The Atlanta Braves dropped two of three to the LA Dodgers this weekend, leaving them 5.0 games behind the NL East-leading Nationals before the three-game series in the nation's capital starts tonight. The Nats took two of three from the visiting New York Mets, leaving Washington 75-46 on the year, and manager Davey Johnson said after Sunday's game that it makes a big difference that the team on the Nationals' tail in the division won't have the opportunity to leave Nats Park tied atop the NL East regardless of the series' outcome. "It doesn't hurt at all," Johnson said, "And they know it full well. It goes back into July or August, we've played them pretty good, so they need to prove something to [themselves] when they come in here, and we're still trying to prove it to everybody. So it's going to be fun."
The Nationals are 8-4 against the Braves so far this season with just six games left between the teams on the regular season schedule in 2012. The Nats swept three games in Turner Field to start the season series with Atlanta before splitting a two-game set in Nationals Park in early June. Washington took two of three on the road a month later, but the Braves took the first two of four to earn a split the last time the two teams met in D.C., coming back from a 9-0 deficit in the first game in the nation's capital on July 20th and shutting the Nats out 4-0 in game two before dropping the back end of a doubleheader and the series finale to leave them 3.5 games behind Washington after the last head-to-head matchup.
While it's definitely a big series starting today, the Nats, according to their manager, don't really need the extra motivation of a matchup with the Braves to get them up for coming to play these days. "I don't think there needs to be any push for this group here," Johnson said, "They're enjoying coming to the ballpark and enjoying expressing their talents." The Nationals weren't "getting ahead of themselveGs," the Nats' skipper explained in the games leading up to this series. "Sure we're paying attention to Atlanta," the 69-year-old skipper said, "but we're concentrating on what we've got at hand. I think the guys have been looking forward to the Braves coming in."
"They know us and we know them" Johnson said, pointing to the addition of Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta's roster as the only real difference since the last time the teams met. "They're a little bit different, but basically the same." And so are the Nationals, who were atop the NL East the last time they met and remain there heading into tonight's game. The one difference for Washington is that minus Wilson Ramos they finally have their full roster healthy and on the field. "I've felt like offensively, and we really [have] had that lineup in there [for] just three days and I think it will start feeding off itself. Jayson [Werth]'s been doing great leading off. Two guys like Werth and Bryce Harper, one-two before the middle of the lineup, that's not easy to match up with."
The Braves' Tim Hudson will try to tonight when he takes on Nats' right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. Hudson hasn't lost a game since the last time he faced the Nationals on July 1st. Since then the veteran right-hander is (6-0) with Atlanta (8-0) in his starts, during which Hudson's posted a 3.12 ERA with 12 walks and 24 Ks while holding opponents to a .237/.296/.339 line. Zimmermann had a six-start win-streak snapped last time out in San Francisco, where he gave up two runs on eight hits in 5.2 IP, failing to go at least six innings for just the second time this season. The last time before that Zimmermann fell short of six innings of work, in a 10-7 loss to the Marlins on July 1st, the Nats' 26-year-old starter bounced back with 6.0 scoreless against the Houston Astros.
Stephen Strasburg and Maholm are set to match up in game two and Ross Detwiler and Kris Medlen will meet in game three barring any last minute changes to either team's rotation. Game one of three starts tonight at 7:05 pm EDT. Nationals vs the Braves in August and it means something this time. Who's watching the Nationals tonight?
(ed. note - "Please pardon the lack of a usual 'Wire Taps' collection, we're headed to D.C. for the series and there weren't enough links as of 5:34 am to cobble together the usual post. We'll see if we can't throw one together once we get to the nation's capital. See you at the park...")