Originally posted on The Nats Blog old  |  Last updated 9/14/12

 

For the final time in regular season play, the Washington Nationals (89-54) will face the Atlanta Braves (81-63) with the smell of the post-season thick in the air. From 8.5 games back, the Braves’ hopes of overtaking the Nationals for the division title are dwindling; nevertheless, this will be an all-important series for both teams.

For the Nationals,  “it’s time to start looking at magic numbers,” says manager Davey Johnson. The Nats’ magic number to clinch the NL East is 11 with 19 games left to play, as of Friday morning. It seems like we've been saying every series this season has been a big one for the Nationals, but this series against the second-best Braves will be especially influential in propelling them along their countdown to the division crown.

For the Braves and third baseman Chipper Jones, this series will be mostly focused on holding onto their top spot in the NL Wild Card standings (five games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals), as opposed to trying to gain ground on the Nationals. On MLB.com, Jones acknowledged what a difficult task catching up to the Nats would be.

"[The Nationals] played awfully consistently all year, and with only a couple weeks left, it's going to be tough to catch them," Jones said. "Not to say that we're going to stop trying, but right now, I'll just take a win on Friday and go from there."

After being swept this week by the Milwaukee Brewers (72-71), the Braves are going to be eager to get some W’s in the books, while the Nationals are going to want to prove that they can handle a potential post-season opponent with the pressure of the playoffs looming. With such significance hanging on every game for the remainder of both of these teams’ seasons, this series is a face-off you won’t want to miss.  
Last year's collapse

September baseball was not kind to the Braves last year. After going 17-9 in August, Atlanta saw their fortunes do a complete 180, and they finished September with a record of 9-18 for the month.

This time last year, the Braves had begun their notorious collapse. On Friday, September 16 as they were heading into their weekend series, their record stood at 86-64 and they were leading the NL Wild Card by 4.5 games above the Cardinals. They would kick off that series by losing 2-12 to the New York Mets, and they wouldn't win another series for the rest of the season.

Today, the Braves lead the Cardinals by six games, but they can’t afford another late-season series of losses if they want to secure the playoff spot the Cards claimed from them last season.

Finishing strong

With their eyes on October, the Nationals have been playing like they want to win. Their offense has really come through for them, scoring the second-most runs in baseball for the month of September (70) and leading all teams in batting average (.303), on-base percentage (.366) and slugging percentage (.565). They’ve hit 30 home runs already this month, 11 more than the next highest National League team.

One of very few Nationals who have played in the post-season, Jayson Werth has been enjoying being a part of the Nats’ late season success. "Now that we're in it, it's just going to make it even more fun," Werth said, according to MLB.com. This is what it's all about. This is why you work out for three months in the winter and go to Spring Training early every day to play. Losing sucks. I really enjoy winning."

The Braves’ offense has been performing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Nats. Their September slash line of .235/.309/.333 ranks 22nd, 18th and 28th, respectively. They have scored just 37 runs this month (23rd place), and based on the stats, they aren’t likely to add much more to that number against the Nationals, who have limited Atlanta to an average of 3.8 runs per game and a .239 batting average.

Pitcher of last month

Kris Medlen, the Braves’ powerhouse righty, will face the Nationals for his third time this season in the series opener. Medlen, who is on an innings limit after undergoing Tommy John surgery two years ago, spent most of the year in the bullpen to save his innings for the end of the season. But since he was added to the starting rotation on July 31 he has been lights out. The Braves have won all eight games he’s started, two of them complete game efforts. As a starter, his 0.81 ERA and 53 strikeouts earned him the honor of NL Pitcher of the Month for August. 

This season against the Nats, Medlen has a 1-1 record with a 2.13 ERA through 12 2/3 innings. Although the rest of major league baseball is only batting .203 off him, the Nationals have hit .298 against him in 47 at bats. The Nationals will be aiming to keep their bats hot against Medlen on Friday and to extend their winning streak to four games.
Worth noting

- The Nationals are 10-5 against the Braves this season, so even if the Braves swept them, the Nats would finish the regular season with a winning head-to-head record.

- Atlanta is 11 for its last 25 games, and in that span they’ve averaged 3.1 runs per game and hit .152 with runners in scoring position.

Who's hot?

Dan Uggla (2B) .346 AVG, .433 OBP, .577 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)

Martin Prado (LF) .333 AVG, .333 OBP, .333 SLG, 2 RBI (last seven games)

Kris Medlen (SP) 0.46 ERA, .187 BAA, 37 SO, 39 IP, 5 W (last five starts)

Luis Avilan (RP) 1.29 ERA, .240 BAA, 5 SO, 7 IP (last seven games)

Who's not?

Michael Bourne (CF) .138 AVG, . 194 OBP, .172 SLG, 8 SO (last seven games)

Chad Durbin (RP) 6.00 ERA, .385 BAA, 3 SO, 3.0 IP (last four games)

Probable starters

Ross Detwiler (9-6, 3.23 ERA) vs. Kris Medlen (8-1, 1.64 ERA)

Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.85 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.35 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (19-7, 2.93 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (8-10, 4.42 ERA) 

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