10 Things the Washington Nationals Need to Do to Hold off the Atlanta Braves
The Washington Nationals have watched the calendar turn to August and continue to see their name atop the NL East. With two months left in the season, the Nationals are focused on doing everything possible to remain in first place and keep the surging Atlanta Braves at bay.
The 2.5 game lead is a small lead over Atlanta but a lead nonetheless. The Nationals have to continue to be successful in a few areas to ensure that they have that lead when the season comes to a close.
The Nationals have been finding their stroke on offense since the All-Star break while their pitching has not been quite as dominant as before the break. Heading down the stretch, it is pivotal to the Nats' success that they click on all cylinders and do the little things right to continue to win ball games and stay in front of the Braves.
Harper Has to Get Hot
Bryce Harper carried the Nationals through much of May and June when the offense was depleted by injuries and the team needed a boost of energy. Harper has hit a bit of a wall in July though, finishing the month hitting .222 with only six extra-base hits.
Luckily for Harper, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman have been carrying the offense. Down the stretch however, Harper is going to have to produce a bit more and snap out of the slump that he is in.
His hustle and determination is contagious. If this team begins to tire out, his enthusiasm will have to carry this team on the field.
Zimmerman Has to Stay Healthy
Ryan Zimmerman is a crucial part of the Nats both offensively and defensively. His stellar defense makes it hard to get any cheap hits to third base. His battle this season has been staying healthy however.
He already has been on the DL and struggled to get things going. He had to take a day off earlier this week due to back spasms. For the Nationals to continue winning, they need Zimmerman to remain healthy.
Zimmerman hit .366 in July with a .752 slugging percentage. A healthy Zimmerman results in a productive offense.
If giving him a day off here and there is the solution then Davey Johnson will have to do so.
Get More Innings out of Starters
The Braves and Nationals have had to use their bullpens often in the second half of the season. Through Wednesday, Atlanta and Washington ranked second and fourth in the NL respectively in innings pitched since the All-Star break with 323 and 319.1.
Both pens have tremendous talent but the teams' starters need to go deeper into games to relieve the strain on the bullpens. Although the talent is there, the team that has their starters last longer and preserve the bullpen will be the one that comes out on top in the end.
Beat the Braves
The most important thing that the Nats can do going forward is to not give anything away to the Braves. The best way for them to succeed is handling Atlanta when they face each other in head-to-head matchups.
The Nats and Braves will face each other six more times this season. The Nationals have won eight of 12 games this season against Atlanta.
Ultimately, these games can decide who will have the upper hand as the season winds up.
Beat the East
Washington's most important games will not only be against the Braves, but the entire NL East. Although they are trying to hold off the Braves, the Mets, Marlins and Phillies will be trying to play spoiler to the Nats in the final stretch of the season.
The Nats have the unpleasant task of playing 31 of their final 59 games against divisional opponents. Luckily for Washington, they have the best record against the East in all of the NL.
Their 25-15 record is a big reason for why they sit in first place and with 31 games remaining, it could be the reason why they finish first or second in the division at the end of the season.
Weather the Storm on the Road
The Nationals have the most wins in the MLB on the road this season with 33 and will have to continue this success when they depart on a 10 game road trip.
From August 6-15, the Nationals will play four games in Houston followed by three in Arizona and three in San Francisco. The Nationals should be able to win the series in Houston but will be challenged when they enter playoff-like atmospheres in Arizona and San Francisco.
These ten games will test the Nationals and if they fail, the Braves will be looking to capitalize on their failures.
Gio Has to Stay Strong
Gio Gonzalez was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first half of the season. He has struggled after the All-Star break however. Before the break he had a 2.92 ERA and since the break he has posted a 4.84 ERA. This trend follows his career ERA pre and post All-Star break of 3.28 to 4.39 respectively.
It is an alarming trend for Gonzalez and the Nationals need him to settle down and return to his first half form. They can not afford to lose Strasburg and have Gio struggle as the Braves creep closer and the season gets shorter.
Clippard Has to Remain Solid
Tyler Clippard hit a midseason wall in 2012 when he gave up seven runs in three appearances in the middle of July.
It was likely just a bit of fatigue as he has rebounded nicely since his struggles but Clippard has to remain solid going forward. The Nationals have Drew Storen looming should Clippard struggle again but he has done a fantastic job and they need it to continue down the stretch.
Continue Their Hot Hitting
The Nats were hitting .251 in the first half of the season. Through Wednesday, they are hitting .278, good for third in the NL. Despite the Braves second half success, they are only hitting .245 thus far in the second half.
If the trends continue then the Nationals will be able to hold onto their lead over the Braves in large part to their impressive offense.
Stephen Strasburg has been wondering all season when he will be shut down and according to William Ladson, he might see his presumed 160 limit pushed to 180. This would give him about three more starts as the Nats battle to make the playoffs.
The best thing that the Nats can do is push Strasburg towards this 180 innings mark. Those three starts could be incredibly important for the Nationals and Strasburg's mentality going forward. The Nationals have John Lannan ready to replace Strasburg but there is a drastic difference between the two pitchers and keeping with Strasburg a bit longer might be the difference between coming in first or second in the NL East.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!