Nats open daunting four-game series with Braves today

They're all big games and big series for the Nationals at this point, with fewer than one-third of the season remaining on the schedule. But four games in three days against the Braves? Yeah, this is an especially big series.

The Nationals get 16 more cracks in total against the two teams that have resided above them in the National League East for much of the summer: seven with Atlanta, nine with Philadelphia. If they're going to make up this deficit and return to the postseason for the fifth time in seven years, they're going to have to beat these two rivals head-to-head.

The next three days provide their first opportunity, and it all begins with daunting assignment: a day-night doubleheader on South Capitol Street, the club's second in the last four days.

Rodriguez-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgBecause of that odd schedule, not to mention the record-setting rain D.C. has experienced in the last month, the Nationals' pitching staff is not in an ideal place at the moment. Needing a fill-in starter for one of today's games, they're summoning Jefry Rodriguez from Triple-A Syracuse to pitch the opener.

Rodriguez first made a name for himself with a brilliant emergency relief performance after Jeremy Hellickson injured his hamstring at SunTrust Park in Atlanta way back on June 3. Things have gone steadily downhill for the right-hander since then, though. Rodriguez has made three big league starts, and he has yet to complete more than five innings or surrender fewer than four runs.

Now the Nationals will ask the lanky, 25-year-old to come up big in a game that will set the tone for the rest of this series.

The good news: The Nats know they'll be sending ace Max Scherzer to the mound for the nightcap. The bad news: Scherzer will be matched up against talented lefty Sean Newcomb, who nearly no-hit the Dodgers his last time on the mound.

And the pitching matchups don't favor the Nationals the rest of the way, either. Tommy Milone faces Mike Foltynewicz on Wednesday evening, then Gio Gonzalez will once again try to right his wayward ship in Thursday afternoon's finale against Anibal Sánchez.

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