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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Atlanta Braves in the nation’s capital for the first time in 2022

The Nationals won their second series in three, and will hope to keep it going as the Braves come to D.C. this week...

Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

When the schedule drops you a nice little favor, you have to take it. The Washington Nationals got just that with the Milwaukee Brewers in town on the heels of a six-game losing streak.

In the first two games of the weekend series, the Nationals’ offense came to life and bombarded Brewers pitching for 19 runs on 28 hits to take two wins before the bats died down in the series finale, but hey, series wins aren’t too common for this team, so they’ll take it.

The series win gave the Nationals their second victory in three series, which is progress from the two series wins in ten series before that. Baby steps.

Next up for Washington is a series against the Atlanta Braves for the second time this year, as they hope to replicate the series win that they took from Truist Park back in April.

After a slow start to the season, the Braves have stopped playing dead and are surging back towards where they expected to be in the postseason picture come the end of the season.

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, June 12th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, June 13th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, June 14th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Josiah Gray (6-4, 4.33 ERA) vs Ian Anderson (5-3, 4.53 ERA)
  • Game Two: Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 13.50 ERA) vs Max Fried (6-2, 2.64 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (4-4, 4.87 ERA) vs Spencer Strider (2-2, 2.35 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Luis García: Well, plenty of Nationals fans were crying for García to come up to the big leagues after tearing up Triple-A to start the season, and for the most part, he’s continued the form he showed in the minor leagues, at least at the plate.

In his first 11 major league games this season, García is sporting a .372/.378/.488 slash line with a home run and two doubles in 43 at-bats with one walk and seven strikeouts.

García will need to improve on his plate discipline and draw more walks as he progresses, which has been the case throughout his time in the big leagues the last two years, but the hits are falling and he’s hitting the ball hard. Expect him to be the starting shortstop moving forward.

Ronald Acuña, Jr.: He’s back, and back with a vengeance. After tearing his ACL in the middle of last season and not playing through the Braves’ title run, Acuña has seemingly not skipped a beat and returned to a high level of play this year.

On the season, Acuña is slashing .311/.414/.529 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in 32 games, but has caught fire lately with a .368/.457/.737 in the month of June, hitting four of those six home runs in his 10 appearances since the calendar turned.

Acuña is a player who needs no introduction to Nats fans, but he’s here to reintroduce himself just in case you were underestimating him coming off a premature end to his 2021 season.

Who’s not?

César Hernández: Maybe a precursor to a topic we’ll cover later in this preview, but Hernández’s struggles at the plate are coming to the fore of conversation again with the team’s hit-and-miss offense this month.

So far in June, Hernández is slashing a measly .178/.229/.200 in 48 plate appearances, as he’s notched just one extra-base hit while striking out ten times and walking three times.

The Nats are persisting with him at the top of the order for now, alternating between first and second in the order based on whether it’s a lefty or righty starting on the mound, but his .320 on-base percentage this season will need to improve, or he may risk a demotion in the order.

Marcell Ozuna: Because of Acuña’s quick resurgence, Ozuna’s slump becomes more and more noticeable in the Braves’ lineup, especially now that Acuña is seeing more and more time in the field, bumping Ozuna to DH, and a DH who isn’t hitting draws more question marks.

So far in June, Ozuna is slashing only .189/.231/.243 with a pair of doubles while striking out eight times and walking just twice. He’s also dropped from hitting third or fourth regularly to now hitting sixth or seventh in the order, which isn’t a surprise while he’s cold at the plate.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Braves storylines from our friends at Battery Power...

One more thing to watch

Time for even more lineup related shenanigans. This time, Nationals skipper Dave Martinez has shaken up his batting order with Lane Thomas in the leadoff spot against lefties recently, and hitting second against right-handed starters.

So far this season for Washington, César Hernández has been the team’s primary leadoff man, but hasn’t quite been the right fit with a lackluster .267/.319/.331 slash line with just 17 walks.

The batting average is solid enough, but Hernández’s on-base ability is far too low to be hitting directly ahead of the team’s big hitters in the heart of the lineup so that they can consistently drive in runs, and he isn’t hitting for much power when he does get on base.

So it was time to try something new with Thomas, and he has thrived further up the lineup.

When in the top two spots in the order, Thomas is slashing a strong .296/.356/.574 with a 157 wRC+ in 59 plate appearances, combining on-base ability and a solid power stroke.

“When I sit around and start thinking about lineups every day, I kind of try to figure out what’s the best fit for all our lineup, 1-9,” Martinez said. “Right now it’s working. It’s good. He’s hitting the ball, he’s getting on base, he’s doing the things we need him to do.”

So, what was it that recently changed Martinez’s thinking to get Thomas further up the order?

“A big reason for me that Lane can lead off right now, is honestly Luis [García],” Martinez explained. “Not having all those right-handed hitters in a bunch. Now Luis is hitting eighth or ninth, so we have a left-hander down there, so it’s easy for me to say, “Okay, Lane can hit leadoff now, and put César [Hernández] second.’

“And César, he doesn’t mind where he hits, he just likes to hit. He’s done it before. He’s hit everywhere in a lineup and it doesn’t bother him a bit

Hmm, in truth, that just seems like a pretty bad thought process to get to Thomas leading off.

Instead of recognizing Hernández’s poor performance at the top of the order, he’s staying up there to keep mixing up the lefties and righties, and Thomas moves there for the same reason, not because he hit well there last year and was coming around at the plate.

At least Thomas is proving himself at the plate and looking like his old self, at least in part due to the bump up the order, and getting more pitches to hit with the big guns behind him.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: When the Nationals faced the Brewers earlier this season, former Nat Trevor Gott made an appearance against them for Milwaukee. Who did the Nationals trade away to acquire Gott, along with Michael Brady, ahead of the 2016 season?

Answer: Yunel Escobar

Here’s our trivia question for this series with the Braves. For this one, we look back at a former National accomplishing a feat that Lane Thomas replicated last week...

Only one Nationals player has had a three home run game against the Braves since the team moved to Washington in 2005. Can you name the player that achieved this feat?