Manager: Brian Snitker (3rd season)
Last 10 games: 6-4
Who to watch: LF Ronald Acuña Jr. (25 HR, 14 SB), 1B Freddie Freeman (.307/.388/.500, 85 RBIs), RF Nick Markakis (.306/.371/.457, 88 RBIs), CF Ender Inciarte (25 SB), RHP Kevin Gausman (3.89 ERA), RHP Arodys Vizcaíno (15 saves)
Season series vs. Nationals: 9-7
Inside the Braves:
If the Nationals are to keep their now-remote chances of playing October baseball alive, they pretty much have to sweep the National League Eats-leading Braves. The good news for the Nats is that the Braves have been better on the road (45-30) than in Sun Trust Park (37-34). The bad news is that Atlanta leads the National League in runs, hits, doubles and total bases, is second in batting average and third in slugging. Nats pitchers will have to bring their A games. The Braves’ blend of raw young talent and big league veterans has made them much more formidable than anyone predicted coming into the season. And while the NL Central and West are still up for grabs, the Braves might be flying under the radar enough to surprise in the postseason. They just completed a 6-1 road trip.
This series brings together two of the leading candidates for National League Rookie of the Year in Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. The Braves left fielder brings an impressive combination of speed and power, leading the team in home runs while trailing only center fielder Ender Inciarte for the club lead in stolen bases. The last time Acuña went two consecutive games without a hit was during an Aug. 7 doubleheader at Nationals Park. Inciarte has not posted the batting average or on-base percentage he has over his five years in the bigs, but he’s reached a career high for stolen bases. With two weeks left in the season, veteran right fielder Nick Markakis is matching his career mark in batting average, and his slugging percentage hasn’t been this high since 2012. Markakis’ 88 RBIs lead the Braves. He and teammate Freddie Freeman are sixth and fifth, respectively, in average in the National League. Over the last five games, the first baseman has been on an 8-for-20 tear. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, 21, provides another speed-and-power package, logging 22 homers (second on the team only to Acuña) and 13 stolen bases (behind Inciarte and Acuña). The Braves also have one of the majors’ best-hitting catchers in 34-year-old Kurt Suzuki (.271/.331/.455).
Righty Kevin Gausman (3.89 ERA), who starts tonight’s series opener, seems to have benefited from a change of scenery, posting a 2.32 ERA while going 4-2 over seven games since the Braves traded prospects to the rebuilding Orioles for him and reliever Darren O’Day (whose hamstring will prevent him from throwing a single pitch for Atlanta this year). Gausman scuffled in his last start, though, giving up four runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings at Arizona a week ago. Right-hander Julio Teheran (3.95 ERA) starts the middle of this three-game set. Like Gausman, Teheran has never quite lived up to the promise he’s shown at times. He’s been sharp in his last two outings, however. He gave up a single run on just four hits over seven innings Sept. 2 against the Pirates, and allowed two runs on just two hits over six while striking out half a dozen Diamondbacks in Phoenix last Saturday. Lefty Sean Newcomb (3.82 ERA) will work Sunday’s finale. The 25-year-old has the makings of a reliable starter but is still experiencing growing pains. He held the Marlins to just two hits over six innings on Aug. 23, but struggled in two home games afterward against American League opponents. He bounced back in San Francisco on Monday, allowing a run on three hits while striking out eight over six innings.
Closer Arodys Vizcaíno (1.65 ERA) went down with shoulder inflammation in June, but the Braves plan to liberate him from the 60-day disabled list in time for tonight’s opener. He won’t likely jump back into tight ninth-inning situations right away, though. Rookie southpaw A.J. Minter (3.36 ERA) has played the closer role with distinction, nearly matching Vizcaino’s save total. He’s 3-for-3 in save opportunities in September.