The Braves have handled the Nationals to date. Can they springboard off of them to take the division lead?
After sweeping the first half of their homestand by winning three in a row against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves will take aim at the Washington Nationals for a three-game set that begins on Monday night. The Braves have handled the Nationals quite well so far in 2022: they lost their first set against them, but have gone 9-1 since, including a sweep at home the last time they came to visit.
This version of the Nats is actually pretty different than the July version that lost six of seven to the Braves in Washington. Of the nine players that started against the Braves on July 15 (the only Washington win against Atlanta that month), two were traded to the Padres (Juan Soto, Josh Bell), two are hurt (Keibert Ruiz, Yadiel Hernandez), one was released (Maikel Franco), and one is currently a Brave (Ehire Adrianza). Players like Alex Call, former Braves farmhand Joey Meneses, trade return Luke Voit, and midseason pickup lldemaro Vargas are forming the bulk of their lineup at this point.
Overall, on the season, the Nationals are… pretty dreadful. They have the fifth-least position player fWAR in MLB. The hitting has been meh (21st in MLB), but this is the league’s worst defensive unit. The pitching, though, is where things really get grim. The Nats are dead last in MLB with just 1.5 pitching fWAR, total. The starters, as a group, are below replacement (-0.2 fWAR). The Nationals have used 34 pitchers this year, only 13 of whom have positive fWAR, and have given tons of innings, rightly or wrongly, to Josiah Gray (-0.7 fWAR), Steve Cishek (-0.3 fWAR), and Anibal Sanchez (-0.5 fWAR).
Somewhat amusingly, jettisoning Soto and Bell didn’t really do anything to harm the team. The Nationals played .340 ball through July, and have been .372 since. They started September with a series win over the Mets at Citi Field, and then split a four-game set with the Cardinals, before suffering a five-game losing streak where they were swept by both the Phillies and Orioles. The Braves shouldn’t really have issues here, but that’s probably what the Mets and Cardinals thought earlier this month…
Monday, September 19, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South, MLB Network)
Cory Abbott (13 G, 6 GS, 35.0 IP, 20.8 K%, 10.4 BB%, 4.37 ERA, 5.88 FIP)
Right-hander Cory Abbott will get the start for the Nationals in Monday’s series opener. Abbott will be making his 14th appearance overall and his seventh start of the season. His last appearance came in a start against Baltimore on September 13 where he allowed five hits, three walks and two runs before exiting after three innings. This will be his first career appearance against Atlanta.
Abbott isn’t a non-prospect, but he hasn’t pitched well in either relief or a starting assignment this year. Probably the most amusing thing about him is that he throws a changeup that Baseball Savant inexplicably thinks is a slider, as well as a slider that is marked as a curveball.
Kyle Wright (27 GS, 164.0 IP, 23.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 3.18 ERA, 3.67 FIP)
Kyle Wright will get the call for Atlanta in the series opener Monday. After allowing a season-high eight runs in a start in Oakland, Wright gutted his way through 5 1/3 innings against the Giants while only allowing just three hits and one run. Wright ran up over 50 pitches in the first two innings, but settled in and was able to hold the line after the Braves took the lead. Wright has already thrown a career-high 164 innings and has had a couple of bouts of arm fatigue. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves try to get him extra rest whenever possible down the stretch.
Wright’s velocity hasn’t really suffered overall despite some dips, but there’s been a persistent dip in the horizontal break of his curveball that’s now lasted for over a month. While Wright’s changed his pitching style to accommodate the differential motion, this reflects an arsenal that’s changed over the course of the season, and not necessarily for the better — his peripherals and whiff rates have been notably worse since it started, but he’s gotten more grounders and not really been worse for the wear as a result.
Tuesday, September 20, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Patrick Corbin (29 GS, 147.1 IP, 18.2 K%, 6.7 BB%, 6.11 ERA, 4.86 FIP)
Veteran lefty Patrick Corbin will make his fourth start of the season against the Braves. He hasn’t had much luck in the previous three outings, allowing 26 hits and 15 earned runs in just 13 2/3 innings. He is coming off of a good outing in his outing where he held the Orioles to just four hits and one run over six innings. Corbin has a huge ERA-FIP gap, and a pretty big FIP-xFIP gap, but even with those, the best thing you can say is that he’s had okay inputs this season. Not good… just kind of there.
Charlie Morton (28 GS, 157.2 IP, 28.3 K%, 8.5 BB%, 4.17 ERA, 4.10 FIP)
Charlie Morton will get the start Tuesday and will be looking to find his groove for the final couple of weeks of the regular season. It continues to be an up-and-down season for the veteran. Morton has pitched better in the second half, but has still been hampered by inconsistency. He allowed four hits, two walks and four runs in 5 1/3 innings in his last start against the Giants. Morton also hit two more batters in that game, adding to his league-leading total of 17 plunkings. He beat the Nationals earlier this season with a 7/3 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed in seven innings, as the Braves cruised to a 12-2 win.
Morton currently has 187 strikeouts on the season and is vying to become the first Braves player to have 200 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons since John Smoltz in 1996 and 1997.
Wednesday, September 21, 12:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South, MLB Network)
The Nationals haven’t announced their starter for Wednesday’s series finale. Josiah Gray would be on regular rest to make the start, but Washington may try to limit his workload over the final weeks of the season. If it is Gray, then this game will be a rematch of a Nationals 3-1 on April 13.
Max Fried (28 GS, 175.1 IP, 22.9 K%, 4.5 BB%, 2.52 ERA, 2.78 FIP)
Left-hander Max Fried will get the start for Atlanta in Wednesday’s series finale. Fried allowed four hits and two runs over six innings in his last start against Philadelphia. Two of those hits were solo home runs, giving him four allowed in his last two outings. That is notable given that he had allowed two home runs combined in his previous 14 starts, and also marks the first time in his career that he’s had multihomer games in back-to-back starts.
Fried had a chance to contend for the fWAR lead in the NL, but those back-to-back gopherball games have really stunted those chances. Spencer Strider has now pulled ahead of him, 5.0 to 4.6, while Carlos Rodon currently leads baseball with 5.7.
Fried has faced the Nationals three times this season, and had undeservedly poor results each time, though the Braves have won two of the three contests. Early in the year, he had a 4/0 K/BB ratio but was forced out due to three runs (two earned) in 5 1⁄3 innings. In June, he had four runs charged to him in 5 2⁄3 innings despite a 6/1 K/BB ratio and no homers yielded. In July, it was another 4/0 K/BB ratio, but also three runs charged to him in seven innings of work.