Last week when the Washington Nationals (29-21) and the Atlanta Braves (28-24) were set to face each other, the Braves were the second place team in the National League East and were one game away from snatching first place from the Nationals. Just one week later the two teams are about to do it all over again, but with some significant differences in standings and in roster make up.
This time, the Braves sit in fourth place, but are still just two games behind the first place Nationals. That small gap shows how close the NL East is becoming, and that any series against an NL East opponent is going to be important, especially as we head into June. Another series win against the Braves (who the Nats swept last week) would sure be nice to push the Nationals’ eastern rivals farther away from the top.
Little time for change
The stats for the two teams haven’t changed much since last week. The Braves’ numbers have gone down a bit, and the Nationals numbers have gone up along the same margin. Both teams’ offensive stats still sit around the middle, with just the Braves’ runs and RBI’s nearing the top. The most notable, while still marginal, change is that the Nationals team ERA has finally floated above the three mark and there is no longer a team in the Major Leagues with a two-something ERA. The Nats pitching staff still leads in ERA, and WHIP, although the Detroit Tigers have edged one strikeout in front of them to take first place in that column.
In their last meeting with the Nationals, the Braves were missing three key pieces of their lineup: Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. Jones is still on the DL with bruising on his left leg, but Freeman and McCann have rejoined the lineup.
Freeman – who developed chronic dry eyes in the last few weeks that led to two scratched corneas, making it impossible for him to wear contacts – did play in one game in the last series, but his glasses interfered with his peripheral vision while hitting. He went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, and sat the next two games of the series. Freeman received his new prescription sports glasses this week, and was able to play on Wednesday in the series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals. Apparently now with the goggles he can see the ball just fine – he hit a home run in his first at bat in five days and went 3-for-5 with three RBI’s on the night.
McCann got over his bout with the flu and played his first full game in nearly a week on Monday against the Cardinals. Since his healthy return, he has gone 2-for-12 with one home run and four RBI’s.
More roster movement
The Braves optioned shortstop Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A and called up their star minor leaguer Andrelton Simmons, who will make his first major league appearance against the Nationals on Friday. According to MLB.com, Simmons is “regarded by many scouts as the best defensive shortstop at the Minor League level.” As Pastornicky has struggled with his defense this year, committing a team-high seven errors, the move seemed obvious once it was established that Simmons was ready for the bigs. Simmons has also done well offensively in Double-A ball this year, hitting .292 with three home runs.
Catcher David Ross is day-to-day with a strained groin, meaning backup catcher J.C. Boscan will stay with the club until Ross is healed and there will be three catchers on the Braves’ roster through the weekend.
Atlanta has also called up outfielder Jose Constanza to help out their struggling bench after sending down reliever Kris Medlen in hopes of converting him to a starter. If all goes as planned, Medlen will return later this month to take over a spot in the Braves’ starting rotation. This set of transactions means the Braves will be short-handed in the bullpen this weekend, but apparently starter Randall Delgado will be available to pitch in relief if needed.
Since last week the Nationals have rearranged their roster some, too. Chad Tracy has been placed on the 15-Day DL after injuring his groin during last Saturday’s game against the Braves. Tyler Moore was sent back down to the minors to continue his progress there, and Corey Brown and Jhonatan Solano (yet another backup catcher) were brought up.
There has also been lots of buzz about the Nats’ slugger Michael Morse potentially making his first start of the season this series after straining his right lat during Spring Training, but nothing has yet been confirmed.
Although the construction of both teams is slightly different from their last meeting after all those transactions, two of three of the pitching matchups will be exactly the same as last weekend.
Stephen Strasburg and Mike Minor will again pitch against each other after similar performances in their last faceoff. Both pitchers went five innings, and allowed six hits and four earned runs.
Gio Gonzalez and Brandon Beachy will get a rematch on Saturday. Although Gio’s ERA has risen into the twos, he and Beachy remain close. Gio outperformed Beachy last time allowing just one hit and two earned runs with 10 strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
Martin Prado (OF) .332 AVG, .495 SLG, 22 RBI, 3 HR (He raised his batting average by 61 points in May and had 14 multi-hit games out of 28)
Dan Uggla (2B) .267 AVG, .455 SLG, 31 RBI, 8 HR (2 HR, 1 2B, 6 RBI last week)
Juan Francisco (3B) 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and three RBI’s in his last seven games
Jason Heyward (OF) .233 AVG, 50 SO (4-20 in last seven games)
Eric Hinske (OF) .233 AVG, .296 OBP, 1 HR (1-14 in last seven games)
Stephen Strasburg (5-1, 2.64 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (2-4, 6.98 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (7-1, 2.04 ERA) vs. Brandon Beachy (5-3, 1.77 ERA)
Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.80 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (5-4, 4.02 ERA)
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