|Veteran knuckleballer Dickey has been red-hot for Braves|
A year ago, the Atlanta Braves finished in last place in the 2016 National League East Division race. The Washington Nationals captured the division crown, finishing 26.5 games ahead of Atlanta.
This season was not expected to go much differently. The Nationals were considered the favorites to win the division once again. Most prognosticators felt that the Braves would do well to again avoid the basement.
As recently as three weeks ago, the Braves sat 11.5 games behind the Nats and in fourth place. But a glance at the NL East standings on July 7 shows that Atlanta has slowly crept to within two games of the .500 mark. They are now just eight games behind Washington.
By winning 12 of their last 18 games, the Braves have moved up the standings and into second place. The improved stretch of play sets up at least a bit of drama as they head to the nation’s capital to open a three-game weekend series at Nationals Park.
BRAVES SEND HOT PITCHER OUT FOR THE OPENER
Heading to the mound in the opener on Friday night will be suddenly hot veteran R.A. Dickey. The Braves have won five of Dickey’s last six starts.
Over those half-dozen outings, the 42-year old Dickey is 3-1 and has gone seven innings on three different occasions. The righty knuckleballer has allowed 25 hits over 32 innings during the stretch with a 30/5 K:BB ratio.
Unfortunately the one dud outing during the stretch came against the Nationals. On June 13, Dickey eight earned runs on eight hits over five innings at Nationals Park. The Nats hitters teed off on him, blasting three home runs.
“I had (a good knuckleball) pretty much all night long, believe it or not,” Dickey said after that game per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s just, you make a handful of mistakes to these guys and they’re homers, and you make good pitches and they duck-fart one into right and there’s a four-, five-chopper up the middle, and then the next thing you know you’re down in the hole.”
The Nationals are scheduled to send three hitters, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy, to next week’s MLB All-Star Game. A fourth, third baseman Anthony Rendon, is deserving and could end up going as an injury replacement. It will be another tough test for the Braves hurler.
Should Dickey come up with a big effort and help the Braves open the series with a victory, it could set up an interesting weekend. The Nats might finally begin feeling some pressure after leading the division for most of the first half.
Find a way to sweep, and Atlanta would pull within five games in the loss column. That could set the two teams up for an exciting second half battle. But if Washington wins the series, even takes one game, the Nationals will head into that All-Star break with a comfortable lead.