Opposite dugout: Braves looking toward promise of 2017

Manager: Brian Snitker (1st season)


Record: 44-76

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (.288 average, 24 HR, 128 hits); RF Nick Markakis (.269 average, 29 doubles, 64 RBIs); CF Ender Inciarte (95 hits, .270 average); RHP Robert Whalen (1-1, 7.31 ERA).

Season series vs. Nationals: 1-8

Pitching probables:

August 18: RHP Reynaldo Lopez vs. RHP Rob Whalen, 7:10 p.m., MASN
August 19: RHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Julio Teheran, 7:35 p.m., MASN
August 20: RHP Max Scherzer vs. RHP Tyrell Jenkins, 7:10 p.m., MASN
August 21: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Braves:

The best part about writing these Opposite Dugout pieces is giving readers an idea of the opponent that's either heading into D.C. or getting ready to host the Nationals. It's hard keeping up with the action of one baseball team, let alone all 30, which is why these little insights are a good way to get a quick lesson on the next opponent.

But to be completely honest, it's so much more enjoyable when we get to write about opponents having successful seasons. The statistics are generally more impressive and the team is trying to make its way into the postseason. Hey, everybody likes a good success story. Unfortunately, not every team can be having a successful 2016 campaign, which means sometimes we have to tell the story about teams whose seasons ended long ago.

This is one of those stories.

It's been such a long season for the Braves. Just glancing at the numbers clearly shows this year's team is among the worst in Major League Baseball, starting with a league-worst 44-76 record. Things got off to a rough start when the Braves finished April with a 5-18 mark, and haven't improved much along the way. In fact, Atlanta is well on its way to registering its first last-place division finish since 1990.

There are a few glimmers of hope on the offensive side of things, however. First baseman Freddie Freeman has put together a nice season, batting .288 with 24 home runs and 128 hits, all of which lead the team. Former Gold Glove winner Nick Markakis has certainly slowed down since pushing past age 30, but is still a formidable hitter. He's tallied 29 doubles and a team-leading 64 RBIs on the year, while appearing in all but two of the team's games. Markakis is also a career .295 hitter against the Nationals, and boasts career averages above .290 against all of his National League East opponents. Braves fans have to be excited about the appearance of young sensation Dansby Swanson. Swanson, who was drafted first overall in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks before being traded to Atlanta last December, made his major league debut Wednesday against the Twins. He finished 2-for-4 while batting in the eighth spot in the Braves' 10-3 loss, but it's certainly exciting to see such a promising talent begin his major league career.

The starting rotation department is where the Braves have really struggled. The team ranks 21st in the league in starters' ERA (4.64) and last in total wins with just 26. Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz leads the team with six wins, but no other pitcher has more than four wins on the year. Rookie Rob Whalen gets the start in Thursday's series opener. Whalen, who made his major league debut on August 3, is 1-1 on the year with a 7.31 ERA. Such bumps are to be expected as Whalen gets his feet wet in the big leagues, though Whalen's latest start was a loss in Washington in which he allowed six earned runs in five innings. Julio Teheran returns to start Friday's game after spending time in the disabled list with a right lat strain. Teheran's ERA is an impressive 2.81, but oddly enough the right-hander is still searching for his first home win of the season. Teheran is 0-5 with a 3.07 ERA at Turner Field this year. The Nationals face another familiar rookie on Saturday in Atlanta's Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins has actually had periods of success in his first season, including a three-game stretch in which he went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA. That momentum came to an abrupt stop, though, when he faced the Nationals back on August 14. In that game, Jenkins allowed seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Rookie Joel De La Cruz is 0-6 on the season, but is coming off of a good start against the Twins during which he allowed just one earned run on four hits. Cruz has yet to face the Nationals in his 13 appearances.

Jim Johnson takes care of the closer duties for the Braves. The 33-year-old has 10 saves on the season and a 3.53 ERA to match. Left-hander Ian Krol, meanwhile, is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA out of the 'pen while reliever Hunter Cervenka boasts a 3.18 ERA in 50 apperances.

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