It has been a whirlwind few weeks for the Atlanta Braves. The team just completed yet another series victory by taking 2 out of 3 from the hapless Philadelphia Phillies, and now, it is time to welcome the 2nd-place Washington Nationals to Turner Field for a trio of weekend games. Let’s take a look forward at what to expect.
Friday, August 16th – 7:30 PM ET – Taylor Jordan vs. Alex Wood
Hello, Taylor Jordan. This is the first opportunity for the Braves to face the 24-year-old rookie, and he is certainly talented. Over his first 8 starts in the Majors, Jordan has thrown 45.2 innings with a 4.14 ERA (3.77 xFIP) and a minuscule walk rate of 1.58 per 9 innings. While those numbers aren’t Earth-shattering, Jordan had a sub-1.00 ERA (not a misprint) over his final 90 innings in the minors, and the walk rate is impressive in his first stint against “real” hitters. He is right-handed and sits in the 90-92 MPH range with his fastball, and fortunately for Atlanta, that matches up well with the potent Braves lineup. For the Braves, Alex Wood has been tremendous in recent days, posting back-to-back starts with 1-or-less earned runs allowed. There is still some skepticism from portions of Braves nation about his prospects as a long-term starter (mostly due to his delivery), but Wood’s performance (2.78 ERA, 9.53 K/9) has been awesome this season in both roles. He’ll square off against a Nationals lineup that is dead last in all of MLB against left-handed pitching, and this is the one match-up of the weekend in which the Braves have a decisive advantage.
Saturday, August 17th – 7:10 PM ET – Stephen Strasburg vs. Mike Minor
This is the first of two awesome pitching battles. Both guys are the “number one starters” for their respective units (although there is an argument for Jordan Zimmermann in Washington), and each guy is capable of a dominant, shutdown brand of ball. In fact, Strasburg is coming off of the first shutout (and complete game) of his entire career with a 4-hitter (with 10 strikeouts) against the Phillies. There has been coverage of Strasburg ad nauseum for years, but his skills are flat-out insane, and he’s one of the few guys capable of shutting down any lineup. For the home team, Mike Minor struggled a bit his last time out (7 innings, 4 ER) against Miami, but he grinded his way through 7 frames and got a pitcher “win” for his trouble. Again, Minor’s left-handedness gives him a big edge against a Nats lineup that basically puts up zero resistance against LHP, and the only real threat on that offense is Ryan Zimmerman (yes, I’m looking at you, Bryce Harper). In short, this is an awesome match-up.
Sunday, August 18th – 1:35 PM ET – Gio Gonzalez vs. Julio Teheran
The finale may not sport the cache of Saturday’s pitching duel, but Teheran vs. Gonzalez is tremendous. Julio doesn’t have the benefit of being a lefty against Washington, and because of that, this is the scariest match-up of the weekend. However, Teheran was very good in beating Washington in their last battle (6 IP, 1 ER on August 6th), and he comes into the game having allowed 1 run or fewer in 4 of his last 5 starts. I would’ve frankly been okay with skipping Wood or Teheran in this series to save some innings in the midst of a division runaway, but watching Teheran pitch has been an absolute pleasure in recent days. For the Nats, Gonzalez is coming off a rain-shortened outing that saw him leave after 4 innings with a “tweaked back”. However, all reports indicate that he’s good to go for this start, and he’ll have the opportunity to shut down a Braves lineup that has given him fits this year. In 4 starts against Atlanta, Gonzalez has a dreadful ERA of 5.87, and he has walked 10 (and allowed 23 hits) in 23 innings. It would be a little bit unreasonable to expect that kind of struggle to continue (he allowed only 2 ER in his last match-up with the Braves), but Gonzalez hasn’t dominated in the confines of Turner Field.
On one hand, the Braves do manage (yet again) to avoid the opposition’s “best” pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann, but for the first time in a while, Atlanta doesn’t have a clear pitching advantage when examining the full series. Even still, the Braves are playing so well that it would be a surprise to see them lose a series at home (where they are a scorching 42-17). It should certainly be a fun weekend.
Stay tuned for game-by-game analysis in this space as it happens!