The Washington Nationals are in Atlanta Sunday for game four of a four-game series with the Braves. The Braves lead the series two games to one against their National League East Division rivals. The Nationals won last night’s game 5-3 in the fourteenth inning. Brandon McCarthy outdueled Gio Gonzalez, but the bullpen couldn’t hold the win for him and the Nationals stole the game late. With the win, Washington pulled within half a game of Atlanta for the division lead.
Starting today for the Braves in the series finale is Anibal Sanchez (1-0 3.00 ERA), and for the Nationals, it is Jeremy Hellickson (2-0 2.30 ERA). The Braves are -115 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at nine runs. First pitch is scheduled for 10:35 AM PST from SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
The Washington Nationals had been on fire before dropping the first two games of this series to Atlanta. The Nats had won six straight games and eight of nine entering this series. Washington wrapped up what was a very strong month as they finished the month of May 19-7, and went from fourth place in the NL East to first.
The sharp turnaround has been powered mostly by elite starting pitching. The Nats starter ERA is the best in the National League. Even their number five guy, today’s starter Jeremy Hellickson, is enjoying great success this season. The headlines are always going to be taken by Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, but Hellickson has pitched his butt off this year. In eight starts this season, Hellickson is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA.
The Nats have won six out of his eight starts on the year. He hasn’t been getting overly deep into games, but he has been very consistent. He is going to get you five-plus innings of one or two run ball and give you a chance to win games. If you can get that consistently out of your number five starter you are a really good ball club. Washington has won the last five games that Hellickson has started.
For the Braves, they will turn to Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez has worked as a starter and out of the pen this year for Atlanta in limited action. On the season, Sanchez is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his three starts. Sanchez should enjoy a return to the National League as he enjoyed some very solid results coming up in the NL. His last couple of seasons in Detroit, with the Tigers, he was a favorite punching bag of mine as he was known to get roughed up, a lot. It will be interesting to see what Sanchez can do against a solid Nationals lineup today.
Neither of these starters are going to get too awfully deep into this game. By the sixth inning, this game should be turned over to the bullpen for both sides. When you look at both team’s relief staff, they are both solid but not spectacular. If the Nationals can limp the game into the eighth inning, they have a solid setup guy and closer. Their closer, Sean Doolittle is tied for third in the league in saves this year with fourteen, and his 1.71 ERA is amongst the best of all NL closers. If they need a long man though, they tend to struggle.
Atlanta has similar issues as they have a serviceable closer in Arodys Vizcaino but not a ton of other help. So, this game will likely come down to which starter can last the longest and produce better results. For me, that is clearly Jeremy Hellickson. As I mentioned before, Sanchez has been one of my favorite guys to bet against for several years now. He can single handily lose you a game when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
And Hellickson has been really strong this season. He gets overshadowed by the rest of this Washington rotation, but make no mistake, this guy has been great. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 2.30 ERA would be good for seventh in the National League. Ahead of guys like Michael Wacha and Jon Lester. The starting pitching matchup seems to be lopsided in our direction for sure.
This line opened up with the Nationals as the small favorites. The line has now shifted in early morning betting, and the hometown Braves are now small favorites. I liked the Nats in this game when I had to lay a little wood, and I love them now that I am getting some dog money on them. I just see Hellickson being a little too much for this Braves lineup without Ronald Acuna Jr playing, and there is always a chance that Sanchez gives the game away.
So, I will take the safer side of the bet and back the Washington Nationals today in game four. The Nationals will win and leave Atlanta with first place in the NL East intact. Give me the Washington Nationals this morning as small road dogs at -105!