The top two teams in the NL East will square off Friday night when the Atlanta Braves host the Washington Nationals. The Braves won the first game of the series on Thursday. The Nationals come into the game -138 over the Braves on Friday.
Atlanta spent most of May in first place in the NL East, and after Thursday’s win over Washington, the Braves begin June in first place. While they have looked the part of a first-place team at times, the Braves have also leveled off recently. They were 7-7 in their final 14 games in May, which has kept their division lead tight and caused them to briefly lose it a couple times.
Washington, meanwhile, is finally kicking it into gear after a sluggish start. Before Thursday’s loss, the Nats had won six games in a row, albeit against the Marlins and Orioles. They closed May winning nine of their last 13 games to put them nine games over .500 and just half a game behind the Braves.
The Nationals have the best rotation in the National League, in large part because of Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez. But Friday’s starter, Stephen Strasburg, is also putting together an impressive season. In 11 starts, Strasburg is 6-4 with a 3.13 ERA. He was significantly better in May than he was in April. He also tossed eight shutout innings against the Braves earlier this year, allowing just three hits while striking out eight.
That being said, several of Atlanta’s more prominent hitters have good career numbers against Strasburg. Freddie Freeman, for instance, is hitting .357 with an OPS of 1.169 against Strasburg. Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, and Dansby Swanson also have good numbers against him. Strasburg also has little experience facing Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo, who are both key figures on the highest-scoring team in the National League.
The Braves will counter Strasburg by sending Mike Foltynewicz to the mound. Foltynewicz has been a steady presence in the back of the rotation the past few years, but out of nowhere, he’s become Atlanta’s ace early in the season, going 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA. He’s allowed one run or less in seven of his 11 starts this season, showing remarkable consistency.
Foltynewicz has already faced the Nationals twice this season, allowing four runs (three earned) over 10.1 innings. Over his career, he’s struggled against the Nats, as Washington hitters are hitting a combined .316 against him. However, much of that damage was done in past seasons. More importantly, players like Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Brian Goodwin, and Ryan Zimmerman who have great numbers against Foltynewicz are all on the DL.
Who’s in First?
While Strasburg dominated the Braves when he faced them the second week of April, Atlanta is a better team right now than they were at that point in the season. Foltynewicz is also performing at a high level over the past month. He’s capable of matching whatever Strasburg does, especially against a Nationals lineup that’s still missing a few key pieces. With the Braves having the better bullpen, they’ll have a slight edge if the game is close in the later innings. Bet the Atlanta Braves +138 over the Washington Nationals on Friday.