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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Youngsters head on a road trip to face Atlanta Braves

The young Nationals head out their first road trip since the trade deadline and take on the Atlanta Braves in a three-game weekend set...

MLB: JUN 02 Nationals at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There was some good and some bad for the Washington Nationals in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies to start this week.

Their play certainly didn’t warrant being swept and losing all four games. Some of Washington’s younger players impressed at the plate and on the mound, though there are still plenty of rough edges that are going to need smoothing out the rest of the way.

That is the benefit of the situation the Nationals are in though. They can work through the lumps without any pressure to keep up with the teams who are in postseason contention.

One of those teams is the Atlanta Braves, who the Nats face off against this weekend.

This is the first time that the Nationals and Braves face off against each other since the devastating injury to Ronald Acuña Jr., ruling him out for the rest of the 2021 season.

There’s still a lot of talent on this Braves team though, especially after a trade deadline where they went out and acquired Richard Rodríguez, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall as they gear up to try and catch the New York Mets.

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, August 5th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, August 6th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, August 7th, 1:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Erick Fedde (4-7, 5.01 ERA) vs Kyle Muller (2-3, 2.43 ERA)
  • Game Two: Josiah Gray (0-0, 4.85 ERA) vs Charlie Morton (10-4, 3.69 ERA)
  • Game Three: Patrick Corbin (6-9, 5.78 ERA) vs Max Fried (7-7, 4.32 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Kyle Finnegan: With the trades of their two proven closers, Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson, the Nationals needed a new closer to finish off close games. However, at the time those two were dealt, the rest of the bullpen had a combined five career saves between them.

Enter Kyle Finnegan. The right-hander recorded the first save of his career to lock down a win for Max Scherzer in his final start before being traded and notched his second in the series against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, becoming the team’s de facto closer.

He’s more than earned it of late, posting a 1.32 ERA with 11 strikeouts and five walks in his 12 appearances since returning from the Injured List due to a hamstring strain in early July.

Yes, he did blow the save in the series finale against the Phillies this week, but the four runs he gave up were all unearned thanks to a fielding error from Carter Kieboom in the inning.

Finnegan has been a great find for the Nationals since signing after being released from the Oakland Athletics minor league system. He may only be a fill-in closer because of the trades, but he’s more than earned the right to pitch late in games for the team.

Kyle Muller: With some of the bigger-name prospects in the Braves’ system in recent years such as Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, and Kyle Wright; you’d be forgiven for overlooking Muller a little bit, who has generally been ranked a little lower than his fellow pitchers.

Lately, it’s Muller who’s been turning plenty of heads as part of the Braves’ rotation.

Initially coming up in the bullpen, Muller shifted to the rotation in late June and hasn’t looked back. In his six starts since then, the left-hander is sporting a 1.88 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 28.2 innings, though he has walked 16 in that time too.

Muller will start the opener for the Braves in this series and they are hoping he can keep his strong run in the rotation going.

Who’s not?

Tres Barrera: After taking over as the team’s starting catcher with a decimated catching corps, Barrera caught fire at the plate, crushing balls left and right.

However, it always seemed as though regression was coming at some point for someone who, while a solid hitter in the minor leagues, had never shown a track record of that kind of dominance with the bat coming up through the farm system.

Since the trade deadline passed, Barrera is just 2-for-17 at the plate with a pair of strikeouts, including an 0-for-10 series this week, playing three of four against the Phillies.

However, Barrera’s glove and presence behind the plate is what has gotten him this far and he continues to show good chemistry with the pitching staff thus far since his recall. That should allow him to remain with the big league club the rest of the season, even if new top prospect, Keibert Ruiz, is looming, poised to take the starter’s role when he’s ready.

Adam Duvall: While the Braves brought in some new faces before the trade deadline, they also brought back a familiar one in Duvall in a trade with the Miami Marlins.

It’s not quite been a smooth reunion so far for Duvall and the Braves though. In the six games since he returned to Atlanta, Duvall is slashing just .143/.280/.286 with just one home run and three RBIs as he has seemingly become the team’s new starting left fielder.

The Nationals are generally a team he’s done well against in his career, holding a slash line of .271/.320/.530 against them. That’s also come against a competing Nats team with a strong rotation as opposed to the rebuilding team they have become the rest of the way in 2021, so this could be a series that sees Duvall bounce back from his slow start.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

Remember not that long ago when the Nationals had best friends on the left side of the infield in Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon? Well, they may have a new set in the infield, even if one of them sometimes shifts over to the right-hand side.

Carter Kieboom and Luis García both joined the organization in 2016, the former via the draft and the latter as an international signing, but never really played together until recently.

Kieboom was always a step ahead of García, being two years older than his fellow infielder, but whenever Kieboom moved up the ladder, García followed shortly after and took his place at the position Kieboom has just vacated, keeping them on a similar trajectory.

That changed in 2020 when both Kieboom and García played in the majors for the Nats. This year, they played together for the first half of the Triple-A season, giving the two players who Washington hopes will be a big part of their infield for the foreseeable a chance to bond.

“They’re pretty close, they’ve been together for some time,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez explained. “They understand each other. It’s fun to watch those guys go out there and play and come up together. They’re doing well. They’re starting to swing the bat the way we thought they could. They’re having fun. The biggest thing — I’m starting to see Carter smile a lot more, Luis is always kind of smiling, but he’s having fun.

“I just want to see them continue to progress, and to have fun out there, and to actually —it’s a lot easier when you hit the ball and they start falling in for you, that you can do those things, so hopefully they continue to get their hits and help us win games.”

In the series against the Phillies, Kieboom and García combined for four home runs and seven RBIs, showing the poise and promise at the plate that the team has long seen in them.

The progress of the two young infielders is going to be one of the key storylines during the rest of the 2021 season for the Nationals, including this series in Atlanta with both seemingly swinging a hot stick as the road trip begins this weekend.