Opposite dugout: Freeman’s return gives Braves a glimmer of hope

braves-logo.jpgManager: Brian Snitker (2nd year)

Record: 40-43

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (49-for-143, 14 HR), C Tyler Flowers (.319/.412/.459) LF Matt Kemp (21 doubles, 12 HR) CF Ender Inciarte (11 stolen bases) RF Nick Markakis (42 RBIs), RHP Jim Johnson (18 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 4-5

Pitching probables:

July 6: RHP Mike Foltynewicz vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN

July 7: RHP R.A. Dickey vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 7:05 p.m., MASN

July 8: RHP Julio Teheran vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg, 4:05 p.m., MASN2

July 9: LHP Sean Newcomb vs. TBA, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Braves:

With just under half a season left to play, the second-place Braves still have time, but need to make up a 9 1/2-game deficit to catch the National League East-leading Nationals. Their chances got a big boost this week, though, when Freddie Freeman rejoined the team - getting his first-ever start at third base July 4 while the hot-hitting Matt Adams remained at first base - after sitting out the better part of two months with a fractured wrist. Freeman was putting up All-Star numbers until he got plunked, and if he can pick up where he left off in May, the Braves can gain ground in a hurry in this four-game series against the Nats.

Center fielder Ender Inciarte (.294/.340/.389) ranks among the league leaders in hits, and after the Braves complete their business in Washington this weekend, Inciarte heads for Miami and his first appearance as an All-Star. Tyler Flowers (.319/.412/.459) provides the proverbial gravy as a solid, everyday catcher who also happens to lead the Braves in batting average. Veteran right fielder Nick Markakis (.285/.363/.383) is driving in runs from the No. 3 hole. Matt Kemp (.302/.345/.507) has been slumping the first week of July, batting just .200.

Mike Foltynewicz (6-5, 3.83), who could be considered the Braves ace at this point in the season, starts Thursday’s opener in D.C. He has picked up wins in his last two appearances, including an eight-innings-plus beauty in Oakland June 30. The only hit Foltynewicz surrendered in that game was the ninth-inning solo shot by Matt Olson that chased him. Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-5, 4.44 ERA) takes the mound on Friday. He took his most recent loss June 13 against the Nats, who tagged him for eight runs on eight hits over five innings. Dickey won his next two starts, shutting out the Giants on three hits over seven innings June 19, and giving up just one run while scattering five hits over seven innings against the first-place Brewers. He pitched six innings to a no-decision in Oakland in his last start, again allowing just one run. Julio Teheran (6-6, 5.14 ERA) starts Saturday’s game in Nationals Park, where he got his most recent win as the Braves thumped the Nats 13-2 on June 14. Since then, Teheran has taken losses against the Giants and Brewers, getting through just three innings in the latter. He bounced back July 2 in Oakland, giving up just two runs on three hits over 6 2/3 innings, but did not figure in the decision. Rookie Sean Newcomb (1-2, 1.48 ERA) makes his fifth big league start in the series finale on Sunday. The lefty has gone at least six innings in each, and he actually gave up more hits in his lone win so far - a June 27 victory at San Diego in which he allowed six hits - than in his other starts.

Braves closer Jim Johnson (3.68 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) had been on a roll, converting five straight save chances before blowing one in Oakland July 2. Johnson came on in the 11th inning with a one-run lead and walked the first two batters before Bruce Maxwell hit an RBI single to tie the game.

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