The Washington Nationals (13-12) were swept by the Atlanta Braves (15-9) the last time the two teams met, but that didn’t shake their confidence in their ability to win the coming rematch at Turner Field in Atlanta.
The Nationals played probably the worst they had all season in the last series. The offense mustered only 16 hits to the Braves’ 29, the pitching gave up 18 runs to the Braves’ five, and the defense committed four costly errors. However, the Nationals have been playing much more like a winning team in their more recent games, which makes Jordan Zimmermann, who will pitch the third game of the four-game set, convinced that this series will not resemble the previous one.
“We didn't play very well that series,” Zimmermann said, according to MLB.com. “We feel we are playing pretty good ball right now. We'll go down there and try to win as many ballgames as we can and win the series down there. We can try to sweep them at their place and send a message that we are a lot better than we showed [at Nationals Park]."
Even before the Nationals’ fortunes began changing, second baseman Danny Espinosa believed in his team’s ability to beat the Braves and send that message.
"I still don't think that they are the better than us,” Espinosa said at the conclusion of the April 14 game, according to MLB.com. "They are hot right now. … It doesn't last forever. So I'm not worried about it. I'm going to be real confident the next 16 games."
Espinosa has a reason to be confident, considering the momentum each team has going into the series. The Nationals just completed a series win over the Cincinnati Reds behind outstanding pitching performances, while the Braves have been on a downward slide since shortly after they played the Nationals, and were just swept by the Detroit Tigers.
The last time the Braves faced the Nationals, they cruised through Washington on a 10-game winning streak. But since the Kansas City Royals broke up the streak, wins have been harder to come by for Atlanta. They have gone 3-8 since then, and were shut out three times, in meetings against the Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Tigers.
Though the Braves’ offense was hot out of the gate – they hit .259 with 25 home runs and won 12 of their first 13 games of the season – it has cooled down considerably in the last 11 games, as they have batted .223 with 11 home runs. They also struck out 114 times in that span, contributing to their NL-leading 224 strikeouts.
Nationals’ pitchers have struck out 178 batters so far this season, and if they bring their strikeout stuff to this series as they did to the Reds series, they have a good chance of making the statement they couldn’t deliver before, on the Braves home field.
The Nationals are now two and a half games behind the Braves in the standings, so if they were able to sweep the series they could take over first place for the first time since April 6.
The social media team for the Braves has taken inspiration from the Nationals’ #Natitude campaign, by promoting this series with a photo that pairs the image of rookie catcher Evan Gattis with the words “Show some Gattitude.”
However, even Gattis hasn’t been showing his “Gattitude” recently. In his last eight games he is hitting .172/.226/.379 with nine strikeouts and one home run. Despite his power surge to start the season, it seems opposing pitchers are adjusting to him and he is now hitting .236/.291/.556 with six home runs on the season.
In the last series, Nationals pitchers struck him out twice and gave up only two hits to him in 11 at-bats (.182 average), but one of those hits was a home run off Stephen Strasburg. Gattis will face Strasburg again in the series opener, and it will be seen if Natitude or Gattitude prevails.
The End of April Showers
The month will switch from April to May mid series, which is good news for the struggling Adam LaRoche and the Nats offense in general. There is obviously nothing magical about flipping a page on a calendar, but historically the Nationals’ offensive stats are better in May than they are in April.
Adam LaRoche is hitting .215/.308/.394 in April through his career, compared to .246/.330/.433 in May. While his current slash line of .135/.210/.270 is significantly lower than his April average, hopefully his slump will end as he progresses through a month that has traditionally been kinder to him.
Similarly, the Nationals’ offense overall ticked up substantially in May of last year. In April 2012 the Nats were hitting .226/.304/.328 with 13 home runs (which was actually worse than they are currently performing at .237/.300/.401 with 27 home runs through the first month of this season). In May 2012 all of those numbers increased (.257/.320/.447, 34 HR) so if the trend continues, Nationals fans can look for the Nats’ bats to heat up as the weather gets warmer.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will miss all of this series, as he isn’t due to be activated from the disabled list until Friday, but catcher Wilson Ramos should be back in action for Monday’s game after straining his hamstring on April 13.
In The Zone
Denard Span (CF) .346 AVG, .346 OBP, .423 SLG, 2 SB (last six games) plus three outstanding catches in two days.
Justin Upton (LF) .286 AVG, .423 OBP, .619 SLG, 2 HR (last six games)
Andrelton Simmons (SS) .263 AVG, .364 OBP, .263 SLG, 2 RBI (last six games)
B.J. Upton (CF) .115 AVG, .142 OBP, .231 SLG, 11 SO (last six games)
Dan Uggla (2B) .158 AVG, .238 OBP, .368 SLG, 11 SO (last five games)
4/29, Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.16 ERA, .221 BAA, 28 SO) vs. Julio Teheran (1-0, 5.48 ERA, .309 BAA, 15 SO)
4/30, Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 4.50 ERA, .190 BAA, 27 SO) vs. Tim Hudson (2-1, 4.50 ERA, .259 BAA, 18 SO)
5/1, Jordan Zimmermann (4-1, 2.00 ERA, .186 BAA, 19 SO) vs. Paul Maholm (3-2, 3.30 ERA, .225 BAA, 28 SO)
5/2, Dan Haren (2-3, 6.29 ERA, .355 BAA, 20 SO) vs. Kris Medlen (1-3, 3.26 ERA, .267 BAA, 18 SO)