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Washington Nationals Series Preview: On the road again to face the Atlanta Braves

After an underwhelming homestand, the Nationals are back on the road and they face the Braves for the final time this year...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Even with the current state of the Washington Nationals, wins on getaway day are still fun, especially those of the walk-off variety courtesy of a Carter Kieboom RBI-single on Monday.

Yes, they lost what was a rare five-game series against the New York Mets. But even to the untrained eye, it was clear that the team just wouldn’t die quietly, tying the game in the final inning in each of their three losses in the series.

With a couple of different bounces here and there, the Nationals weren’t far away from a potential five-game sweep, but as we all know, that’s not how baseball works, so it’s still a series loss.

Next, the Nationals head out to Georgia to take on the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park.

While they’re still atop the division, the Braves have fallen back a bit lately as their schedule toughened up while the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies were able to do what they needed to against some of the lesser teams in the league to close the gap.

The tables now turn as the Braves face the NL East’s bottom two in the Nationals and Miami Marlins while the Phillies and Mets will start to see more teams above .500 this month.

Atlanta has also been getting healthier, as the only real significant missing players through injury are Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka, who are done for the year, while late-inning reliever Chris Martin landed on the Injured List with elbow inflammation last week.

Here’s the lowdown from Atlanta ahead of the three-game series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, September 7th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, September 8th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, September 9th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Paolo Espino (4-4, 4.08 ERA) vs Max Fried (11-7, 3.51 ERA)
  • Game Two: Sean Nolin (0-2, 5.71 ERA) vs Touki Toussaint (3-2, 4.19 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (6-9, 5.27 ERA) vs Huascar Ynoa (4-5, 3.19 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Alberto Baldonado: There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about with the Nationals’ bullpen right now. There are a lot of pitchers struggling in higher leverage spots than was planned even a few weeks ago, let alone before the team’s trade deadline sell-off.

However, Baldonado has stepped in after being called up as rosters expanded and come out firing from the bullpen.

In his first three appearances for the Nationals, the left-handed reliever has yet to allow an earned run in 3.2 innings of work, allowing just one hit, striking out five, and walking none.

It’s still extremely early days for Baldonado, but in his handful of appearances since rosters expanded, he’s flashed the ability to at least be a useful relief arm and one from the left side, something this team has badly needed for a while.

Max Fried: After a strong 2020 for Fried, the start of his 2021 season was a bit stop-start with a couple of trips to the Injured List. Now that he’s stayed healthy, the Braves are starting to see last year’s Fried more consistently.

Since the start of August, Fried has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, pitching to a stellar 1.62 ERA in his six starts, striking out 37, and walking just three in 39 innings of work.

That stretch includes a dominant four-hit shutout over the Baltimore Orioles in mid-August.

Fried is set to start the first game of this series in Atlanta, though the Nationals’ lineup has been swinging the bat pretty well of late, so could be more of a challenge than expected.

Who’s not?

Yadiel Hernández: It was always likely to come given how blistering hot Hernández’s bat had been early in his time with the Nationals, but regression finally appears to be hitting.

Since August 18th, Hernández is slashing just .196/.260/.373 with two home runs, three walks, and ten strikeouts in 15 games, good for a wRC+ of just 60 in that time.

Because of this cold stretch, his slash line on the season has dropped to .275/.333/.425 and his wRC+ is now 102, just above the league-average of 100.

Andrew Stevenson had a solid series against the Mets this weekend, and while he may be best suited to a pinch-hitting role, Hernández may need to start swinging it again, or he could risk losing out on playing time to the hot-hitting outfielder.

Joc Pederson: Pederson was one of the first players traded in what you would call a “deadline deal” on July 15th as his trade signaled the start of the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild and the Braves’ decision to buy, even if it wasn’t a full-blown buy this summer.

The outfielder had a reasonable start to his time in Atlanta, sporting a 119 wRC+ for the team for the rest of July, but he has now cratered back to earth in the last three weeks.

Since August 17th, Pederson is slashing just .108/.209/.270 with just two extra-base hits, both of them home runs, while walking five times and striking out 12, good for a wRC+ of just 30.

As such Pederson’s playing time has dipped with the Braves giving Eddie Rosario more time in the outfield in his place.

The Braves were definitely hoping for more from him when they jumped the gun to trade for him, but now it’s a tough road back to more playing time.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

It’s not exactly been the ideal start for Keibert Ruiz so far in the majors with the Nationals.

In his first 20 at-bats, the young backstop is slashing just .150/.150/.150 so far. All of his base hits have been singles and he has yet to walk while striking out three times.

Then in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Ruiz fouled a pitch off of his knee. He stayed in for the rest of the game, but Ruiz hasn’t made an appearance since then, with Riley Adams starting the second game and on Sunday before Alex Avila started on Monday.

Ahead of Monday’s series finale against the Mets, Nats skipper Dave Martinez said that he had been held out due to an injury coming from that foul ball.

“He’s going to be day-to-day, he’s got a bone bruise,” Martinez explained.

“Haven’t spoken to him, but yesterday he left he was pretty sore, so just want to give him another day and see how he feels after the treatment today.”

As yet, the Nationals haven’t placed Ruiz on the Injured List, believing it’s a fairly minor injury, though that may depend on how he feels after the treatment Martinez mentioned today and when the team gets to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Ruiz may not be back in the lineup for the series opener against the Braves, but as one of the key players who will need playing time in the final month of the season, this is an issue worth monitoring to see when he can return to the field.