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Braves are riding high heading into showdown series with Nationals

Expect a playoff atmosphere at SunTrust Park this weekend.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves will enter one of their biggest series of the season Thursday when they wrap up a homestand with a four-game set against the Washington Nationals.

Atlanta comes into Thursday’s series opener a perfect 5-0 on their current homestand and the winners of six straight overall. They dispatched the Chicago White Sox over the weekend and then took two straight from the Blue Jays. Those games came after splitting a series in Toronto a week ago.

They will have their work cut out for them, though, with a Nationals team that has pretty much matched them win for win over the last month. The Braves are 6-6 against the Nationals through the first 12 matchups of this season. The Nationals swept a two-game series in Atlanta in late May, but then dropped two of three to the Braves in Washington in June. The two teams then split a four-game set in Atlanta after the All-Star Break and the Braves won another series in Washington two weeks later. This is the last series the two teams will play in Atlanta this season (at least until the playoffs, potentially); after this four-game set, the Braves will play a three-game series in Washington next weekend (September 13-15).

After playing sub-.500 ball through the April and May, the Nationals have gone 54-26 since. Most recently, though, they dropped two of three in New York, helping Atlanta extend the NL East lead to seven full games entering this weekend’s series. It would have been an even bigger lead, but the Nationals abused the Mets’ bullpen in the middle game of their series to secure an improbable victory. Weirdly enough, both of the Nats’ most recent series losses have come against the Mets.

Thursday, September 5, 7:20 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast)

Stephen Strasburg (2019: 28 GS, 179.0 IP, 29.8 K%, 6.0 BB%, 3.47 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 3.17 xFIP, 77 ERA-, 70 FIP-)

Stephen Strasburg will get the nod in the series opener on Thursday. He has put together one of the best seasons of his career so far in 2019. Strasburg was lights out in July posting a 1.14 ERA and allowing a total of four runs in five starts. He was a little more hittable in August where he posted a 4.23 ERA over six starts. With Max Scherzer limited in the second half, much of the load has fallen on the shoulders of Strasburg and Patrick Corbin and they have delivered. Strasburg was dominant in his last start allowing two hits while striking out 14 over eight shutout innings against the Marlins. He is 3-0 in three starts against the Braves this season allowing 18 hits and eight runs over 18 1/3 innings. He has struck out 23 and walked just seven against Atlanta hitters in those three starts, and the Braves have lost all three of those games.

Max Fried (2019: 28 G, 26 GS, 142.1 IP, 24.6 K%, 6.9 BB%, 4.05 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 3.36 xFIP, 90 ERA-, 83 FIP-)

The Braves will counter with left-hander Max Fried in Thursday’s opener. Fried has pitched well of late but has faded a bit when going through a lineup for a third time. He allowed four hits and four runs (three earned) over six innings while striking out a season-best 11 in his last start against the White Sox. He has allowed three earned runs or less in five of his last six starts. Fried faced the Nationals back on May 28 and took the loss allowing nine hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings. This will be only his second start against Washington this year.

Friday, September 6, 7:20 p.m. ET (Fox Sports South)

Patrick Corbin (2019: 28 GS, 174.2 IP, 28.4 K%, 7.6 BB%, 3.19 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.60 xFIP, 71 ERA-, 74 FIP-)

Friday’s game will be a matchup of two talented southpaws and a rematch of July 29 in Washington. Patrick Corbin outdueled Dallas Keuchel in that matchup and has pitched really well of late. He’s allowed two runs or less in four of his last five starts. He allowed three hits, three runs and struck out eight over six innings last time out against the Marlins. Corbin has made two starts against the Braves this season allowing 13 hits and four runs in 11 innings. The Nationals are 1-1 in those starts; his first start against the Braves ended on a Josh Donaldson walkoff single after the Nationals tied the game with a two-run homer in the ninth.

Dallas Keuchel (2019: 14 GS, 84.2 IP, 19.4 K%, 7.5 BB%, 3.72 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 3.83 xFIP, 83 ERA-, 105 FIP-)

Keuchel hasn’t had much luck in two outings against the Nationals but is currently in the best stretch of his abbreviated season. Since getting lit up for 10 hits and eight runs in just 3 2/3 against the Marlins on August 8, he’s allowed a total of three runs over his next four starts combined (25 innings).

Saturday, September 7, 7:20 p.m. ET (Fox Sports South)

Joe Ross (2019: 25 G, 7 GS, 54.0 IP, 17.8 K%, 11.5 BB%, 6.17 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 5.42 xFIP, 136 ERA-, 108 FIP-)

Joe Ross began the season in Washington’s bullpen and struggled. He had pitched much better since returning to a starting role, but has scuffled again in his last two outings. Ross posted a 1.05 ERA through five starts in August however, he was hit hard last time out allowing eight hits and seven runs to the Mets in just 3 2/3 innings. He has failed to last five innings in any of his last three starts. Ross faced the Braves as a reliever back in June and was lit up for five hits and four runs in just one inning. He started against them a month later and pitched better allowing eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. Ross is a weak link in a pitching staff that makes it tough on opposing teams basically every night, so hopefully the Braves can take advantage.

Julio Teheran (2019: 29 GS, 157.1 IP, 21.6 K%, 11.2 BB%, 3.38 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 5.19 xFIP, 75 ERA-, 99 FIP-)

Julio Teheran will get the nod for the Braves on Saturday. Teheran has surprised pretty much everyone with his performance in 2019 and has been rolling of late. Since allowing six runs in just 1 1/3 innings against the Mets on August 15, Teheran has made three starts and allowed two runs over his next 19 innings. He has made two starts against Washington this season allowing a combined 11 hits and three runs in 12 1/3 innings. The Braves have won both games, with the aforementioned Donaldson walkoff being one of those victories.

Sunday, September 8, 1:20 p.m. ET (Fox Sports South)

Max Scherzer (2019: 23 GS, 148.2 IP, 34.7 K%, 4.7 BB%, 2.60 ERA, 2.28 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, 58 ERA-, 51 FIP-)

One of the more impressive notes about the Nationals recent run is that Max Scherzer has been limited to just four starts since the All-Star break due to reoccurring back issues. After missing nearly a month of action, Scherzer is slowly building himself back up. He allowed five hits and four runs over six innings in his most recent start against the Mets but threw 90 pitches and said that he felt strong after exiting.

Amazingly, this will be Scherzer’s first start against Atlanta this season. He has a 3.76 ERA in 22 career appearances against the Braves. Scherzer is 2-3 with a 4.18 ERA in five career starts at SunTrust Park.

Mike Soroka (2019: 25 GS, 152.2 IP, 19.4 K%, 5.7 BB%, 2.53 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.86 xFIP, 56 ERA-, 76 FIP-)

Mike Soroka will get the start in Sunday’s series finale opposite of Scherzer for Atlanta. Soroka allowed two home runs in a start for the first time in his career last time out against Toronto. He pitched well overall allowing five hits and three runs over five innings while striking out six and walking two. Soroka has been the model of consistency for the Braves allowing three runs or less in eight straight starts. He’s made three starts against the Nats so far this season. On July 31, he allowed just one run in seven innings against Washington, but the Braves needed a Josh Donaldson homer in the top of the tenth to come away victorious after the bullpen blew the lead late. Before that, he had allowed one hit over two scoreless innings back on June 23 and was forced to exit after he was hit by a pitch. Then, on July 20, he allowed nine hits and four runs over six innings in a loss at SunTrust Park.

While Scherzer has been on another level for much of 2019, he and Soroka have both been top-10 starters in the National League, and are second and third (Soroka edges Scherzer) in ERA- behind Hyun-Jin Ryu among the 35 NL pitchers qualified for the ERA title. It should make for a great finish to an exciting series on Sunday.

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