The Atlanta Braves will welcome the Washington Nationals to Turner Field for three games as the second half of the season kicks off. It isn't the most exciting series, to be sure, but baseball is finally back after its All-Star break vacation.
The Nationals aren't a bad team as they enter the series with a 46-46 record, 11½ games behind the Philadelpha Phillies in the East and eight back in the Wild Card. Washington always seem to save its best for the Braves, however, so the club could have a fight on its hands this weekend.
Let's break it down!
The Nationals are a strong club offensively -- and that's without great performances from their two stars, Ryan Zimmerman (.254/.342/.408, 108 wRC+) and Jayson Werth (.215/.319/.362, 92 wRC+). If those two were hitting to their capabilities, the Nationals would actually be one of the better offensive teams in baseball rather than their current pedestrian performance. If those two aren't hitting, though, who is?
Rookie of the year candidate Danny Espinosa (.242/.332/.460, 122 wRC+) has been a huge surprise at second base and slugging outfielder Michael Morse (.306/.351/.535, 140 wRC+) has finally put it all together this season. Catcher Wilson Ramos, acquired last year at the trade deadline, is having a nice year (.251/.328/.425, 104 wRC+) as well, leading to receiving a majority of the starts over veteran Ivan Rodriguez.
Roger Bernadina (.266/.323/.380, 103 wRC+), their left fielder, won't hit for too much power -- but he is second on the team with 13 stolen bases. Former Brave Rick Ankiel (.232/.299/.333, 79 wRC+) has battled injuries all year, but is finally healthy and roaming center field for the Nationals.
Last, but not least, Laynce Nix (.274/.315/.502, 122 wRC+) is arguably the best pinch-hitter in baseball and has killed the Braves in the past. That said, all in all, Washington brings a solid group. The Nationals only have one or two easy outs in their entire lineup along with a nice combination and balance of speed and power.
Friday, 7:35EDT - Livan Hernandez vs. Tim Hudson (SportSouth)
|2011 - Livan Hernandez||5-8||20||19||1||1||0||0||121.1||133||59||54||10||33||77||4.01||1.37|
|2011 - Tim Hudson||8-6||18||18||1||1||0||0||113.1||100||52||45||8||30||79||3.57||1.15|
Saturday, 7:10EDT - John Lannan vs. Tommy Hanson (SportSouth, MLB Network)
|2011 - John Lannan||5-6||19||19||0||0||0||0||108.2||109||46||44||8||37||58||3.64||1.34|
|2011 - Tommy Hanson||10-4||17||17||0||0||0||0||103.1||70||31||28||9||35||109||2.44||1.02|
Sunday, 1:35EDT - Tom Gorzelanny vs. Jair Jurrjens
|2011 - Tom Gorzelanny||2-6||13||13||0||0||0||0||77.2||75||37||34||14||23||70||3.94||1.26|
|2011 - Jair Jurrjens||12-3||16||16||2||1||0||0||110.2||93||25||23||5||25||65||1.87||1.07|
For a group that was so (surprisingly) good both last season and to begin 2011, the Nationals bullpen has been both lucky and pretty average this year. Their closer, Drew Storen (2.53 ERA, 3.55 xFIP, 23 saves), has been good and All-Star setup man Tyler Clippard (1.75 ERA, 3.06 xFIP) has been even better, but there's a considerable drop-off in the rest of the bullpen. Middle relievers Henry Rodriguez (2.37 ERA, 3.90 xFIP) and Todd Coffey (3.28, 4.23) have been decent, but long-man Sean Burnett (5.40 ERA, 4.60) has been pretty bad.
The Nationals are no longer the cellar-dwellers typically pegged for 100 losses each season and instead have shown that they are young, talented, and capable of winning their share of games.
Along with Washington being better than usual, the Braves typically struggle against Livan Hernandez and left-handed pitchers -- two of which they'll see in this series. Martin Prado's return will help the offense, but don't expect too many runs to be scored.
In the end, the Braves should be able to take at least two games.