After the debacle in Oakland, the Braves have responded well with back to back series wins against the Diamondbacks and the Mets to start June well. The Nationals have not had a strong June, losing four of five to open the month. The Nats have been surprisingly scrappy and competitive this season, hovering a few games below .500 to start a season where they were expected to challenge the A’s for the title of worst team in baseball. The wheels have begun to come off lately, falling 10 games under .500 for the first time this season.
The Braves will look to take advantage of their struggles, with their elite offense and improved bullpen. The bullpen has been particularly impressive lately, giving up only one run in their last 16.2 innings of work. That has led to the offense being able to mount comebacks, which they have done regularly in each of the last two series.
On Wednesday, the comeback was inspired by Michael Harris II, who had a three hit game including a home run in the 8th which powered the Braves to victory. Getting Harris back into form he was in last season would be a massive boost for an already elite Braves offense.
The Nationals have been led by Jeimer Candelario, who leads National League third baseman in fWAR, with 1.8 and only trails Matt Chapman in all of baseball. He has a 108 wRC+ while playing elite defense. Lane Thomas has been another quality bat for them, posting a 114 wRC+. Besides that, there is not much else there, with CJ Abrams and Keibert Ruiz both posting negative fWAR, even if statcast suggests that Ruiz has been very unlucky at the plate. He has an 87th percentile xWOBA while only posting an 87 wRC+.
Friday, June 9, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
AJ Smith-Shawver (1 G, 2.1 IP, 37.5 K%, 12.5 BB%, 25.0 GB%, 0.00 ERA, 2.00 FIP)
AJ Smith-Shawver is making his first big league start after exploding through the Braves system this year. He was a two sport athlete in high school who did not fully focus on baseball until 2022. This makes the 20 year-old’s meteoric rise even more impressive. He has torched minor league opposition with a 1.09 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 33 innings. He was also impressive in his debut, going 2.1 innings of scoreless ball. He uses a mid-90’s fastball with impressive shape to overwhelm hitters alongside a low spin but effective slider. It will be interesting to see how he does in this outing, starting off with a relatively soft touch against the Nationals.
Josiah Gray (12 GS, 67 IP, 19 K%, 11.4 BB%, 43 GB%, 3.09 ERA, 4.76 FIP)
Josiah Gray has improved, at least in terms of his surface level stats. His ERA has gone from 5.02 in 2022 to 3.09 this season. Despite this, advanced stats are still skeptical of the 25 year-old right hander, as can be seen by his 4.76 FIP. The main difference between this season and last season is that he has cut back on the home runs he has allowed. He allowed 2.30 HR/9 last season but has cut that by more than 50% this season, reducing it to 1.07 HR/9. He gave up two home runs in his last start against the D-backs, so maybe he is coming back to the norm, but that is the key improvement he has made this season. He has had success against the Braves in the past, posting a 3.33 ERA in 27 innings, while racking up 27 punch outs. It will be interesting to see if he can continue that success against an elite offense.
Saturday, June 10, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Jared Shuster (6 GS, 30.2 IP, 16.2 K%, 14.6 BB%, 33.3 GB%, 4.99 ERA, 4.72 FIP)
Jared Shuster has had an unsteady start to his big league career, struggling badly with walks, something that has been a bit of a surprise given his scouting report coming into the league. A lot of the walks have come from him needing to nibble due to his mediocre stuff. His 91 MPH heater is not putting anyone away, and while his secondaries are good, they are not elite. That has led to a big adjustment for him in the big leagues. He was better in May, posting a 3.68 ERA in 22 innings, but he still walked 10 batters in those innings. His last start was a mixed bag. While he only gave up two runs in 5.2 IP while getting the win, but he walked four batters while only striking out one. He made his first career start against the Nats, and it did not go well, giving up four runs with five walks.
Mackenzie Gore (12 GS, 64 IP, 29.2 K%, 10.2 BB%, 43.8 GB%, 3.66 ERA, 3.93 FIP)
Mackenzie Gore has put together an impressive season so far. He was a highly touted prospect, who was involved in the Juan Soto trade. He looks like he is putting some things together in his second year in the league. He has an impressive 29.2 K% and 11.25 K/9 this season, which is one of the better totals in baseball so far. He has a pair of killer breaking balls in a slider and curveball that both have a 40+ percent whiff rate. His mid 90’s fastball also generates swings and misses, with the pitch getting 36 strikeouts. He is still struggling with walks and isn't terribly efficient, but he has made the jump to becoming a good big league pitcher, something that has been expected for a long time for the third pick in the 2017 draft. He has had two starts against the Braves where he has a 2.53 ERA, but he has only gone 5 innings per start and has struggled with walks.
Sunday, June 11, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Bryce Elder (12 GS, 71.2 IP, 22.2 K%, 7.3 BB%, 55.3 GB%, 2.26 ERA, 3.64 FIP)
Bryce Elder had an unusual start against the Mets last time out. He struck out eight batters in six innings, which is an oddity for the soft tossing right hander, but he also gave up four runs which is worse than what you would expect. He primarily uses his 90 mph sinker and plus slider to get through lineups. He relies on the ground ball, something he seldom induced against the Mets last time out. He has been dominant against the Nats in his career, with a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 IP. Look for Elder to have a bounce back start and get back to his ground ball inducing ways.
Trevor Williams (12 GS, 60.2 IP, 17.5 K%, 7.6 BB%, 37 GB%, 4.15 ERA, 5.43 FIP)
Trevor Williams 4.15 ERA while eating innings is what the Nationals paid for when they signed him to a two year deal last year. However there are worrying signs for the right hander. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up from last season, a combination no pitcher wants to see. His FIP points to a stormy stretch ahead for the 31 year old. He relies on generating soft contact, something he has done fairly well this season, ranking in 62nd percentile for average exit velocity and the 60th percentile for hard hit percentage. He doesn’t blow anyone with a 90 mph fastball, but despite the lack of velocity, it has been an effective pitch for Williams throughout his career. He uses his guile to get through lineups usually two times. He has trouble getting outs the third time through a lineup. Williams has had success against the Braves, with a 3.28 ERA in four starts and four relief appearances that make up 35.2 innings.