The Washington Nationals have now gone a full week since the franchise altering Trade Deadline that saw them part with some of the biggest faces on the team and names in the game. In the time immediately following, the Nats have employed a group of young guns to take over for the traded veterans. While their contributions have not resulted in wins, their collective potential has shined like the rising sun. Next on the schedule is Atlanta. The Braves have gone all in this season despite losing Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season. They are clearly a tough opponent. However, they are one that the Nationals hope to rough up in hopes of derailing the playoff aspirations of the Braves.
The Braves, like the Nats, have seen a large roster overhaul in the past few weeks. Instead of trading a lot of players, they have acquired quite a few veterans. Using their rich farm system to their advantage, the Braves have an entirely new outfield. They got Jorge Soler from the Royals, Joc Pederson from the Cubs, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall from the Marlins. In addition, they swung a deal for Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez. The Braves are trying to maximize their current window with this core as they have Freddie Freeman set to hit free agency this winter and a lot of uncertainty concerning his future with the club.
Since the Trade Deadline, the Braves have actually been playing pretty good baseball. They are coming off a series in St. Louis where they swept the Cardinals, not an easy thing to do. The Braves have really been trying desperately to combat the inconsistency from the first half, but the injury to Acuna really hurts their chances of making a deep push. The outfielder was on pace to contend for the NL MVP, but now his future is really in flux. He plays in a similar manner to Fernando Tatis Jr., meaning his game relies so heavily on athleticism. The ACL tear can damper that ferocity and electricity that he has on the field.
However, even with Acuna, the biggest issue for the Braves has been their pitching staff. They simply have not been able to find any reliable starting pitching options. For a while this season, the team was hoping to get Mike Soroka back for the Postseason push, but he was ruled out for the season. Their hopes hinge on whether Ian Anderson can make the ascent to a true top of the rotation arm. Additionally, they have been leaning on a lot of young pitchers to contribute a lot of high pressure innings. It is a tough balancing act for the Braves. Their farm system has a lot of pitchers who might be ready to contribute, but, unlike the Nationals, they are not holding open auditions for their prospects. The team is trying to win now, and there is no room for failure now.
Prized Prospects’ Early Returns:
If there is ever an upside to trading eight players at the deadline, the young players in the Nationals’ organization have been given the opportunity to prove to the club why they have been so highly touted. Luis Garcia, Carter Kieboom, and Josiah Gray have all impressed early. Garcia has flashed his incredible power for a 21 year old. In the past week since being given the starting job, he has hit three homers and played some very solid defense. Kieboom has been the biggest surprise. He had struggled mightily both last year and early in the year. The third baseman looks like everything he was supposed to be when he was the team’s top prospect. He has flashed his power, shown patience, and impressive contact skills. More than anything, he looks as relaxed and comfortable as ever at the Major League level. No longer does he appear to be overmatched and maybe lowering the pressure on him has seen his game benefit.
Then there is Josiah Gray, one of the big pieces acquired in the Scherzer/Turner trade. He dazzled over five innings on Monday night. Gray didn’t get as many strikeouts as a top prospect usually gets, but he was very effective and simply got outs. He has a rare ability to allow hitters to hit the ball in the air, but not hit it out of the yard. That might be something to keep an eye on for fans, but he certainly has the stuff to be a true ace.
Overall, the team has been playing about as expected. Josh Bell has hit well. Similarly, Yadiel Hernandez has found success in left field this past week. On the other side of that, the bullpen has been tough to watch. Outside of Gabe Klobosits and Mason Thompson, there have been few bright spots. Both Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey, two members of the 2019 team, find themselves in AAA. Kyle Finnegan has blown multiple saves in the past week. Holistically, it has not been a great showing for the bullpen, but Klobosits and Thompson have both been very good, so they will most likely see larger roles.
When the schedule came out, many people assumed this series would be key in terms of the Postseason race. That is mostly true, but it is only key for one of the teams. The Nats are not necessarily out of the race, but a run at the Wild Card berth seems more unlikely by the day. The Braves want to do exactly what the Phillies did earlier this week: sweep the Nats. Obviously, the Nats are not going to lay down and let that happen; that will have to be earned. The Braves need wins as badly as anyone. Especially the Mets and Phillies going head to head this weekend, it could be huge if they can get some wins. However, the Nats want to play spoiler, and there is no better feeling than denying a rival of some momentum in the Postseason race. For the Nats, the goal is simple: let the kids play and let them thrive.
Saturday night, 7:20 PM: Josiah Gray (0-0, 4.85 ERA) @ Charlie Morton (10-4, 3.69 ERA)