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Nats Hope To Lower NL East Magic Number Against Brewers

After the most exciting night of baseball Washington has seen in many, many years, the Washington Nationals (91-58) are geared up to begin a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (77-72), a team with postseason aspirations of its own. With last night's victory the Nationals clinched their playoff berth, but with a magic number of eight to win the division, they are going to continue pushing forward toward the prize they really want.

In order to get closer to that goal, though, the Nats will have to halt the momentum of the surging Brew Crew, who have won 23 of their last 29 games and are riding a five-game winning streak. The Brewers are 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and a half game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in what is becoming a heated battle for the second wild card spot.

The last time the Nationals and the Brewers met in late July, the Nats won three of four contests, but the Brewers have been playing with more urgency than they were this summer, as the postseason creeps closer, and their stats show it. 

September stats

The Brewers finished out July with a collective .269 batting average (8th in the majors) and a 4.49 ERA (20th). September has seen a different story from the Crew though, as they’ve batted .288 (2nd) and pitched for a 3.50 ERA (8th) this month. They have scored more runs (101) and stolen more bases (34) than any other team in September, and their 25 home runs rank fourth.

However, Nationals’ numbers can easily compete, with their .498 slugging percentage and 34 home runs the best in the majors, and their .281 batting average ranking fourth.

Overall the Nats have the highest run differential in baseball (+132), which is much better than the Brewers (+51), but the Brewers run differential in September (+33) bests the Nationals' number by a bit (+19.)

Motivation in pitching

The Brewers’ 3.50 ERA in September is significantly improved over their 4.16 ERA for the year, and from the point of view of closer John Axford, pitching had a lot to do with the Brewers' run for a postseason spot. According to MLB.com, Axford thought that trading Zack Greinke – the Brewers’ best starting pitcher when he was traded – actually motivated the other pitchers to step up and fill his shoes.

"Personally, I thought it was going to be more motivation for certain guys," Axford said. "There wasn't ever a thought on this team that this was a lost season. It was disappointing for a while and things weren't looking well, they were looking pretty bleak. But there's no guy on this team that's going to lie down and give up. It's shown recently."

Davey’s favorite number

With just under two weeks left of the regular season, the pressure is on for all teams in contention. For the Brewers to grab a wild card spot, wins in Washington will be important. But the Nats aren’t going to be eager to give them up easily, especially after tasting a bit of postseason-related victory last night.

While that victory was sweet for Nats fans everywhere, Nationals' manager Davey Johnson is focused on the opportunity to clinch the NL East in the next few days, according to MLB.com.

"Whatever number that is, it will be my favorite number," Johnson said.

The Nationals will be trying to move four steps closer to that final magic number this weekend, as they continue their journey to bring Natitude to the postseason for the first time ever.

Worth noting

- Right fielder Norichika Aoki has a 10-game hitting streak going into Friday’s game, the fourth time this season he has had a hitting streak of at least that many games.

- The Brewers score an average of 4.83 runs per game, which is best in the National League. The Nats pitchers give up an NL-low 3.58 runs per game. Something’s got to give.

Who's hot?

Norichika Aoki (OF) .415 AVG, .468 OBP, .732 SLG, 2 HR (last 10 games)

Ryan Braun (OF) .357 AVG, .438 OBP, .607 SLG, 2 HR (last seven games)

Jean Segura (SS) .409 AVG, .519 OBP, .545 SLG, 1 3B (last seven games)

Marco Estrada (SP) 1.23 ERA, .195 BAA, 42 SO, 36.2 IP (last six games)

Who's not?

Travis Ishikawa (1B) .211 AVG, .286 OBP, .421 SLG, 0 HR (last seven games)

Manny Parra (RP) 4.76 ERA, .308 BAA, .538 SLG, 5 BB, 5.2 IP (last eight games)

Probable starters

Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.89 ERA) vs. Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.91 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (19-8, ERA) vs. Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14 ERA)

Chien-Ming Wang (ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (16-8, 3.59 ERA)

Jordan Zimmermann (11-8, ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (4-6, 3.56 ERA)

 

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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