Originally posted on The Nats Blog old  |  Last updated 6/29/12

In what has become a common theme in the NL East, the two top teams in the division will meet in a critical mid-season contest. The Washington Nationals (43-31) and the Atlanta Braves (40-35) will face off at hot and steamy Turner Field this weekend as the Nats try to maintain a 3.5 game lead in the division. The Nats swept the Braves in their last Atlanta meeting over the Memorial Day weekend and lead the season series 4-1.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

The Nats offense will try to keep their hot streak going down in Georgia in the midst of record temperatures. The forecast has Atlanta temperatures maxing out at 105, 105, and 104 in each of the next three days. The Nats have scored 33 runs in their last three games at hitter-friendly Coors Field in warm temperatures as well. They will try to use the heat and humidity to their advantage letting the ball fly.

Despite coming off a nice offensive weekend, the Nats rank in the bottom third in almost ever relevant offensive category (average, runs, OBP) while the Braves rank in the top half in nearly all of them. The Nats will use their pitching to try to switch those roles this weekend.

Key Injury

Just over a week ago, the Braves lost their best pitcher, Brandon Beachy, to season-ending Tommy John surgery. He was the favorite to start the MLB All-Star Game for the NL with a league-leading 2.00 ERA and an incredible 0.96 WHIP in 13 starts. It’s a huge loss for a Braves team that has struggled with pitching this season. 

Pitching Breakdown

Randall Delgado (4-8, 4.52 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.09 ERA)

Mike Minor (3-6, 6.14 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (9-2, 2.60 ERA)

Tim Hudson (6-3, 3.58 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78 ERA)

The Nats have three favorable pitching matchups as they look to end this road trip at the .500 mark. They’re 3-4 on the current road swing and would have to win the series to get home at or above .500 over the last 10 games.

Ross Detwiler looked outstanding in his first start since returning to the rotation, but he might have to throw more than 100 pitches for the first time this season after the bullpen got involved early in Edwin Jackson’s ugly outing on Thursday. Strasburg matches up well against the struggling Mike Minor, while the Hudson vs. Gonzalez matchup is the most evenly-matched of the series. 

Battle Of The Closers 

Craig Kimbrel, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, has certainly not suffered from a sophomore slump this year. He give up his first home run of the season yesterday, but he has the second-highest WAR for NL relievers (Aroldis Chapman has the highest). He is 22 for 23 in save opportunities.

Meanwhile, Tyler Clippard is among the NL’s hottest closers. So much, in fact, that he will retain the job even after Drew Storen returns from injury. He hasn’t blown a save since taking on the job a few weeks back. He’s given up just one hit and no runs in the 14 games as a closer. This series may come down to these two guys.

Who’s Hot?

Michael Bourn (CF) - .323 AVG, 6 SB in June. Has hit safely in all but four games this month. 

Jason Heyward (RF) - .370 AVG, 1.111 OPS, 6 HR in June 

Andrelton Simmons (SS) - .321 AVG, .850 OPS in rookie season

Who’s Not?

Brian McCann (C) - .213 AVG, .630 OPS in June

Matt Diaz (PH/OF) - .194 AVG, .466 OPS in June

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