Nationals start a Milwaukee, Chicago road trip feeling confident

brushback_harperSometime later in the season, the Nationals may look back on this weekend as a turning point. Their two wins over the Braves this weekend did a lot for their confidence.

Imagine how they would felt traveling to their seven-game road trip to first-place Milwaukee and last-place Chicago if they have been swept by the Braves or lost the series. Instead, after two disappointing losses to start the series, the Nationals regrouped and split the set with Atlanta. Not only did they find a way to finally beat their division nemesis, but they begin a Midwest trip with the right feeling.

“I know we’re playing good baseball and we’re kind of just going to let the game play out like they may and see what happens,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “Obviously the Brewers are playing well this year and I think we realize that, but so have we so we feel pretty confident.”

The Nationals went 4-2 during their most recent homestand, and have won 12 of their past 19 games. During that span, they have overtaken Braves for the NL East and maintained it with weekend wins behind Doug Fister and Tanner Roark. The Brewers, however, will test the Nationals and serve as a good gauge of where they stand as a team.

The Brewers will be the best team the Nationals have faced since they played the Giants in San Francisco earlier this month. Of all the opponents the Nationals have played this season, the Brewers have the second best record (47-30). The Nationals have also played the Athletics (47-29), who have the best record in baseball. The Nationals went 3-1 against the Giants but were swept in a three-game series by the Athletics, a mixed track record against baseball’s best.

The Brewers have been one of the league’s best teams all season. Their pitching staff as a whole ranks 12th in baseball with a 3.64 ERA because of a solid rotation and bullpen. The rotation is strong but not led by any dominant starters ranking highly among league leaders. Kyle Lohse (3.20 ERA), Wily Peralta (3.02 ERA) and Yovani Gallardo (3.34 ERA) have been good, while Matt Garza (4.02 ERA) and Marco Estrada (5.22 ERA) have been less productive. The Nationals are scheduled to face two of the Brewers’ worst starters — Garza and Estrada — in addition to Gallardo.

The Nationals’ biggest challenge will be the Brewers offense, which is among the best in baseball. Their team OPS of .737 is sixth best in the majors. They hit a lot of home runs (81) and don’t strike out much. Jonathan Lucroy (.917 OPS) has again proved that he is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball and Carlos Gomez is perhaps among MLB’s best all-around players (the reigning NL Gold Glove center fielder is hitting .317 with 12 home runs). Six Brewers regulars have at least an .800 OPS.

The pitching matchups in Milwaukee may favor the Nationals, so they could produce a good showing against a first-place team. The Cubs are among the worst teams in baseball, a type of team the Nationals should readily defeat in the four-game series.

FROM THE POST

After a 4-1 win Sunday to salvage a four-game series split, the Nationals are back to where they started against the Braves.

After earning a split in its series vs. Atlanta, we’re about to find out what this Washington team can accomplish, writes Thomas Boswell. 

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 9, Durham 0: Blake Treinen struck out eight and gave up only three hits over six innings. Matt Grace, Zach Jackson and Warner Madrigal combined for three scoreless innings. Steven Souza Jr. hit his ninth home run, collected two hits, finished with three RBI and is hitting .355. Tyler Moore and Josh Johnson drove in two runs each.

Harrisburg 7, Akron 5: On rehab, Wilson Ramos went 1 for 4 with an RBI and caught seven innings. A.J. Cole struck out six innings and gave up three runs over 6 1/3 innings. Bryan Harper gave up two runs, only one earned, over 2/3 of an inning. Tyler Herron notched a two-inning save. Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 3 with two walks. Jeff Kobernus and Matt Skole drove in two runs each.

Potomac 11, Salem 4: John Simms allowed four runs over five innings, while Brian Rauh added three scoreless innings of relief. Richie Mirowski fired a scoreless ninth. Tony Renda, Oscar Tejeda, Shawn Pleffner, Randolph Oduber and Khayyan Norfork each drove in two runs. Will Piwnica-Worms and Oduber both homered.

Hagerstown 4, Greensboro 3: Jake Johansen allowed two runs over four innings. Ryan Ullman and Joseph Webb combined for one run over five innings of relief. Isaac Ballou homered, and Wilmer Difo and Spencer Kieboom each collected two hits.

Mahoning Valley 15, Auburn 5: Anderson Martinez allowed four runs. Deibi Yrizarri allowed seven runs, all unearned. Cory Bafidis and Mario Sanchez allowed another two each. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz went 1 for 4 with two RBI. Matthew Page homered.

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