Goodbye, Braves - Though the Nationals would have loved to avoid the sweep this weekend, they have to be happy to leave Atlanta. The Braves have continued their dominance over the Nationals, pushing their record against Washington to 18-7 over the last two seasons. This year the Nats are 1-5 against their rivals and have been outscored 32 runs to 16. That's two-to-one, not a good sign moving forward.
The Nationals continue to have trouble stopping the Braves' lineup, most notably Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Upton is batting .366 (34-93) against the Nats with seven home runs and 15 RBI in 24 games. Freeman has been just as deadly, hitting .357 (30-84) with four homers and 18 RBI. Freeman is 11-for-22 (.500) vs. Washington this season.
Collectively, the Nationals' pitching staff has struggled against the Braves. In six games Nats' pitchers have a 4.27 team ERA with eight homers allowed vs. Atlanta. After the sweep the Nats' starting rotation alone now holds a 4.81 ERA on the season.
Injury watch - Last week in 'State of the Nats' I pointed out how the injuries were beginning to mount. The Nationals had just added Scott Hairston to a crowded disabled list that already included Wilson Ramos and Doug Fister. At the time Ryan Zimmerman was dealing with shoulder inflammation, and questions about Bryce Harper's health were starting to arise.
Fast forward a week and matters have become much, much worse. The Nationals will now miss Zimmerman for up to six weeks with a fractured right thumb, and now Denard Span is out dealing with a concussion. Throw in Jeff Kobernus' broken left hand and even the team's minor league depth is being compromised.
The good news for the Nationals is that Fister is working his way back and is slated to throw 50 pitches in a bullpen session early this week. From there he could be ready for a rehab assignment very soon with a return in sight. Having Fister back should help the Nationals who have all of a sudden seen alarming results from their rotation.
Schedule opening up - Fortunately for the Nationals, they won't see the Braves until they come to Washington on June 19. By then things could be much different, especially considering the Nats are 6-0 against teams not from Atlanta, and the Braves are 3-3 vs. teams besides the Nationals.
The Nats now head to Miami for a three-game series against the Marlins who have fallen to last place thanks to a seven-game losing streak. The Nationals swept them just a few days ago and outscored them 22-8 in three games. It should provide a good opportunity for the Nationals to bounce back, especially given Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg are set for Games 1 and 2.
Only four of the Nationals' next 19 games will be against teams who made the playoffs in 2013. Those four games are against the Cardinals, while they'll also see the Angels, Padres, Astros and Phillies in addition to the Marlins. Last year these favorable stretches didn't produce the expected results, we'll see if they can take care of business against less-talented teams this time around.