Nationals Hope To Change Luck Against Struggling Braves

The Washington Nationals (37-33) have had their share of trouble against the Atlanta Braves (36-35) in the last two seasons, and they’ve won just one of six meetings against their chief rivals this year. But the Braves are struggling in a very real way as they come to Nationals Park for a four-game series beginning on Thursday with the Nats sitting atop the NL East with a 1.5 game lead.

Tough Month for Atlanta

The Braves sit in second place in the NL East behind the Nats due in large part to their disparate Junes. Atlanta has gone 6-10 this month and has won just two of its last eight games, most of which were at home. They’re also looking at a -22 run differential in June. Meanwhile, the Nats have gone 10-6 so far with a +23 differential. The past three weeks or so has really flipped the division in Washington’s favor.

Let’s Talk Pitching

In June, the Braves pitchers have posted a 4.34 FIP, which is fourth worst in baseball. Meanwhile, the Nats pitchers 2.90 FIP is the best in Major League Baseball. The usually fantastic Atlanta bullpen is in the bottom third of baseball as measured by FIP, and Washington’s is in the top third. These match ups could prove to be the real difference. What’s further, the Nats pitching staff has an 8.13 K/9 rate, which is ninth in baseball, and the Braves offense strikes out 23% of the time, which is fourth-most.

Big Contracts, Little Offense

Don’t get me wrong, the Braves still do have a strong offense fueled by Jason Heyward, Feddie Freeman, and Evan Gattis. They’ve generated 10.3 WAR, the ninth-best in baseball, compared with the Nationals 17th-best 8.1 WAR, but there are a few players worth noting. Dan Uggla has been notoriously bad over the last couple of years. How bad, exactly? Well, he’s making $13 million this year to have the worst WAR on the team at -0.5. That’s worse than every pitcher’s offensive WAR. He’s created 64% fewer runs than league average. Sixty-four percent. Meanwhile, BJ Upton leads position players with a 30% strikeout rate and creates 24% fewer runs than league average. Really, his center field defense is his only redeeming quality. While Uggla has seen his plate appearances significantly decrease in favor of Tommy La Stella and Ramiro Pena, the older Upton still plays regularly while making $13.45 million.

(All splits below from June)

In The Zone

Anthony Rendon (3B) .294 avg, .937 OPS, 4 HR, 0.8 WAR

Evan Gattis (C) .400 avg, 1.232 OPS, 6 HR, 1.3 WAR

Who’s Hot?

Jordan Schafer (OF) .364 avg, .871 OPS, 0.3 WAR, 0 HR

Ian Desmond (SS) .263 avg, .820 OPS, 0.4 WAR, 3 HR

Who’s Not?

Justin Upton (LF) .192 avg, .506 OPS, -0.3 WAR, 1 HR

Ryan Zimmerman (LF) .211 avg, .602 OPS, 0.0 WAR, 0 HR

Probable Starters (full season stats)

6/19, Jordan Zimmermann (5-3, 2.89 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 7.55 K/9) vs. Gavin Floyd (1-2, 2.98 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 7.26 K/9)

6/20, Stephen Strasburg (6-5, 3.06 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 10.82 K/9) vs. Mike Minor (2-4, 4.42 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 8.32 K/9)

6/21, Doug Fister (5-2, 3.08 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 5.98 K/9) vs. Julio Teheran (6-4, 2.31 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 7.20 K/9)

6/22, Tanner Roark (6-4, 2.85 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 7.03 K/9) vs. Ervin Santana (5-4, 4.12 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 7.81 K/9)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.