Well the Nats got the game on the Braves I expected them to, although not in the way I thought it would happen. The Nats did indeed lose that 2nd game, but Atlanta, like Atlanta is wont to do, found itself unable to win important games and lost a series at home to the Dodgers. This to me is the "real" Atlanta. While they have been hot in the past month - they've also played the Marlins twice, the Phillies twice, the Mets and the Padres. In other words, no real competition. Put a decent team in front of them and, well, you saw what happened.
I'm not just whistling "Nuts about the Nats" here. The Braves are 11-20 against the Top 5 teams in the NL that aren't them, including a 5-13 record versus the two teams that have set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, Cincinnati (1-5) and Washington (4-8). With no ability to rise to the occasion I strongly believe that the Nats will take the series. If the Nats do take the series - that puts the Nats up 6 games with 38 to play, and extremely close to having CNN call the NL East for the Red side. But because this may be the only important series the Nats play until October, let's take the time to break this down game by game.
Hudson has been up and down lately. Sandwich between good, but not impressive, shutouts of Houston and San Diego, Tim got rocked by Philadelphia. This is basically Hudson in a nutshell. He's not a strike-out pitcher so WOW performances are few and far between. What he does do is keep the ball down, doesn't get hit, doesn't give up walks and doesn't give up homers. While you probably will score 2-3 runs a game, he makes you work for them. Bad hitting teams just can't do it. Good hitting teams can.
Against the Nats he's actually been ok, if you can ignore the first inning. In Game 1 (May 25th) he gave up a string of hits in the first leading to four runs for the Nats then shut them down until the 7th. In Game 2 (Jul 1st) the same thing happened; 4 hits, a couple of deep flyballs and an error and the Braves were quickly in a 4 run hole. He'd give up more runs in both games but those were incidental. In fact Game 1 highlights why I think the Braves are going to lose.
Meet Fredi Gonzalez. After getting a quick two outs in the 7th Hudson walked Wang, then gave up a double to Lombo. At this point you have to think strongly about taking him out. Bryce was up and one hit would end this game. A smart manager would have cut bait with Hudson and brought in a lefty to get that one out. Fredi, though, decided to stick with Hudson against the lefty Bryce. He promptly walked Bryce. Given another chance to take out Hudson, who doesn't walk people and just walked two of the last three including a pitcher who spent his career in the AL, Fredi decided to stick with his man for one more batter. In to face Zimmerman. Double. Ball game.
Zimmermann has also been a little off his game lately. He has a shutout vs Houston (I sense a pattern Astros!) but around that has had his two worst outings since May. Against the Giants, some Lannan-esque luck kept 8 hits and 2 walks in 5 2/3rds from being any more than 2 runs. Against Miami , there was no such luck and ZNN gave up 4 ER in 5 innings. ZNN is a lot like Hudson only better. Walks are lower, strikeouts a touch better. ZNN's only vice is giving up the long ball, but he's only given up one since late June (to a red hot David Wright if you must know). Tonight will be a good test to see if ZNN is ready to hold down that "best pitcher in the NL" spot, or will revert to the Top 20 type position he held in the first half.
Amazingly enough Zimmermann has not faced the Braves this year. No point in looking at info even a year old.
Atlanta had been super hot but were cooled off by the Dodgers, scoring only 6 runs during the series and getting shutout yesterday. In the past week the lineup has been split with a huge chasm between good and bad. Great : Chipper (.375 / .444 / 1.063!), Heyward. Good : Bourn, Janish, Uggla, Prado. Prado has an OPS the past week of .804. The next best Brave has an OPS of .400. Among the dregs are Freddie Freeman (.091 / .200 / .091) and Brian McCann (.000 / .200 / .000) who anchor that lineup. Again though this includes the Padres series in which the Braves had 29 hits in the last 3 games. They have 8 in the last two vs the Dodgers, and only 3 yesterday. We'll see tonight if they have gone cold or it was just some nice pitching by the Dodgers (entirely possible)
The Nationals have continued on with their more potent offense but have done it in an odd fashion. Their run distribution has been all over the place. 14, 6, 6, 5, 1, 0 runs in the past 6 games. It's a bit like the little girl with the curl here. While they are feasting on bad pitchers in a way no Nats team has done maybe ever, a decent pitcher on his game can shut down the Nats as easy as any other team. Danny and Bryce recently, (finally) have been hot. Werth has also been good. Morse and Zimmerman have been fine. While LaRoche, the catcher spot, and Ian Desmond have been ice cold. That's a normal mix.
Hudson's been normal, the Nats offense has been normal so on that side of the game, I'd expect normal. A few runs early by the Nats followed by a nice long effective outing from Hudson. Something in the neighborhood of 4 runs over 7. What it'll come down to then is which of the formerly red hot entities are really cooling down. Is Atlanta's offense about to enter one of those stretches where runs seem impossible to come by, or is Jordan Zimmermann about to enter a rough patch? My guess would be the ATL offense will come in trying to hard to score and that'll help ZNN get around the fact he's not at his best. He'll outpitch Hudson. Fredi won't use his best guys (I'm down by 2!) so the Nats will have an opportunity to tack on a few more before Clippard comes in and slowly shuts the door, probably letting a run in first.
I'll say Nats 6-3.