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MLB Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals Must Use Atlanta Braves Series to Get On Track

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals will have a chance to cut into the Atlanta Braves‘ lead in the National League East race over the weekend as the two team meet in Atlanta. The Nationals are exactly .500 (27-27) heading into the series, which sums up the season they are having very well.  They’ve shown the ability to beat some of the best teams in MLB, but they’ve also played down to their opponents level on a few occasions.

The Nationals lost eight of 11 games in the middle of May to a few teams who are struggling: the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. But they’ve also shown the ability to beat top teams like the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Many people picked the Nationals to make it to the World Series, if not win it.  They’re going to have to out-duel the Braves this weekend just to cut into their lead. The Braves are currently 32-21 and 5.5 games up on the Nationals.  They’re fortunate to be in second place despite being .500, as every other division has at least two teams over that mark.

Bryce Harper has been struggling in the month of May, hitting just .193 with only four extra-base hits in that time. To be fair, he’s been a little unlucky, but he’s going to need to start driving the ball consistently to help the Nats offense get on track. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, on the other hand, have combined for 12 home runs in May and have hit .340 and .326, respectively.

The Nats will send Steven Strasburg to the mound Friday against Julio Teheran. Strasburg’s ERA has been falling steadily since his second start of the season. He’s only given up more than five hits twice in his 11 starts, and his W-L record of 3-5 this season is a little misleading as he’s had two shutouts and a one-run game turn into losses already this season.

Gio Gonzalez will get the start for the Nats Saturday against Tim Hudson, while Nathan Karns and Paul Maholm will conclude the series Sunday.

David Fouty is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @davefouty, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google+.