Braves Return Home Looking To Halt Skid Against Nationals

It's home sweet home for the Braves, finally. - Kevin C. Cox

After being swept by the Tigers, the Braves finally return to Turner Field to take on the Nationals in a pivotal four game series.

After a wretched series in Detroit that saw the Braves get out-pitched and out-hit by the Tigers, Atlanta will return home to Turner Field. Finally back in Georgia after an 11 game road trip, the weary Braves will be taking on the Washington Nationals in a four game series starting tonight. The Nationals have played so-so recently, dropping 2 of 3 to the Mets, getting swept by the Cardinals, but winning 3 of 4 against the Reds this weekend.

The Nationals' bats have been surprisingly cool the past week, with only 3 qualified regulars hitting over .250. Unsurprisingly, Bryce Harper continues to be the best bat on the team, and his hot hitting from the start of the year has lasted all of April. Over the last 7 days, Harper has carried the Nationals with a .333/.481/.810 line. His plate disciple continues to improve, as he's drawn a walk in 13% of his PAs so far this year.

Denard Span and Ian Desmond also had good weeks last week. Span hit .290/.290/.355, drove in 4 runs, and swiped two bases. Desmond posted a line of .308/.333/.423 to go along with 4 runs, 4 RBI, and a steal. Span continues to hit leadoff for the Nationals, while Desmond has been bumped up to 5th in the wake of Adam LaRoche's struggles.

And struggle he has. Over his last 26 PAs, LaRoche has posted a line of .000/.000/.000. That's right, LaRoche hasn't reached based in any of his last 26 plate appearances, including 13 strikeouts. LaRoche's slump got him dropped to 6th in order in the series finale against the Reds. The only logical conclusion to draw from all this is that Braves pitchers will undoubtedly make LaRoche look like Barry Bonds this week (I kid, I kid).

Pitching Matchups

Monday, April 29, 7:00 PM


Julio Teheran

#49 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-2

175

R

R

Jan 27, 1991



Stephen Strasburg

#37 / Pitcher / Washington Nationals

6-4

200

R

R

Jul 20, 1988


The Braves face Stephen Strasburg tonight in the series opener, and while he has been good, he has some people worried that he hasn't quite looked like the Strasburg of old. Some of that may stem from Strasburg's recent inability to throw first pitch strikes. In 2011, 76.1% of his first pitches went for strikes. In 2012, it was 62.3%. And now, early in 2013, he's only throwing a first pitch strike to 56.2% of the batters he faces. So far in 2013, Strasburg is also getting a lower percentage of whiffs on all his pitches than he did in 2012. As you can see from the chart below, Strasburg is no doubt still an elite pitcher with elite whiff rates, but the decreasing rates are beginning to unnerve some in D.C., and may explain the rise in his numbers.

Chart_medium

Key: FA - 4 Seam Fasball, SI - Sinker, CU - Curveball, CH - Changeup

Again, none of this is meant to say that there is something wrong with Strasburg, per se, just to point out what might be elevating his numbers from elite to merely excellent.

Strasburg is still one of the top 5 pitchers in the game and if the Braves want to beat him, they will need to exercise patience to take advantage of his recent wildness.

Tuesday, April 30, 7:10 PM


Tim Hudson

#15 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-1

175

R

R

Jul 14, 1975



Gio Gonzalez

#47 / Pitcher / Washington Nationals

6-0

200

R

L

Sep 19, 1985


The Braves' opponent in game two will be Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Braves fans no doubt fondly remember shelling Gio in the series finale in DC a few weeks ago, but the Nats lefty has slowly improved since then. After a mediocre start against the Mets, Gio was back to his old dominant self against the Reds, tossing 8 innings of 1 hit, 1 run ball while walking 2 and striking out 7. Gonzalez's numbers still aren't pretty though, as he sports a 4.50 ERA through 5 starts. A 3.85 FIP would seem to indicate that he's been a bit unlucky, however. Much like Strasburg, Gio has also not gotten as many whiffs in 2013 as he is used to getting. As you can see from the chart below, Gio has a whiff percentage of 29% on his curveball and 14% on his fastball. Those are both down substantially from his 2012 numbers, where he had whiff percentages of 38% and 22%, respectively. Those two pitches are Gio's bread and butter, as he throws them over 70% of the time when in a pitcher's count. That hitters aren't missing them this year (so far) like they were last year may help explain why he's been hit hard so far.

Chart_medium

Key: FA - 4 Seam Fasball, SI - Sinker, CU - Curveball, CH - Changeup

Again, the Braves best course of action against Gonzalez should be patience. Gonzalez's 4.18 BB/9 is the worst of all Nats' starters, so a patient Braves lineup could see results.

Wednesday, May 1, 7:00 PM


Paul Maholm

#28 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-2

220

L

L

Jun 25, 1982



Jordan Zimmermann

#27 / Pitcher / Washington Nationals

6-2

220

R

R

May 23, 1986



Game three will see the Braves send Paul Maholm to the hill to counter Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann has arguably been Washington's best pitcher this year, posting 0.6 WAR so far (tied with Ross Detwiler, of all people, for 1st among Nats pitchers). Zimmermann is technically a four pitch pitcher - throwing a four-seamer, slider, curveball, and changeup - but he relies heavily on the fastball. Zimmermann's fastball has accounted for an astounding 69% of his pitches so far this year. He has always leaned heavily on his four seamer, locating it on both corners with movement to great effect. Last year, hitters only hit .260 against Zimm's heater, a very good number. So far this year, that number has dropped to a ludicrous .130, which is no doubt unsustainable, but still a testament to how good he has been in the early going.

If you need any more proof as to how effective Zimm has been with his fastball so far this season, just look at this chart of ground ball percentages. Zimmerman drew groundballs on 39% of his fastballs put in play last year, but that has jumped all the way up to 56% so far this year. Again, such a leap is highly unlikely to be sustained, but is proof positive of his early successes.

Chart__2__medium

Key: FA - 4 Seam Fasball, SL - Slider, CU - Curveball, CH - Changeup


Thursday, May 2, 7:10 PM


Kris Medlen

#54 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

5-10

190

B

R

Oct 07, 1985



Dan Haren

#15 / Pitcher / Washington Nationals

6-5

215

R

R

Sep 17, 1980



In the series finale, both teams will send struggling starters to the mound, as Kris Medlen takes on Dan Haren. Haren's 2012 was nothing short of a disaster, and he's shown little so far in 2013 to mitigate the fears that 2012 wasn't an aberration. Haren has never had a great home run rate, so in the past he's relied on striking out hitters and keeping the ball on the ground. 2012 and 2013, however, have seen all of Haren's peripherals move in the wrong direction. His groundball percentage is in a tailspin, dropping from 42.5% in 2011 to 39.6% in 2012 to 33.7% so far in 2013. Couple that with a fast-rising HR/FB% - 7.5% in 2011, to 12.8% in 2012, to 15.8% in 2013 - and it's not hard to see why Haren's struggled.

He's not walking many guys - only 1.48 BB/9 - so you may see the Braves jump on him early and try to tag him. If his first five starts this year are any indication, Braves' fans may be in for a fireworks show on Thursday.

Bold Predictions: Braves win 3 of 4. Tyler Pastornicky sees more time hitting second, and performs well. The Braves' pitching staff rights the ship after a rough road trip.

All charts and statistics courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

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