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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats hope to keep rolling against Atlanta Braves

Coming off of a three-game sweep against the Marlins, the Nationals face the Braves to wrap up the homestand...

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After all that the Washington Nationals went through early on in the season with players on the COVID IL and injuries, some of which they’re still dealing with, they’re now .500 at 12-12.

Admittedly, that’s not all that impressive in itself. But given the circumstances and tough schedule to begin the season, it’s at least a solid base through the first month of the season to build on moving forward into a slightly easier May schedule.

Next up for the Nationals is the Atlanta Braves who are still stumbling a bit out of the gates.

Pitching has been the main issue for the Braves so far. Entering Tuesday’s slate of games, Atlanta hold an ERA of 5.06 as a pitching staff, the worst in the major leagues.

That should improve as they get Max Fried back from injury this series and hope to have Mike Soroka back later in the season, but they also need improvement from the likes of Charlie Morton and Sean Newcomb who have both started slowly.

Here’s the lowdown from Nationals Park ahead of the three-game set...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, May 4th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, May 5th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, May 6th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: YouTube, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Joe Ross (2-1, 4.64 ERA) vs Huascar Ynoa (2-1, 2.96 ERA)
  • Game Two: Erick Fedde (2-2, 4.43 ERA) Max Fried vs (0-1, 11.45 ERA)
  • Game Three: Jon Lester (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Drew Smyly (0-2, 8.05 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Yadiel Hernández: When Juan Soto unexpectedly went to the IL just under two weeks ago, many were wondering how the team’s offense would cope without its talisman.

Step up Hernández, who has tried to do his best Soto impression over the 13 days.

Since being recalled on April 20th, Hernández has a .435/.500/.565 slash line with a home run, four walks, and six strikeouts. It’s hard to ask for much more from the 33-year-old rookie.

Even when Soto returns, Hernández has made a pretty compelling case with his bat to be kept around as a pinch-hitting option off the bench and occasional starter if one of the corner outfielders needs a day off. That sort of performance is how you force the issue.

Austin Riley: In their opening series of the season, the Nationals held Riley to a pretty quiet 2-for-10 showing with five strikeouts and no walks. However, the third baseman has caught fire for the Braves as of late.

In his last 13 games, Riley is slashing a monster .488/.588/.756 with three home runs, a pair of doubles, and six RBIs, walking six times and striking out 12.

He has been the beneficiary of an absurd .654 BABIP in that stretch, so he’s due to come back down to earth in the near future, but he’ll definitely be a bat to keep an eye on in this series.

Who’s not?

Starlin Castro: Having won four in a row and 9 of 14, it’s not overly easy to find players who haven’t been performing up to standard or in the process of heating up. So maybe Castro is a bit unlucky to be here, but he will be hoping to step up his game in this series.

In his last 11 games, Castro is slashing just .195/.227/.244 with two doubles and four RBIs.

As a player whose primary benefit to the team is the fact that he usually hits for a high average and can clean up traffic on the bases with base hits, hitting below the Mendoza Line recently is not what the Nats and Dave Martinez want to see.

Freddie Freeman: Go on then, I’ll preemptively mention how putting Freeman here will undoubtedly lead to him doing what he usually does against the Nationals and tearing the cover off the ball, but he’s definitely not been having a great time at the plate lately.

In his last 11 games, the reigning NL MVP is slashing .190/.277/.357 with two home runs, striking out 12 times, and walking six. However, that line is boosted a little by a 4-for-5 game against the Chicago Cubs — the same game where he struck out against Anthony Rizzo.

He won’t stay cold for long, but it is worth noting coming into this series. Please don’t hurt the Nationals too much this week, Freddie...

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Braves storylines from our friends at Talking Chop...

One more thing to watch

It’s not been a great time to be a backstop for the Braves over the past few days.

On Sunday, the Braves placed both Travis d’Arnaud and Alex Jackson on the IL, selecting the contract of defensive whizz, Jeff Mathis, and recalling one of their top prospects, William Contreras.

It’s not going to be a quick stint for d’Arnaud though, who was placed straight on the 60-day IL, ruling him out for at least the next two months, if not longer, with a torn ligament in his left thumb. d’Arnaud hopes to undergo surgery at some point this week.

Jackson’s injury looks to be a little more minor as he was placed on the 10-day IL with a strained left hamstring, so could conceivably return fairly soon. However, it won’t be during this three-game series with the Nationals, which leaves the Braves with two new catchers.

For a team that has struggled on the pitching front so far this season, needing to replace both of their signal-callers ahead of a big series against a division rival is far from ideal.

Contreras looks set to be the team’s primary starter for the time being as he has spent more time in the organization and is obviously the team’s future at the position as opposed to Mathis who will come in as veteran experience to give him a breather when required.

It will be worth keeping an eye on the chemistry between the team’s battery during this series and whether it’s something that the Nationals can capitalize on with a staff on the ropes.