Opposite dugout: Braves looking to carry momentum into second half

Manager: Brian Snitker (3rd season)
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Record: 52-42

Last 10 games: 3-7

Who to watch: 2B Ozzie Albies (.281 with 20 HR, 55 RBIs); RF Nick Markakis (.323 with 61 RBIs, 120 hits); 1B Freddie Freeman (.315 with 61 RBIs, 114 hits); CF Ender Inciarte (88 hits, 23 SB); RHP Aníbal Sánchez (4-2, 2.60 ERA); LHP A.J. Minter (3.20 ERA, 4 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 6-4

Pitching probables:

July 20: RHP Aníbal Sánchez (4-2) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-6); 7:05 p.m., MASN2
July 21: LHP Sean Newcomb (8-5) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-6); 7:05 p.m., MASN2
July 22: TBA vs. RHP Max Scherzer (12-5); 1:35 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Braves:

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. That’s what the Braves are trying to do. OK, maybe not the first two steps, but the team will certainly look to repeat the success it had during the first half of 2018. As we resume baseball activities following a festive and memorable All-Star experience, the Braves find themselves in the thick of a divisional race. Atlanta sits just a half-game behind the Phillies in the National League East, and five games ahead of the third-place Nationals. Can the Braves continue riding early-season momentum en route to their first division title since 2013? We’ll know soon enough.

If the Braves have hopes of capturing the NL East title, they’ll need continued success from their offense, which enters today’s action ranked third in the senior circuit with a .258 team batting average. The lineup is led by a trio of all-stars in Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies. At 34, Markakis may be having his best season. He is second in the NL with a .323 batting average and leads the NL in hits with 120. Freeman, meanwhile, is entering his prime years at the plate. The 28-year-old is hitting .315 with 16 home runs, and is tied for second on the team with 114 hits. The man he’s tied with is Albies. This second-year player is something special. Albies packs plenty of power, leading the team with 20 home runs, and has scored 74 runs in the process. He’s also a threat along the basepaths with nine steals on the year. Speaking of steals, keep an eye on center fielder Ender Inciarte, who is third in the majors with 23 swipes.

Aníbal Sánchez pitches for the Braves in tonight’s series opener. Sánchez is familiar with the Nats, having spent seven years with the Marlins, and has been absolutely dominant against the boys from D.C. For his career, Sánchez is 9-1 with a filthy 2.01 ERA against Washington. In two starts against the Nationals this season, Sánchez hasn’t allowed an earned run in 10 innings and has tallied 20 strikeouts to just seven free passes. It’ll be a clash between southpaws Saturday as Sean Newcomb faces Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez. Newcomb leads the Braves with eight wins on the year, but hasn’t added to that total since June 16. In fact, he’s lost his last three starts, and will look to get back on track to start the second half. In two starts against Washington this season, Newcomb has had mixed results. He gave up six runs in a loss back on April 2, then registered a quality start against the Nats on May 31. The Braves have yet to announce a starter for Sunday’s series finale, though he’ll have to be sharp going up against Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

In the bullpen, closer Arodys Vizcaíno was placed on the disabled last weekend with right shoulder inflammation. Vizcaíno had picked up 15 saves while boasting a 1.65 ERA. In his place, it’ll likely be left-hander A.J. Minter. Minter has earned four saves this season and is joined by relievers Shane Carle, Dan Winkler and Sam Freeman.

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