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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Though it’s not a series that’s got the networks buzzing, Washington/Atlanta is going to tell us a lot about the race in the NL East the rest of the way…and the battle for Wildcard spots in the National League. Perhaps most importantly, it might tell us whether or not the Washington Nationals truly are the best team in the senior circuit.

They earned that unofficial title recently when they took over best record honors in the NL from the slumping Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s one thing to climb a mountain, it’s another to stay on top. Can the Nationals survive a ROAD series against the second best team in their division?

A surprising number of indicators say YES. They may be a surprise team. But, the Nationals aren’t any sort of “fluke” team at the moment. They have two staff aces in Steven Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. They have an offense that’s better than you realize. And, there are so many bad teams in the National League that it doesn’t take a lot of improvement to move to the top of the ladder. We used some of our favorite indicator stats yesterday when evaluating the important Mets/Dodgers series. Let’s see what those same categories say about the Nats and the Braves.



Atlanta 10-5

Washington 14-12

If anyone’s been lucky amongst these two this year, it’s been the Braves. They’re five games over .500 in the nailbiters…when something like 8-7 would be more normal through 15 decisions for a team of that caliber. Washington is just a shade over 50/50. As we’ve said often, it’s hard to win the nailbiters “on purpose” time and time again. Luck plays a big role over short term samplings. Atlanta probably isn’t quite as good as their full season won-lost record would suggest. Washington hasn’t been lucky. They’ve got the best overall record in the NL and it’s clean.



Washington 27-20

Atlanta 26-28

Yesterday we just looked at game volume to show you that the Mets had played a lot more tough teams than the Dodgers had. Here, the total is about the same (57 to 54 favoring the Nats). But, you can see that Washington has done a much better job when tested. Again, this team is for REAL. Yes, it’s by NL standards, and the NL is the inferior league this year. But…the Nats did at least hold their own in IL play facing the sports toughest division. Atlanta has a losing record vs. winning teams. That could change if they sweep the Nats of course. Should the Braves drop this home series, it would then become very clear that they’re a bit of a pretender in terms of championship hopes. If you can’t post a winning record amongst winners, then you’re probably not championship material.

We want to break things down a bit further today because it’s not widely understood how good Washington has become. There are still people out there who think they have a bad offense. There are still people who think that this is one of those temporary little runs that bad franchises make before reality hits them in the face. Who do you think has the better offense this year between Atlanta and Washington? The best way to take pollution out of an evaluation is to look at road only numbers.



Atlanta:  .254 batting, .315 on base, .406 slugging

Washington: .250 batting, .313 on base, .420 slugging

That’s basically a dead heat. Atlanta has slight edges in the first two categories, but Washington gets in back with more pop in their bats. Very close battle in the big picture after you take ballpark influences out of the mix. Both of these teams have good offenses by NL standards.



Washington: 2.93 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Atlanta: 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

Wow, that’s where Washington really steps forward. If you’re ace starter has an ERA below 3.00 and a WHIP below 1.20, you’d take that in a minute. Washington’s WHOLE STAFF has ace caliber numbers in a composite that represents neutral parks. Again, the whole team is pitching at a very high level. That’s why this team is for real. They’re not being carried by one arm. They’re not catching breaks in close games. They’re not benefitting from an easy schedule. Washington is performing at a very high level WITHOUT luck while facing a TOUGH schedule!

Can they keep it up? As we said, the pressure of being at the top is about to hit them. This weekend will provide a very important test because the pitching matchups favor them in all three games. Win this series…and you can pencil them in as at least co-favorites to represent the NL in the World Series this year. Lose the series…and you have to wonder if the team is truly ready to make a move for the history books now.

Here are the probable pitching matchups…



Washington: Detwiler (4-3, 3.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)

Atlanta: Delgado (4-8, 4.52 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

Lucky draw for the Nats because Detwiler is their most vulnerable starter. He’s just moved back to the rotation because the Chien-Ming Wang experiment was brought to a merciful end. Detwiler’s numbers are certainly good…but he’s not likely to keep them so low as a full time starter in the rotation. Yet, Delgado has so many poor outings this year that Detwiler must still be given the nod stat-wise. It’s odd that a Detwiler-Delgado pitching matchup would kick off a “showcase series” for us here in the NOTEBOOK. But, that is the state of the National League right now.



Washington: Strasburg (9-2, 2.60 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)

Atlanta: Minor (3-6, 6.14 ERA, 1.44 WHIP)

Wow, huge edge for Strasburg. The Nats have done great in his starts his season, and he draws one of his weakest opposing pitchers in this afternoon affair. Minor has been given a long leash because the Braves are short on options at the moment. It’s a strike against the NL in general that a team running Delgado and Minor out to the mound on back-to-back days is such a clear Wildcard threat. This will be a great game to check for Washington nerves. If they lose this one…that means they still have some work to do in terms of playing as a frontrunner.



Washington: Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP)

Atlanta: Hudson (6-3, 3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)

The Braves finally get a trusted veteran on the mound, but they have to throw him against the hot Gonzalez. Great move by the Nats in acquiring this pitcher from the AL. Too many NL teams are forgetting that the difference in leagues means you can invest intelligently in AL arms who can dominate when they switch leagues. This is Atlanta’s best chance to win…yet it comes against a Cy Young candidate.

JIM HURLEY will be watching this series very closely because of the impact it will have on multiple races and championship outlooks come playoff time. He may or may not be stepping out tonight or this weekend with a big play in the series. We can assure you that there will eventually be some big plays that are created by what we learn in this series.

Friday’s schedule on the whole is fantastic. Some of the highlights:

Pittsburgh at St. Louis (two of the top three teams in the competitive NL Central)

NY Mets at LA Dodgers (see yesterday’s NOTEBOOK for series notes)

Cincinnati at San Francisco (a potential playoff preview)

LA Angels at Toronto (a testing trip for the Halos continues)

Chicago White Sox at NY Yankees (injuries really hitting the Yanks)

Detroit at Tampa Bay: (will either reach the postseason?)

You can purchase Friday’s BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about football when you call! Combination packages are available that get you the rest of baseball and all of football for fantastic prices.

Back with you Saturday for a special college football report on regular season win totals. It’s never too early to start talking about football…and weekends in July will be devoted to our annual conference previews. Get all the information you need…and then GET ALL THE MONEY thanks to JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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