The Washington Nationals (27-27) opened May with two wins over the Atlanta Braves (32-21), and will look to close out the month in a similar fashion.
The Braves have taken the upper hand in the season series between the division rivals so far, winning five of seven games, and the Nationals currently sit five and a half games behind them in the NL East, which is the farthest they have trailed all season.
Though there are still plenty of games left to influence the standings, a strong series win by either team would make a statement about the state of the rivalry as we enter the heart of the season.
Rejuvenating The Offense
In order to make that statement that they are the reigning NL East champions, the Nationals will need to persist in their attempt to amp up their offensive production.
The Nationals’ offense continued its struggle through May, putting up a slash line of .228/.286/.361, but it showed signs of life recently. In their last seven games, Nats hitters put together a team batting average of .268 (which is significantly higher than their season batting average of .231) with nine home runs, and they are averaging 4.43 runs per game in that span, almost a full run higher than their season average of 3.52 per game.
With any luck, they will continue to build on that recent success to overcome their rival Braves and to allow Davey Johnson, who vowed to keep growing his beard until the offense picked up, to shave.
Producing at the plate will be a must in order for the Nationals to beat the Braves, who have outscored them 30-13 so far this season and who have a .249/.319/.416 slash line for May with the fifth-most home runs of the month (34).
After finishing a series against the Baltimore Orioles, the Braves will be the second team in a row the Nationals will face that treats every game like it’s the Home Run Derby. While the Orioles set the bar for most home runs in baseball at 75, the Braves are not far behind in second place with 72. The Nationals are creeping up in the ranks as power hitters though, as their seven home runs in the Orioles series alone put their total for the year at 51.
Home runs certainly seem to have had their impact on the outcome of Braves games -- for as much as you want to read into that – as Atlanta has gone 30-6 in games with a home run this season and 2-15 in games without one.
However, neither team’s pitching staff gives up many home runs. The Nationals have given up only 47 this season, and the Braves have allowed only 48.
With five Braves pitchers on currently on the 15-day DL, including reliever Eric O’Flaherty (2.50 ERA), the Nationals are in a position to test the short-handed pitching staff at Turner Field with their potentially revitalized offense as they look to show the Braves that winning the NL East won’t be an easy task.
Bryce Harper will miss his fifth straight game with bursitis in his left knee. He was aiming to be back in the lineup for the series opener, but will wait at least another day before returning.
In The Zone
Adam LaRoche (1B) .417 AVG, .500 OBP, .917 SLG, 3 HR, 7 RBI (last seven games)
Evan Gattis (C) .500 AVG, .529 OBP, .938 SLG, 2 HR (last five games)
Freddie Freeman (1B) .433 AVG, .452 OBP, .700 SLG, 2 HR (last seven games)
Justin Upton (LF) .167 AVG, .259 OBP, .208 SLG, 11 SO (last six games)
Dan Uggla (2B) .211 AVG, .375 OBP, .526 SLG, 9 SO (last six games)
5/31, Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.49 ERA, .215 BAA, 71 SO) vs. Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.67 ERA, .285 BAA, 35 SO)
6/1, Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90 ERA, .213 BAA, 60 SO) vs. Tim Hudson (4-4, 5.37 ERA, .266 BAA, 45 SO)
6/2, Nathan Karns (0-0, 6.23 ERA, .278 BAA, 3 SO) vs. Paul Maholm (6-4, 3.74 ERA, .250 BAA, 51 SO)