A busy weekend of baseball awaits the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals with four games stuffed into the next three days in the nation's capital.
Washington had a 4.5-game cushion over Atlanta in the NL East as the two clubs wrapped up series against the Mets and Giants respectively with Thursday matinees. Both contests were still pending and found the Nationals 130 favorites in their home affair with New York while the Braves were laying $1.15 vs. San Francisco who was going for a sweep at Turner Field.
The fourth series of the campaign between Washington and Atlanta gets underway Friday evening (7:05 p.m. ET), and the Nationals will send ace Stephen Strasburg to the mound as a 155 favorite. Tommy Hanson opposes Strasburg, and the opening 7-run total was priced two bits to the 'under.'
There has been a lot of recent chatter regarding just how long Strasburg will continue to pitch this season. His innings count is up to 105 heading into Friday, 106 if you include his frame at last week's All-Star Game, and Nats GM Mike Rizzo has said all along Strasburg would be shut down at some point. Strasburg missed most of his 2010 rookie season and all but the final month of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.
Rizzo has backed off what was thought to be a 160-inning limit and commented this week, "There is no magic number."
Strasburg is making his fourth appearance of 2012 vs. the Braves, and second against their lineup at home. Atlanta managed to touch him up for seven runs and eight walks in the eight innings he tossed at Turner Field, winning one of those games, but Strasburg quieted the Braves in Nationals Park on June 2 with seven shutout innings while striking out nine with no free passes.
Hanson has run hot-&-cold over his 19 starts, but the end results have been good for the Braves who stand 13-6. A potent Atlanta lineup has bailed the big righty out on several occasions, and came to his rescue last Saturday at home vs. the Mets. Hanson surrendered nine hits and six runs before being chased in the sixth, but the Braves rallied to grab an 8-7 win.
His lone appearance this season against the Nationals was a good one and resulted in a 3-2 win in DC on June 3 as a +125 underdog. The Braves are 3-3 in his six career starts at Nationals Park.
Washington was expected to bolster its strong relief corps Thursday by activating Drew Storen from the disabled list. The right-hander had elbow surgery for bone chips in April after saving 43 games for the Nats a year ago. Storen is not expected to immediately move back into the closer's role since Tyler Clippard has filled in nicely, but it probably won't be long before we see Storen begin to get save ops and reclaim his job.
While the news on Storen is good, the Nats are still playing a bit short on the field with all-star shortstop Ian Desmond limited due to an oblique strain and outfielder Rick Ankiel designated for assignment to make roster room for Storen. Washington also just placed backup catcher Jhonatan Solano (oblique) on the DL and called up backstop Sandy Leon.
The Nationals have won six of the eight meetings this season, with the clubs splitting the two played at Nationals Park. Both of those contests stayed 'under' the mark while all six in Atlanta went 'over.'
A doubleheader is on Saturday's card, made necessary after a June 1 rainout in DC. The Nationals had yet to officially announce their starters for the twinbill, but all signs point to Edwin Jackson in one of the contests and John Lannan for the other. Lannan has been pitching in the minors all season, and the Nats are expected to recall him per the new roster rules that allow for the addition of a player when teams play doubleheaders.
Atlanta is slated to send Ben Sheets out for the opener with Randall Delgado following in the nightcap. Sunday's finale should find Jair Jurrjens opposing Ross Detwiler.
There is an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms in Washington DC on Friday, and a 30 percent chance of scattered storms both Saturday and Sunday.