Braves Set To Take On Struggling Nationals In Weekend Series

Kevin C. Cox

After splitting a four-game series with Toronto, Atlanta welcomes with scuffling Nats to Turner Field for a weekend tilt.

Looking to improve upon their 5-2 head-to-head record, the Atlanta Braves will take on the Washington Nationals this weekend at Turner Field. The Braves haven't exactly been firing on all cylinders of late, but they still boast a 9-3 record in their last 12 games. Compare that to the Nationals' 4-8 record in their last 12 games, and you can see why some people in Washington are starting to worry a bit.

Those frustrations boiled over after the Nationals' 3-0 shutout loss to Freddy Garcia and the Orioles last night. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, when asked why the Nats couldn't hit Garcia, offered this: "Not making an excuse, but our first base coach is on maternity leave." Ryan Zimmerman also took time to slam the "nerds" who run PECOTA playoff projections - projections which aren't particularly friendly to the Nationals at this point.

The Nationals, whose hitting outside of Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche has been wretched of late, could be without two of their starting outfielders in this series. Jayson Werth has been out for several weeks with a hamstring injury and isn't yet at 100%. He's been rehabbing in the minors, but it's unlikely he'll rejoin the Nats this weekend. Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper has missed the last few games with lingering pain in his knee from his collision with the outfield wall in Los Angeles and is still day-to-day. Knowing Harper, he'll probably try and play, but he may not be at 100%.

Neither Werth nor Harper can really match the struggles of Danny Espinosa, who is currently trying to play through a fractured wrist. Given that he's hitting .166/.197/.290 on the year, I'd say it's going about as well as could be expected.

Frustrations and hitting woes aside, the Braves should not overlook the Nationals. Washington's pitching is still incredibly strong, and Atlanta will have a tall task ahead as they once again face the top of the Nationals' rotation.

Pitching Matchups

Friday, May 31, 7:30 PM


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Julio Teheran 3-1 3.67 1.33 35 12


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Stephen Strasburg 3-5 2.49 1.06 71 21

There was some worry a month ago that Stephen Strasburg wasn't quite pitching like he was capable of. Those fears have been allayed for now, as Strasburg has looked completely dominant in his last four outings. Over those 4 starts, Strasburg has tossed 28 innings, allowing only 3 runs on 18 hits. He has walked 8 and struck out 27 over that same span. Strasburg's FIP still sits at a career high 3.08 so far this year, due primarily to a downtick in strikeouts, but make no mistake - he's still one of baseball's best starters.

Saturday, June 1, 7:15 PM


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Tim Hudson 4-4 5.37 1.32 45 17


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Gio Gonzalez 3-3 3.90 1.25 60 30

There's also been plenty of worry in DC about Gio Gonzalez, and his failure to replicate last season's stellar numbers. But, it's looking more and more like Gonzalez's 2012 was nothing more than a career year. His K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 have all regressed from his 2012 marks and are more in line with his career norms. So far this year, he sports a 8.35 K/9, a 4.18 BB/9, and a 0.84 HR/9. With career marks of 8.76, 4.17, and 0.79 respectively, it stands to reason that 2013 Gio Gonzalez is a more accurate representation of his true skill levels than 2012 Gio was.

Gonzalez was roughed up in his last outing against the Orioles, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits and 4 walks in 5.2 innings. As always, if the Braves stay patient against Gonzalez, they should have success.

Sunday, June 2, 1:35 PM


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Paul Maholm 6-4 3.74 1.28 51 21


W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 - Nate Karns 0-0 6.23 1.62 3 2

In the afternoon finale, Atlanta will take on Nathan Karns, who made his big league debut last Tuesday against the Orioles. In his debut, Karns was knocked around for 3 runs on 5 hits in 4.1 innings. He walked 2 and struck out 3. Karns only threw 85 pitches last week, so it would appear the Nats want to be judicious with his usage.

According to Brooks Baseball, Karns is a 4-pitch guy who throws a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. In his outing against the Orioles he threw mostly fastballs, as his sinker and four-seamer accounted for 63 of his 85 pitches. His fastballs both sit just under 95, and are thrown with a very downhill action. He primarily utilized the four-seamer up and in, coming back with the sinker low and away, especially to lefties. He was very selective with his breaking balls when he threw them, throwing all changeups to lefties and all curves to righties.

The Orioles hit two home runs off of Karns, both off his fastball. I imagine the Braves will be sitting on his fastball unless he proves he can consistently throw his breaking pitches for strikes.

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