Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves Pick
Washington Nationals (22-32) at Atlanta Braves (30-24)
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Where: SunTrust Park, Atlanta
Opening Line: WSH -105/ATL -105 (5Dimes)
Runline: Nationals +1.5/Braves -1.5
Starting Pitchers: Stephen Strasburg (4-3, 3.25 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) vs. Max Fried (7-2, 2.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
Max Fried has been outstanding at SunTrust Park this season. In five home starts this season, the left-hander is 3-1 and has conceded just seven runs in 30.1 innings. In two of his starts, he didn’t allow a single run, and in a third outing, he held the Padres scoreless aside from one single home run. Fried has also been remarkably consistent at staying in the game, as he’s made it into the sixth inning in seven of 10 appearances, and one gets an asterisk because he got hit in the hand with a line drive and was pulled from the game as a precaution. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an innings-eater and has consistently gotten the game to the Atlanta bullpen with his team still having a chance to win.
What in the world is going on with the Nationals this season? On one hand, it looked like they were finally starting to turn the corner after earning their first three-game winning streak of the season. But then the old bullpen issues crept up again and they wasted yet another Max Scherzer start, losing for the 10th time in 12 appearances because they once again failed to hold a lead with their bullpen. Stephen Strasburg takes the hill in Atlanta, but he’s coming off a game where the bullpen blew yet another lead, as he exited with a 4-3 lead in the eighth against the Mets and watched New York pick up three runs and complete a four-game sweep of the Nationals.
In fact, a look at the standings reveals that Washington has a lot to worry about. The Nationals are 10 games under .500, 9.5 games out of first place, and they aren’t going to have many opportunities to make up that ground head-to-head because they’ve already seen the Mets 12 times and the Phillies nine. This is the first time they’ve seen the Braves, who have faced division rivals just 13 times so far. Of the Nationals’ 48 division remaining division games, 19 are against Atlanta, which means that Washington cannot afford to waste these chances if it’s going to get back in the divisional race.
Here’s one example of what’s going wrong with the Nationals this year: their fielding has been horrendous. Strasburg has been one of the best pitchers in the National League by advanced metrics, as shown by his second-best FIP in the NL. Of course, the best has been Scherzer, and the Nationals haven’t exactly gotten the job done with him on the mound, which underscores just how poor the Washington defense has been this season. The Nationals have made 38 errors this season, which ranks 12th out of 15 in the National League. Granted, Chicago has committed the most errors in the NL and is still first in its division, but the Cubs have offset their problems by leading the league in on-base percentage and ranking third in ERA. The Nationals are just middling hitters and have a 4.97 ERA thanks to their shoddy bullpen, putting them ahead of only Colorado.
When the Braves were rebuilding, the Nationals took full advantage, winning 29 of 38 from Atlanta in 2015 and 2016. But in 2017, the Braves pulled even, and the teams have split their past 38 meetings right down the middle at 19 apiece. As Washington has had its problems beating Philadelphia and New York, having success against Atlanta is crucial if the Nationals are going to do anything at all this season.
- The Nationals are 1-7 in their past eight road games against a left-handed starter.
- The Nationals are 0-4 in their past four Tuesday games.
- The Braves are 5-0 in their past five against NL East opponents.
- The Braves are 4-1 in Fried’s past five starts.
- The over is 4-0 in the Nationals’ past four games following a loss.
- The over is 4-1 in the Braves’ past five home games against a team with a losing record.
The heat will be on in steamy Hotlanta, as the first pitch temperature is expected to be 96 degrees on Tuesday.
I don’t want to bet against the Nationals because Strasburg is a good enough pitcher to win the game by himself. But the Nationals like to keep him to 100 pitches, give or take a few, and that’s where things go wrong. Strasburg has only made it through eight innings twice this year, which gives the bullpen six outs or more to blow it on most occasions. More often than not, they’ve done exactly that, which is why I don’t have much choice here but to take the Braves. Fried is pitching very well and gets the job done at home, and the simple fact is that Atlanta’s bullpen is a lot more reliable than Washington’s (which still isn’t saying much).
If the game were seven innings or less, I’d be taking Washington. But since it’s a nine-inning game and the Nats have shown themselves to be allergic to success this year, I’ve got to go with Atlanta, especially at this cheap price for a quality home team. Give me the Braves.