After a quick trip to D.C. that was, thankfully, unaffected by Hurricane Florence, the Nationals head south to Atlanta for their last shot at the division-leading Braves, the team many thought would be chasing them this time of year, not vice versa. The Nationals enter the three-game series 8 1/2 games back of those Braves in the National League East. A series win would not help the Nationals catch them so much as stave off mathematical elimination, which means something in itself.
BEST BASEBALL OF THE SEASON?
The Nationals flew to Atlanta after a 10-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs in which they battled back and were ultimately undone by their defense, something that has caused them problems all year, but fewer lately. Still, the loss that snapped their first five-game winning streak since May once again included a comeback and competitiveness, hallmarks of the past two weeks.
In other words, the Nationals are playing as well as they have at any point this season, which might be a product of decreased pressure or the result of hardened resolve. Whatever the reason, after a season of struggling to compile convincing performances against the Braves, the Nationals have a chance to take them on one more time.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR SHOWDOWN
This series features two of the best young players in baseball: 19-year-old Juan Soto and 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. That duo has engaged in a heated race for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Soto owns a .955 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, Acuna a .943. Soto is hitting .305, Acuna .290. Acuna has 25 home runs, Soto 19. They have scored 68 runs each. Soto has 108 hits and Acuna 107.
In another end-of-season award watch, Max Scherzer will continue his quest to chase down the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom and win a third straight Cy Young Award when he faces the Braves on Friday night. He trails deGrom by six tenths of a run in ERA but leads in strikeouts and batting average against. His previous outing was a complete game, a few more of which might help him prove his point.
The Braves just finished a 6-1 road trip to Arizona and San Francisco, one of their best showings against the NL West in recent memory. Their magic number is 10 with 16 games to play, meaning a rough series for the Nationals could rocket the division race toward its conclusion. In addition to Acuna, the Braves boast 24-year-old third baseman Johan Camargo, who has three homers in his past seven games and has been a key part of Atlanta’s surge. Freddie Freeman, an MVP candidate who has made a career of beating up the Nationals, has not slowed his progress and is hitting .310 over his past seven games, .307 for the season.
If there is good news for the Nationals, it is that they will miss right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, against whom they have had good and very bad results this season, and will face right-hander Julio Teheran, who has served up more than a handful of Bryce Harper homers in his career and has never given the Nationals as much trouble as he has others. They will, however, have to face left-hander Sean Newcomb. With seven available starters, the Nationals have not said who will throw against the Braves, other than Scherzer in the opener.
Friday (7:35 p.m., MASN2): RHP Max Scherzer vs. RHP Kevin Gausman
Saturday (1:05 p.m., Fox): TBA vs. RHP Julio Teheran
Sunday (1:35 p.m., MASN2): TBA vs. LHP Sean Newcomb