-Nats series preview

Braves @ Nationals
50-41 2nd in NL East 53-37 1st in NL East

The Rundown
Friday, July 20-Sunday, July 22
Series 31
Season Series Record vs. Braves: Nationals lead 6-2
Pitching Probables
Friday, July 20 7:05 pm
Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02 ERA) @ Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.66 ERA)

Saturday, July 21 1:05 pm 7:05 pm
1:05: Ben Sheets (1-0, 0.00 ERA) @ Edwin Jackson (5-5, 3.89 ERA)

7:05: Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52 ERA) @ John Lannan (2012 debut)
denotes left handed pitcher

Sunday, July 22 1:35 pm
Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20) @ Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.15 ERA)
denotes left handed pitcher

Whos Hot & Whos Not
Braves
Hot: 1B Freddie Freeman - .417 AVG, 3HR, 8 RBI in 10-game hit streak
Not: 2B Dan Uggla .095 AVG, 16 K in 42 AB in July

Nationals
Hot: 3B Ryan Zimmerman .400 AVG, 4 HR, 6 RBI in last 10 games
Not: C Jesus Flores .147 AVG, 7 K, 3 GIDP in July

A Series Look
While its still only July, this series ranks as the biggest of the year to date for both clubs. The Braves and Nationals are two of the top teams in the National League, separated in division positions by just 3.5 games. A Braves series sweep would vault Atlanta into first place in the NL East. Luckily for the Nationals, Washington has fared well against Atlanta with a 6-2 advantage this season.

Braves 2B Dan Uggla has struggled mightily recently, but loves facing tonights starter Stephen Strasburg (.538 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI). While Strasburg hasnt fared as well against the Braves this season (2-1, 4.20 ERA) as he does against most of his competition, odds are he gives Washington a strong start if the weather cooperates. His counterpart - Tommy Hanson - hasnt been himself this season, but is probably the best of the bunch that the Braves are throwing on the mound this weekend.

In tomorrows doubleheader, John Lannan will make his 2012 MLB debut. The 5 million left-handed starter went from starting two Opening Days in years past to riding busses in AAA this season. Lannan, though, has been very good in his career against Atlanta (8-5, 3.25 ERA, personal best vs. opponent 60 k) and could be the guy the Nats turn to whenif they shut down Strasburg.
As mentioned earlier, while there are two months and some change left to play, this series could have huge implications going forward. The cellar dweller Phillies and struggling Marlins trail in double digits in games back. The Mets have been reeling. At this very moment, it looks like the NL East race could come down to just the Nats and Braves this summer.

While most of the Nationals players will tell you its just another series, deep down they know whats on the line and they know that they could really extend their 1st place lead with a series win.

Nats fans, who have suffered through 100 loss seasons in the past, finally get to experience a series like this one. And if you still dont believe that Washington has arrived on the map, todays poll on MLB Networks The Rundown flashed results of their Friday poll that said the Braves-Nationals weekend series was the most intriguing one (winning over the likes of White Sox-Tigers and Rangers-Angels).

Prediction: Series split 2-2

News and Notes>Trade winds: Despite comments from manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo, I still see the Nats in the market for a starting pitcher (Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, James Shields, etc) and a catcher (Ramon Hernandez) before the trade deadline is over. I do think they have cooled on the idea of adding additional OF help, though.

>MASH update: Jayson Werth (wrist) was supposed to start his rehab assignment tonight for APotomac, but with the inclement weather, he will not appear in the line-up There is an outside chance that UTIL Chad Tracy (groin) could re-join the team in New York on Monday.

>Welcome Back: I thought RHP Drew Storen (elbow) looked decent in his 2012 MLB debut. He faced a talented chunk of Mets hitters, retiring all three. His velocity will get better, but I liked what I saw out of his new and improved sinker SS Ian Desmond (oblique) will make his return to the Nats starting line-up after missing four straight starts.

Down on the Farm
>AAASyracuse: OF Corey Brown hit his 21st home run of the season yesterday. He is batting .300 with 57 RBI. A September call-up is most likely in his future, unless the club dangles him as trade bait OF Eury Perez was promoted from AAHarrisburg last night. Perez, a speedy CF, is viewed as the Nationals 5th best prospect (according to MLB.coms Jonathan Mayo). Perez was hitting .300 with 26 stolen bases this season in AA.
>AAHarrisburg: Staying on the topic of promotions, 2011 draft pick Brian Goodwin was bumped all the way from AHagerstown to AAHarrisburg. Goodwin was hitting at a .324 clip, 9 homers, 38 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Its not the first time a Nats top position prospect skipped APotomac. He now joins fellow Top 10 prospect Destin Hood and William & Mary product Chris Rahl in the Senators outfield.

>A (Advanced)Potomac: As predicted last week, 2011 1st round pick SP Alex Meyer was promoted. He will start tonights game in Potomac, leaving behind a 7-4 record with a 3.10 ERA and SAL leading 107 K in Hagerstown 3B Steven Souza is returning to Potomac as a reward after hitting .290 with 17 HR and 72 RBI for AHagerstown In case you missed it, earlier this week the P-Nats unveiled plans for a 6,000-7,000 seat, state of the art stadium that would be built in time for the 2014 season. For more, view this report: http:www2.insidenova.comsports2012jul1713new-stadium-share-location-comm...

>AHagerstown: Nats top 20 prospect SP Taylor Jordan has rejoined the Suns after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Jordan has the ceiling of a 4-5 starter.

>A (Short Season)Auburn: 2012 3rd round pick SP Brett Mooneyham has yet to give up a run in 8.2 IP.
>RookieGCL and DSL Nationals: 2011 1st round pick 3B Anthony Rendon is rehabbing for the clubs rookie league team. Rendon, playing in his second game today, went 1-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI.

Q&A Corner
This weeks guest is Brian Oliver, Owner of Nationals Farm Authority. (For more go to NatsFarm.com)
CSN:The MLB trade deadline is really inching closer now and despite the Nationals having one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, they appear to be in the market for another starting pitcher. Of the names rumored to be available, which ones intrigue you the most?

NFA: The name that intrigues me the most is Francisco Liriano. The lefthander is a free agent at the end of the season but there is something that appeals to me about taking a flier on a trade and then extending him. A change of scenery and a move to the NL could add depth to an already deep rotation. Another less discussed name is Brandon McCarthy (currently on the DL with Oakland). He'd cost less in prospects than Liriano and provide rotation depth

CSN:Are there any other areas of need, where you think this team should improve in? I get an inkling Washington is searching for a catcher - Ramon Hernandez, perhaps?
NFA:Catching is an interesting choice. I believe a catcher would be an area where they can help this year. I have concerns about how long it's going to take to get Ramos back and how effective he is going to be after the injury. Ramon Hernandez should come cheaply if Colorado really is looking to shed payroll (he's owed 3.2M in 2013).

CSN:Tis the season for minor league promotions! Which ones that have already happened (or will happen soon), should get Nats fans excited the most?
NFA:Two of them from the 2011 draft. First, RHP Alex Meyer was promoted from Hagerstown to Potomac and makes his first start tonight and OF Brian Goodwin jumped from Hagerstown to Harrisburg (skipping Potomac).

Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

chasecmills052316refframe_1.jpg

Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

BY RICH GOLDBERG (@GoldyStats)

After dismantling the Cardinals 10-2 in the series finale on Sunday, the Nationals hit the road for a nine-game road trip that will see them take on their N.L. East rival Philadelphia Phillies, the N.L. Central cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds and the suddenly ice-cold Chicago White Sox.

CSN researcher Rich Goldberg details the five stats you need to know before the Nats start June off on the road.

RELATED: CONSISTENCY KEY TO STRASBURG'S HISTORIC START

1. Bryce Harper has a 6-game home run streak at Philadelphia.

The only other visiting player to do that in Philadelphia? Hall of Famer Ernie Banks back in 1955.

 

2. Wilson Ramos is hitting .336 and leads all MLB catchers.

The previous 5 seasons, Ramos batted .270, .246, .250, .265 and .252 through the end of May.

 

3. Daniel Murphy has a career .406 batting average (26 for 64) at Great American Ballpark.

That is Murphy’s highest BA at any ballpark with a minimum of 4 games played.

 

4. Tanner Roark is 1-4 with a 8.27 career ERA in 5 road games (4 starts) at Philadelphia.

Roark has the fifth worst ERA by a visiting player at Citizens Bank Park, with a minimum of 4 starts. Roark pitches Monday against the Phillies.

 

5. Stephen Strasburg is the first pitcher in Nationals/Expos history to begin a season 9-0 and he’s 9 strikeouts away from his 1000th career K.

Strasburg is scheduled to start Saturday against the Reds.

Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

528natscutinrefframe_1.jpg

Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

Exactly when Stephen Strasburg reached a turning point over the last nine or so months depends on whom you ask and where you look. 

Based solely on the numbers, Strasburg has been a different pitcher ever since he returned from the disabled list last August. In his 21 outings since Aug. 8, 2015, Strasburg is 15-2 with a 2.31 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 28 walks in 140 innings pitched.

For Jayson Werth, there was a noticeable change in Strasburg this spring training.

"He came in and he just had a good feel to him. He looked a little bigger, like he was in real good shape. He was talking a lot, which is always a good sign from him. He doesn’t always say too much," Werth said. 

"It just kind of felt like he was going to have a big year. So far, so good. He’s looked great. Obviously, I think the contract has helped… free agency can mess with some guys’ heads sometimes. He’s not going to have to deal with that."

For batterymate Wilson Ramos, the change in Strasburg is in the details. It's in his health and the way he works around trouble during his starts.

"He’s got a different mindset," Ramos said through an interpreter. "I know in the past his injuries have affected his performance out there. He’s always been a great starter for us. But before this year, it seemed like when he gets behind a run or two his morale would drop. This year, he stays optimistic out there and keeps attacking hitters no matter if he gives up a run or two. He’s very aggressive and it’s shown. He’s doing a great job for us out there."

Whatever the reason or the timing, Strasburg has found a new level of consistency this year, as the Nationals have won all 11 of his starts and at a perfect 9-0, he has the best record to begin a season in franchise history. That bests the 8-0 start for Pedro Martinez back in 1997 when he was with the Expos.

All of Strasburg's last 15 outings have resulted in a Nationals victory. This season he's gone at least six innings in all of his starts and only three times has he allowed more than two runs.

In Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals, Strasburg did what he's become increasingly prone to do. He allowed just one run across six innings and scattered six hits and two walks. The lone run came on a Brandon Moss homer in the fourth inning and that was the only extra-base hit he allowed on the day.

Almost every time the Cardinals threatened, he quickly stopped the bleeding and got the Nationals' defense off the field. 

"He's certainly earning his money," manager Dusty Baker said. "This is big for him, for him and us. He's been trying to figure out probably for a couple years why he's not a big winner because he has the stuff to be a big winner."

Becoming a 'big winner' requires some help, of course, and Strasburg is getting plenty of it. In his 11 starts this season the Nationals are averaging seven runs per game. 

That will take the pressure off.

"The guys swung the bats good today. I was just happy to give them a chance," Strasburg said.

Barrage of homers lead Nats past Cardinals in series finale

brycecuttingglovesrefframe_1.jpg

Barrage of homers lead Nats past Cardinals in series finale

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Sometimes in baseball all it takes is a second look at a pitcher and on Sunday the difference between the Nationals' first run through the lineup and their second against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha was quite significant.

For the first three innings, the Nats were held hitless, the only baserunner earned on a walk to Wilson Ramos. But then in the fourth, things quickly devolved for Wacha. The Cardinals right-hander gave up two hits to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. He then allowed a two-RBI single to Ramos with two outs.

The three runs in the fourth off Wacha gave them the lead, but a five-run seventh inning put this one on ice for the Nationals. Anthony Rendon led off with a solo homer and Jayson Werth cleaned up the rest with a pinch-hit grand slam. It was Werth's sixth career grand slam and his first ever as a pinch-hitter. It was also just the second pinch-hit grand slam in Nats' history following Justin Maxwell's in September of 2007. You don't see them very often.

Ramos then added a two-run homer in the eighth to make it 10-2. It was Ramos' third hit of the day.

Ten runs were more than enough help for Stephen Strasburg and the Nats' bullpen. Strasburg gave up one run on a homer to Brandon Moss, but otherwise limited damage throughout the afternoon with six hits and two walks spread across six strong innings. Strasburg now has the best start in franchise history at 9-0.

The Nats' bullpen ran into some trouble in the seventh with a bases-loaded jam with one out, but Felipe Rivero escaped the frame with just one run allowed and a lead intact. The run came on a sac fly by Matt Adams, but all things considered, it could have been much, much worse. 

What it means: The Nationals closed their homestand on a positive note as they get set for an 11-day road trip, which is tied for the longest one they have this season. They also finished their season series against the Cardinals with a 5-2 record. That's a nice change of course after they went 8-18 against them from 2012 through 2015.

Rendon smacks homer No. 4: Rendon added an insurance run in the eighth inning with a solo home run to right field on the first pitch he saw from reliever Jonathan Broxton. After having zero homers in April, Rendon has four this month. He has reached safely in 20 of his last 22 games. In 18 games going back to May 10, Rendon is 24-for-63 (.381) with two homers, six doubles, a triple, 10 RBI, 12 walks, 11 runs and three steals. He posted his 10th multi-hit outing of that 18-game stretch. Even taking Saturday night off did not cool him down.

Ramos hits No. 6: Ramos reached base four times on Sunday with a walk and three hits in three at-bats. He hit a two-run bomb to left field in the eighth inning, his sixth homer of the season. Ramos is now batting .336 through 40 games this season.

Zimmerman gets another XBH: After going 4-for-4 with two homers on Saturday night, Zimmerman notched another extra-base hit on Sunday with his double in the fourth inning. Zimmerman now has 10 doubles on the season and 14 extra-base hits in May after posting just four in April. The problem for Zimmerman has been consistency this season in putting together more than two solid games in a row. Just last week he had two hits in consecutive games on May 23-24, then went hitless in four straight outings. On May 10 he had two homers, but that was during a stretch where he went 5-for-37 across nine games. It has truly been feast or famine for the Nats' first baseman this season.

Harper drives in a run: Harper's RBI single to score Michael Taylor in the fourth inning gave him his fourth straight game with a hit. He also has an RBI in five of his last eight games despite only having four hits during that stretch. Harper has scored a run in four straight outings. Overall, though, it was another frustrating day for Harper, who went 1-for-4 with a strikeout. After he popped out in the sixth, he was shown on a television replay chucking his batting helmet in the dugout.

Strasburg left in, then pulled: Strasburg's exit after six innings was part of some creative managing for Dusty Baker. He sent Strasburg out to start the seventh after 104 pitches, but then brought in Oliver Perez before Strasburg even threw a pitch in the inning. He called on Perez once Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in Kolten Wong as a pinch-hitter. And once Matheny saw Perez come in, he replaced Wong with Aledmys Diaz to pinch-hit. There was a pitching change and two pinch-hitters inserted into the game all before a single pitch was thrown. The Nats, by the way, have now won all 11 of Strasburg's starts this season and 15 in a row dating back to 2015.

Up next: The Nats embark on a long road trip beginning with three games in Philly. They play three at the Phillies, then three at the Reds and White Sox. Monday night will be a 7:05 p.m. start with Tanner Roark (3-4, 2.71) set to pitch opposite Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97).