The top two teams in the National League East wrap up a weekend series on Sunday Night Baseball as the Washington Nationals take on the host Atlanta Braves. Washington has taken two of the first three contests, pulling to within 5.5 games of Atlanta in the NL East.
The Nationals are also in the top spot in the race for the two Wild Card berths in the National League, leading Milwaukee by 1.5 games heading into Sunday’s action. Washington is 10-4 in July, though many of those games were against teams that are at least 20 games under .500.
The moneyline for this contest has the Washington Nationals +130 and the Atlanta Braves -140. The over/under has been set at 11.
The Nationals were hoping to have ace Max Scherzer on the mound for the series finale, but he didn’t come off the injured list as planned on Saturday due to inflammation in the bursa under his right shoulder blade. Instead, Washington will turn to Joe Ross to make his first start of the season after 17 appearances out of the bullpen. Ross made a start for the Nationals’ Triple-A club on Tuesday, going seven innings, but he hasn’t pitched for Washington since June 22, when he blew a save to earn his only decision of the season, a loss, allowing four runs on five hits in an inning of work against Atlanta.
The Nationals will need to put up some runs to support the 26-year-old, which means Anthony Rendon will be counted on for a big night. Rendon has had a few of those this season, leading the team with a .321 batting average, 20 home runs, and 67 RBI. He’s been hot over the past week, batting .480 with five doubles and five RBI.
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Also returning to the mound in the Major Leagues for the first time since June is Atlanta starter Kevin Gausman. Gausman is 2-5 with a 6.21 ERA in 13 starts this season, but he hasn’t been with the Braves since June 10 as he’s been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Gausman also made a Triple-A start on Tuesday, going seven innings and striking out 10.
The Braves have hit a bit of a slump, dropping four of their last five, partially because the team’s offense hasn’t been producing. Atlanta has scored a total of 16 runs over its last five games, well below its average of 5.27 runs that ranks third in the National League. Freddie Freeman has been the top offensive weapon for the Braves, leading the team in batting average (.297), home runs (25), RBI (77) and doubles (25), but Ronald Acuna Jr. may be the spark the team needs in the second half of the season. Acuna is batting .293 with 23 home runs and 56 RBI, and the 21-year-old could really add to Atlanta’s firepower with a big stretch run.
Braves Take Finale
While neither pitcher is a sure thing on the mound starting tonight, Gausman at least has some starts in the big leagues this season. Atlanta gets its offense in gear against Ross and earns a series split. I’m taking Atlanta -140 in this one.