Nationals head into series vs. Braves in first of the worst division


The Nationals, who entered Thursday’s game with a 37-33 record, have the worst winning percentage among division leaders. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

With a little less than a month to go until the All-Star break, the Nationals have found themselves atop the NL East.

However, they’re the first-place team of the worst division in baseball, and there isn’t much separation between Washington, Atlanta and Miami.

Though the Nationals have the division lead now, the mentality in the locker room is that the division still goes through the Braves, who are at Nationals Park this weekend for a key four-game series.

Despite battling near the top of the division, the Nationals and Braves haven’t exactly lived up to high expectations. Here’s how the clubs have managed to get to this point in the season:

Below-average hitting

Though the Nationals’ bats have picked up considerably in the past month, Washington entered Thursday with the worst team batting average among division leaders at .249. That trend is changing, though, as the Nationals have scored 93 runs in their previous 20 games before the Braves series. Atlanta’s hitting was dreadful before the series-opener, with the Braves ranking 29th in runs (258), 23rd in hits (590) and 21st in batting average (.244).

Stellar pitching

This is where both teams have been able to win games. Entering the Braves series, the Nationals held a combined 3.09 ERA, which ranks second-best behind Oakland’s 3.03. The Braves checked in at seventh (3.41). Neither team has a pitcher with a great win-loss record, which can be chalked up to poor run support. But Braves ace Julio Teheran has a 2.31 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 105 innings pitched. Nationals pitchers Tanner Roark (2.85 ERA) and Jordan Zimmermann (2.98) have been on a roll lately.

Fielding issues

Washington’s errors have dropped significantly after such a poor start, but both the Nationals and Braves have had plenty of defensive miscues. Before Thursday’s game, Washington ranked seventh in errors (52) and Atlanta 11th (47). Atlanta’s .982 fielding percentage ranked 21st, with Washington’s .980 at 26th. The Braves committed four errors while being swept by the Phillies in three games earlier this week.

Head-to-head

Despite Washington seemingly having slight advantages over Atlanta in hitting and pitching, the Braves took five of the first six games the two teams played this season. In those games, Atlanta outscored Washington 32-16. Of course, the Nationals have been playing better as of late.

“If we want to win the division, it goes through [Atlanta],” right fielder Jayson Werth said.

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Sadie Dingfelder · June 19, 2014