(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Somehow it keeps coming back to this, doesn’t it?
The Braves have a date with the Nationals, and they need to play well, and they are reminding themselves not to look past the “lowly” team from the bottom of the division, yadda yadda.
Well, I, for one, think they’ve got no room to look past the Nats. Don’t care if the Phillies are coming in this weekend for a three-game showdown, and the Braves are in striking distance at 4 ½ games behind the Phillies in the NL East.
How can you look past a team that keeps beating you? The Braves should be staring squarely across the field at the Nationals, especially now. The Nats are actually bringing momentum with them this time – an eight-game winning streak – and they already seem ready to rise up to play the Braves tough just any old time.
In the last two seasons, these two teams have met for 10 series (including the one-gamer to open the 2008 season). You know how many of those series the Braves have won? Two. They swept the Nationals 3-0 on April 10-12 at Turner Field, and they took two out of three from the Nationals in Washington on April 11-13 of last year. Otherwise it’s a split or a Nats win.
Overall in the last two seasons of this series, it’s Nationals 16 games, Braves 11. Ten of those games have been decided by one run, so one play here or there could have swung this thing around. (The two teams are 5-5 in those one-run matchups, by the way.)
John Lannan takes the mound tonight, and he’s usually tough against the Braves, going 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA in six career starts against them. He’s pitched seven scoreless innings against them twice, allowed one run in six innings once, and in his last start he held them to three runs in eight innings to beat them and (tonight’s starter) Tommy Hanson on July 4.
Oh, you remember that game, eh? The Braves had a 3-1 lead through seven innings behind Hanson, when Mike Gonzalez came on and loaded the bases in the eighth, setting up a four-run inning in a 5-3 loss. Then the Braves went on to lose the next day by the same score (weird). And that completed a deflating series after the Braves had come into Washington on the high of a three-game sweep over the Phillies.
Now the Braves come home to play the Nationals on the high of winning three in a row over the Dodgers. Will it be enough to turn the tide in this series? The smoking hot Nationals lost to the Pirates on August 1 and haven’t lost since. They won two against the Pirates and swept three-game series from the Marlins and Diamondbacks.
We shall see. In the meantime, welcome back, Braves, to the muggy heat. I hear it was really nice out in San Diego and LA. Here, well, not so much. And a little chance of rain in the forecast is not such a scary thing to a baseball writer at the moment. Sounds refreshing.
COUPLE OTHER POINTS:
1) This is the first time the Braves have faced the Nationals since Manny Acta was fired and Jim Riggleman took over as interim manager over the All-Star break. Under Riggleman, the Nats are 14-11.
2) The Nationals just found out yesterday that Jordan Zimmermann is likely headed for Tommy John surgery. You remember him, right? He made his debut against the Braves April 20 and beat Derek Lowe 3-2. Zimmermann is one of the top young pitchers in their organization, and I think it just got that much more important for them to sign Stephen Strasburg. The Nats have until Monday to sign the No. 1 overall pick from San Diego State with the electric arm and Scott Boras as his agent.
NL EAST OVERLOAD
Not that we’re looking ahead, ahem, but did you realize that 18 of the Braves’ next 22 games are against NL East opponents? This is where it’s won or lost, right here, you have to figure. (OK fine, either now, or the last three weeks of the season. Get to that in a minute.)
After playing the Nats, Phillies and Arizona (makeup game) on this homestand, the Braves travel to New York to play three games against the Mets. Then it’s home for three against Florida and three against the Padres. Then they hit the road to play in Philly for three and Florida for four.
At that point, the Braves get a breather from the NL East with nine games against the NL Central. Then they finish out the season by playing their last 19 games against the NL East. Wow. Things could get interesting. Of course, the last four games of the season will be against – you guessed it – the ole Washington Nationals.
We could see a little movement on the roster front today, with Omar Infante about ready to return. He went 5-for-17 with three walks in five games for Rome and then 1-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs Sunday in Gwinnett after Rome hit the road.
I’m guessing a potential roster move will surely kick up some Greg Norton talk, but you have to figure Diory Hernandez draws the short straw since Infante can back up Yunel Escobar at shortstop.
I will follow up on that at the yard, see if it’s happening today, as well as checking to see if both Chipper Jones (oblique) and Nate McLouth (hamstring) are back in the lineup. The Braves won three in a row from the Dodgers without Chipper in the lineup. That’s a good sign for the way this lineup is swinging.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS:
Don’t forget the Sunday game with the Philies was changed to 8:05 p.m. to accommodate ESPN. And the Braves have a makeup game on Monday against the Diamondbacks at 4:10. Hey, that reminder is partially for me. Never good to forget to show up on time at the ballpark.