Things could be worse for the Nationals, but the Braves aren’t creating separation


Freddie Freeman strikes out. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Nationals will wake up Wednesday morning still a game under .500 but a little bit closer to the top of the National League East without lifting a finger because of Tuesday’s postponement. The Atlanta Braves fell, 6-3, to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday and their lead over the Miami Marlins fell to 1.5 games, while the Nationals are three games back.

In fact, as the Nationals have struggled this month, the Braves have done little to pull away. The Nationals largest deficit in the NL East behind the Braves so far this season was on April 27 when they were in third place and trailed the first-place Braves by four games.

Since that day, the Nationals are 11-14, mostly because of a sluggish offense and a rough May. In that span, the Braves have gone only 11-15.

The Braves have faced a mostly tough schedule in that time: San Francisco Giants (who have the best record in the majors), St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Marlins, Red Sox, as well as the surprising Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies. Of those seven teams, only two have losing records. The Giants took five of six games from the Braves, and the Cardinals beat the Braves four times in six games. Even the Marlins swept the Braves.

During that span, Braves pitching posted a 3.73 ERA and the team’s hitting has continued to struggle, scoring only 3.2 runs per game.

Nationals fans may stress over their team’s slumping offense, but the Braves have been worse all season. The all-or-nothing Braves offense ranks 27th in the majors with a .236 team batting average and 24th with a .681 OPS. They’ve hit 51 home runs, but have struck out 440 times — the fifth most in baseball.

Dan Uggla and his .177 average have been on the bench more often than not recently. Freddie Freeman is hitting .307 with nine home runs and Justin Upton is hitting .303 with 13 home runs. But B.J. Upton (.210), Jason Heyward (.238) and Chris Johnson (.258) haven’t added much this season.

The Braves have been held up by their pitching. They have the best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching ERA) in baseball at 3.06. They are tied for first in starters FIP (3.23) and have the best relievers FIP (2.64). The Nationals’ bullpen is second with a 3.00 FIP. But with a struggling offense, it’s hard to tell how long the Braves’ pitching can prop the team up, much like the Nationals’ current dilemma.

There is still plenty of time for the Nationals to make a run and trim away at the Braves’ lead. Despite their issues, the Nationals aren’t in a bad place in their division. If the Nationals were in any of the other five divisions, their current record would have them in at least fourth place or worse. But thanks to the Braves’ inability to gain a larger lead, the Nationals are in third place and should be happy things aren’t worse.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals have improved at stealing bases, throwing out base runners.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Blake Treinen skipped after Nationals-Marlins postponement

Ryan Zimmerman throws, swings, talks outfield

Matt Williams on Danny Espinosa’s May skid

The troubling state of the Nationals’ offense

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 10, Rochester 2: Ryan Tatusko allowed two runs on six hits and struck out six over six innings. His ERA sits at 2.30 through 11 starts. Ryan Mattheus fired two scoreless innings on 18 pitches and Christian Garcia added a scoreless ninth. Zach Walters smashed a three-run home run. Brock Peterson went 2 for 5 and added a solo home run. Brian Goodwin and Destin Hood each had three hits.

Harrisburg was suspended.

Winston-Salem 8, Potomac 2: John Simms allowed three runs on seven hits over five innings. Bryan Harper allowed five runs, four earned, on three hits and walked three over three innings. Justin Miller and Stephen Perez each drove in a run. Randolph Oduber and Pedro Severino each had two hits.

Delmarva 7, Hagerstown 2: Hector Silvestre allowed five runs on eight hits over six innings. David Ramos, Wilson’s brother, allowed two run on five hits over two innings. Carlos Lopez and Drew Ward each had two hits.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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