Manager: Brian Snitker (2nd season)
Last 10 games: 6-4
Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (.318 with 27 HR, 69 RBIs), CF Ender Inciarte (.305 with 190 hits, 23 2B), RF Nick Markakis (.276 with 150 hits, 36 2B), LHP Sean Newcomb (3-8, 2.73 ERA), RHP Arodys Vizcaíno (5-3, 11 saves)
Season series vs. Nationals: 8-8
Inside the Braves:
The Nationals are 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers for the best record in the National League with 13 to play. The Braves, meanwhile, are one loss away from securing a fourth straight losing season. In short, there’s not much drama to this series. But that doesn’t mean these two teams don’t have reason to play hard. For the Nationals, it’s all about postseason momentum. Disappointing performances and quick exits have followed Washington through the playoffs in the past five years, but a hot streak heading into the postseason could help get the team over the hump. As for the Braves, it’s all about ending the season on a positive note and continuing to build toward contention.
If there’s been a bright spot in Atlanta this year (other than a gorgeous new stadium), it’s the success of the offense. As of Monday, the Braves ranked fourth in the majors with a .265 team average and sixth with 1,355 hits. More than 10 percent of those have come from center fielder Ender Inciarte, who has blossomed in his second season with the Braves. Inciarte is hitting .305 and is a near lock to register his first 200-hit season. First baseman Freddie Freeman, meanwhile, leads the team with 27 home runs and a .318 average. As impressive as that mark is, it’s not as high as Freeman’s career average against the Nationals. He’s hitting .330 lifetime vs. Washington and has clubbed 16 home runs in 112 games. Right fielder Nick Markakis just eclipsed 150 hits for the 10th time in 11 seasons, while left fielder Matt Kemp adds 19 home runs and 63 RBIs of his own. Catcher Tyler Flowers has been another bright spot behind the plate for the Braves, though he suffered a left hand contusion and is uncertain to play in tonight’s series opener.
Rookie Luiz Gohara starts tonight opposite Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer. Though he only has two career starts to his major league career, Gohara’s already faced the Nationals. He picked up his first career win on Sept. 13, when he allowed just one earned run in six innings. Fellow rookie Lucas Sims will be trying to win his first start since Aug. 22. During his last start, he was roughed up against the Cubs, allowing seven earned runs in just three innings before being pulled. He may have corrected some issues, though, as he’s given up just three earned runs in his last four relief appearances. If two rookies weren’t enough, it’ll be first-year southpaw Sean Newcomb in Thursday’s series finale. Newcomb endured a rough summer -- 1-6 with a 5.56 ERA in July/August -- but has pitched well in two September starts. Newcomb’s only other start against the Nationals came back on July 9, where he gave up four earned runs and took the loss.
In the bullpen, the Braves underwent a change at the closer position during the summer. Jim Johnson began the year as the closer, but suffered eight blown saves before the end of July and lost his spot. Since then, Arodys Vizcaíno has been the Braves closer, where he’s fared nicely. Vizcaíno has picked up nine saves since taking over the role and has amassed a 2.16 ERA.