The Washington Nationals will fly north to face an Atlanta Braves team that has won four in a row. The Nats(5-14) and the Braves (9-9) have split their season series so far 2-2, but the two teams have seen their squads go in different directions outside of the confines of Nationals Park. Both teams have their share of struggling hitters, but the Braves are managing to pull out wins.
The first month of the season can often define the tone and the character of a team for the rest of the year. The Braves, tired of hearing the talk of the Phillies and the Mets inside their division (which it has been for the last 20 years) do not want to be a .500 baseball team. The Nationals, having some sort of pride, don’t want to win only 42 games as they are currently on pace to do. Both teams need to win this series to try and turn their season around.
Matt Chico (0-3. 4.81 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (2-1, 3.37 ERA)
John Lannan (0-2 4.46 ERA) vs. John Smoltz (3-0, .056 ERA)
Solving Smoltz and Hudson
It’s just the Nats luck that in this two game series they will have to face both the hottest pitcher in the league and the most successful starter against Washington in franchise history.
John Smoltz has been smoldering so far, winning all of his starts and sporting a three to one strikeout to walk ratio. Allowing only one earned run all season, the 41 year old Smoltz is only getting better with age.
Season Stats: 3-1, .056 ERA, 21 K’s, 6 BB’s, 16 IP
Tim Hudson on the other hand has been good but not great this season for the Braves. He has suffered some drop in velocity (a growing trend in the MLB this season) and his last outing he only lasted three innings before getting run off the mound by Florida. However so far this year against the Nats Hudson is an impressive 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA, and his career stats against Washington are just staggering:
Career vs. Washington: 10 Starts, 6-1 record, 1.11 ERA,
Tex and Larry
Larry (Chipper) Jones is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball (.449, 6 HR, 18 RBI). He is hitting every pitch, off every pitcher, anywhere he wants. He is so in the zone right now, if you called him by his actual first name, Larry, to his face…he might not even notice.
Mark Teixeira on the other hand is struggling. A great hitter in his own right, the power hitting switch hitter (from the D.C era) can’t seem to find his stroke this season. Hitting only .221 with three bombs, he is far from his career .290 batting average and far off the power pace we are used to seeing. With Teixiera serving as the protection for Jones, I see absolutely no reason to give Larry a single pitch to hit…make the struggling guy beat you, not the supernova.
Wily Mo Pena was rushed back to Washington from Columbus. He is not healthy, and he is not hitting well. Don’t be surprised to see him benched in one of the next two games for Willie Harris. That's right a Willy, Willie, swap. Harris isn’t close to the hitter Pena can be, but the Nats cant afford to not be able to move base runners with golden sombreros and pop outs.
Defense is killing the Nats right now, where last year it was one of their strong points. Don’t be surprised to see a shake up in some of the positions. Catching needs to improve, Belliard or Lopez need to learn how to play second base (Willie Harris also can play second), and first basemen need to be able to pick throws when Ryan Zimmerman makes an outstanding play.