State of the Nats: Braves come to town

State of the Nats: Braves come to town
September 17, 2013, 8:00 am
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Braves come to town - Winners of eight of their last nine, the Nationals now welcome the big, bad Braves to Washington for their final series of the season. The Braves have had their way with the Nats this year, going 12-4 up until this point in the season series. It should be the toughest opponent the Nats have faced since they last saw Atlanta Aug. 16-18 at Turner Field. What will make this time around more interesting, however, is the possibility the Braves can clinch on the Nats' home field. If Atlanta wins two of three then they will secure the NL East division crown and enjoy a celebration at Nats Park. That's obviously something the Nats would like to avoid. They were able to clinch the division last season in front of the Philadelphia Phillies and have no intention of finding out what that feels like.

Two weeks left to chase Reds - The Nats enter the day five games behind the Reds in the NL Wild Card race, as Cincinnati beat the Astros 6-1 on Monday night. These next few days may be tough for the Nats to gain ground on Cincy as they take on the Braves who have the best record in the National League. Meanwhile, the Reds get to beat up on the worst team in the majors. Not only is Houston terrible, they are also banged up as catcher Jason Castro is out with no timetable for a return. He's one of the few young talents they have to build around. On top of that, promising young pitcher Jarred Cosart was recently shut down due to a team-imposed innings limit. Those are two of the Astros' best players and neither are available to battle the Reds.

Stephen Strasburg's recovery - When the words 'forearm tightness' were mentioned in the same sentence with Stephen Strasburg's name, it surely put a scare in many who follow the Washington Nationals, not to mention those on the team itself. But after throwing on Sunday, Strasburg is still on track to return on Sept. 19. He won't be available for the Braves series, much to the chagrin of Davey Johnson, but just getting him back for two or three more starts this season will be a great help for the Nats' playoff hopes. Strasburg has been their best starting pitcher this year when healthy and, at the very least, wants to finish the year strong. He won't hit the 200 innings mark he set out to conquer, but Strasburg can still put together 180-plus and maybe even get a chance to pitch in the postseason for the first time.

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