Opposite dugout: Braves still have a part to play in NL East race

braves-logo.jpgManager: Fredi Gonzalez (5th season)

Record: 54-79

Last 10 games: 1-9

Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (.280/.359/.478 with 15 HR and 50 RBIs), RF Nick Markakis (.298 with 48 RBIs), CF Cameron Maybin (.267 with 10 HR and 52 RBIs), RHP Shelby Miller (147 strikeouts, 2.59 ERA), RHP Jason Grilli (24 saves, 2.94 ERA)

Season series vs. Nationals: 3-9

Pitching probables:

Sept. 3: RHP Matt Wisler vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 4: RHP Julio Teheran vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 5: RHP Shelby Miller vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 6: LHP Manny Banuelos vs. RHP Joe Ross, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Braves:

While the Braves fight the rest of the season to stay out of last place in the National League East, they can still play spoiler and actually help the rival Nationals down the stretch. Although Atlanta has lost 15 of its last 16 games, they are only a half-game behind Miami for third place and 1 1/2 games in front of Philadelphia for last in the East. But when you look at the Braves' head-to-head records against division opponents and their remaining schedule, they might just end up playing a factor in the postseason race after all.

The Braves have dominated the Marlins this year, posting a 10-6 record with just one three-game series left in Miami. They have been decent against the Phillies with a 6-7 record, and still have six games left to make up that ground. But most interesting of all, Atlanta is 6-6 against the Mets, which is New York's worst record against a division opponent. With seven games left each against the Mets and Nats, Atlanta is looking to ruin either rival's chance at the NL East crown.

Right fielder Nick Markakis continues to produce at the top of the lineup by leading the Braves with a .298 batting average and .368 on-base percentage. Center fielder Cameron Maybin leads the team with 52 RBIs while batting .267 and first baseman Freddie Freeman leads the team with 15 home runs while knocking 50 RBIs despite his season being hampered by injuries. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is batting .295 with 42 RBIs, while second baseman Jace Peterson has 50 RBIs despite just hitting .241.

Matt Wisler, 22, has pitched admirably during his rookie campaign in the big leagues, going 5-5 with a 5.22 ERA. But the right-hander hasn't won since July 26, going 0-4 with a 7.85 ERA in his six August starts. Wisler gave up eight home runs over those last six starts and only went six innings once in his last start against the Yankees. His second and third career starts came against the Nationals when he split the decisions with a 3.86 ERA, the win coming at home. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up one hit, no runs, five walks and six strikeouts in the Braves' 4-1 win on July 1.

Julio Teheran is 9-7 with a 4.62 ERA and will start Friday night's game at Nationals Park. He is 3-3 with a 4.75 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. Teheran doesn't fair well on the road, going 2-5 with a 6.32 ERA versus 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA at Turner Field. Although he entered this season with decent numbers against the Nats, Teheran hasn't found success against them this season, going without a decision and a 7.59 ERA in two starts. The last time he faced them came in D.C., when he pitched five innings while giving up 10 hits, six runs, three walks and six strikeouts. Jose Lobaton has two homers and Ryan Zimmerman has one off Teheran this season.

Right-hander Shelby Miller was named an All-Star for the first time this season by his fellow players after a 5-5 first half with a 2.38 ERA. But if you look at Miller's season stats, they don't look like those of an All-Star, and that's not entirely his fault. Miller's last win came on May 17, going 0-11 in 19 starts since. He is 0-7 since the break despite a 2.93 ERA, suggesting Miller seriously lacks run support from his offense. Coming into his fill-in start on Monday, the Braves averaged 2.56 runs per Miller start and then put up a big zero in that night's game. Miller has a 2.95 ERA on the road despite a 3-5 record.

The Braves haven't officially announced their starter for Sunday's finale, but if their rotation holds, it will be rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos, who is 1-3 with a 3.33 ERA. Banuelos, who made his major league debut against the Nats on July 2, made his first start in more than a month on Tuesday against the Marlins in his return from an elbow injury. In his debut, he earned a no-decision and pitched 5 2/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball while striking out seven in a 2-1 Braves win at Turner Field.

The Braves have 23 of their final 29 games against NL East rivals, seven of which come against the Nationals. With their records against the other teams, particularly the Mets, even though they are out of the playoff race, the Braves can still have a say in who plays in October. It might be difficult, but D.C. fans might want to cheer on the Braves the rest of the way when they aren't playing the Nationals.

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