Over the past couple of weeks, the Washington Nationals have received ample opportunity to come at the presumptive NL East kings. They’ve missed, and missed, and missed. The Braves have taken five of six September contests between the division rivals, and have a chance to make it six of seven as the two teams clash for the final time in 2019’s regular season on Sunday afternoon. The season series between the two clubs is already decided, so this will be Atlanta’s chance to put an exclamation point on what’s been an expert deflection of the Nationals’ division hopes to date.
As the Braves vie for a sweep, Max Fried will get a chance to atone for his most recent outing, which was one of his worst starts of the year. (Arguably, it was his worst outing of the season, aside from an injury-shortened one-inning disaster against the Dodgers back in May.) Fried allowed five runs to the Phillies in five innings of work, getting torched for four home runs, three of which came in the first inning. That shellacking came on the heels of what was basically his best start of the year (and his career!) against these same Nationals: seven innings of one-hit, no-walk, nine-strikeout ball that made a narrow Atlanta lead seem insurmountable. On the year, Fried has a 90 ERA-, 86 FIP-, and 74 xFIP-. I check the graph below after every start, and it never ceases to wanly amuse. Fried’s ERA and FIP both converged to his xFIP relatively early on, and then somehow didn’t get the message that they were all supposed to move in lockstep, as he’s continually underperformed his xFIP since.
Hoping to stave off both a sweep and the rapidly-gaining NL competition forming an ominous Lightning Round queue in their rear-view mirror, the Nationals will send Anibal Sanchez to the hill. With his weirdo six-plus-pitch mix that Braves fans are all too familiar with, Sanchez is mocking his peripherals for a second straight resurgent season. In 2018, as a Brave, Sanchez piled up a 69 ERA-, 90 FIP-, and 94 xFIP-. In 2019, as a Nat, those numbers are 89, 99, and 116, respectively. He’s definitely taken a step back, even after adjusting for the bonkers 2019 run environment, but is still managing fly ball contact and somehow surviving and helping his teammates prevent runs at an above-average rate despite a lowly 10.5 percent K%-BB% (which, incidentally, is the same as Julio Teheran’s mark so far this season).
Sanchez’ recent starts have been a real mixed bag. He held the Twins to two runs in seven frames (5/1 K/BB ratio, one homer allowed) on Tuesday, but was obliterated by the Mets for seven runs in five innings (three homers allowed, 2/3 K/BB ratio) in the outing before that. He hasn’t had consecutive starts with a Game Score (v2) above 50 since mid-June, but has also only managed two instances of back-to-back starts with said Game Score below 50 in that span.
For this capstone to the season series, Fried will be making his third start against the Nationals of the season. As mentioned, his most recent outing versus Washington was the paragon of his career to date. Before then, he had a forgettable start against the Nationals in late May, allowing four runs in 5 2⁄3 innings (5/3 K/BB ratio, zero homers allowed) in a Braves loss. Fried actually worked with a lead for a while in that game, but the third time through the order led to a problematic sixth in which he walked in the go-ahead run and then had another run charged to his tally when Anthony Swarzak’s bases-loaded walk gave the Nats a 4-2 lead. Sanchez, meanwhile, has faced his former mates four times already in 2019. He dazzled in his first start against the Braves this year, throwing six one-hit innings with just one hit to seven strikeouts, but then the Braves turned the tables on him the following month by knocking him around for four runs in six frames in an eventual Atlanta blowout. In his next outing, in late July, he defeated the Braves despite allowing three runs in five frames as the Nationals scored more off Mike Soroka; two weeks later, he allowed four runs in five innings in a game the Braves eventually won on an extra-inning Josh Donaldson home run.
The Braves haven’t swept the Nats since April 2014, and they haven’t swept them in Washington since August 2013. They’ve already dealt ruinous harm to the Nats’ division chances, let’s see if they can continue kicking them down a few rungs in the playoff chase as well.
Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals
Sunday, September 15, 2019
1:38 pm EDT
Nationals Park, Washington, DC
TV: Fox Sports South, TBS, MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: XM Streaming 841