The Braves head into the nation’s capitol with a 4 1⁄2 game lead in the National League East, fresh off an incredible homestand that saw them go 8-2, score 84 runs, and hit 26 home runs. They will look to carry that momentum into Washington to face a team that thoroughly embarrassed them during their most recent matchup. But more importantly for the Braves, they will unveil their newest addition to the rotation in the series opener.
Dallas Keuchel was signed by the Braves on June 7 with an eye toward stabilizing a young, inconsistent rotation. His insertion will take pressure off some of the younger arms, allow the Braves to effectively move on from Kevin Gausman if they so choose, and simply add a proven winner to a team that appears to be hitting its stride at the moment. If you are unfamiliar with Keuchel, he was a World Series champion alongside Brian McCann in 2017 as a member of the Houston Astros, is the winner of the 2015 American League Cy Young Award, and a four-time Gold Glove winner.
Last season Keuchel made 34 starts for the Astros, compiling a 12-11 record with 153 strikeouts in 204 2⁄3 innings pitched, with a 3.74 ERA that was backed by a 3.84 xFIP. Keuchel relies heavily on a five-pitch mixture that includes a fastball, cutter, sinker, slider, and changeup, with his four-seam sitting around 90 MPH. As his velocity may suggest, Keuchel has a penchant for inducing weak contact, with his sinking fastball helping produce a career 58.8% ground ball rate. Look for Keuchel to keep the ball down most of the evening as he looks to round into form after sitting out close to three months to begin the season.
In opposition of Keuchel will be Stephen Strasburg, who draws the start for the Nationals. The right-hander pitched against the Braves in Atlanta during the aforementioned series filled with embarrassment, and contributed heavily in the administration of said embarrassment. Strasburg struck out 11 batters across seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits to earn a win for the Nationals. He enters play with a 7-4 record, a 3.75 ERA, and 115 strikeouts over 96 innings pitched. Strasburg’s 3.10 xFIP would seem to suggest that both the home run ball and the Washington defense have been unkind to him this season. It will be interesting to see if the Braves can make enough contact to prolong those trends tonight.
The lineups have yet to be released for either team, but given the pitching matchup it would be reasonable to expect Brian McCann will get a start behind the plate for Atlanta. His rapport with Keuchel from their time together in Houston should aid the transition for the left-hander, who hopefully shook off whatever rust may have accumulated during the first two-plus months of the season. This is exciting time for the Braves, not only for the notable addition of a potential difference-maker on a winning team, but for the message a Keuchel signing sends to the fans and to the league: the Braves are willing to invest in supplemental players to aid their core. The payroll may be similar to last season, even after the Keuchel signing, but this was a step in the right direction with regards to re-investing profits into the club.
Tune in with us tonight for what will hopefully be the start of a successful stint in Atlanta for Dallas Keuchel, and a continued display of the offensive abilities that the Braves showed on their most recent homestand.
Time/Date: Friday, June 21, 7:05 pm ET
Location: Nationals Park
TV: Fox Sports Southeast (Streaming: Fox Sports Go)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network