Smoltz’s take on Nats, Braves
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — Former Major League pitcher John Smoltz, now an analyst for MLB Network, feels the current four-game series between the Nationals and Braves is more important for the Nationals because they need to psychologically show they can beat the Braves.
Entering Thursday’s game, the Braves had won five out of six games against the Nationals this season, but Smoltz pointed out that the Braves have not played good baseball lately. Atlanta won 16 of its first 24 games, but has gone 19-28 since then. It doesn’t help that the Braves have been inconsistent on offense. The Braves’ pitching staff was off to a great start, but it has struggled lately.
“You have two teams that are going in opposite directions,” Smoltz said. “One [the Nationals] is trying to get healthy and the other team [Braves] is trying to get back to its winning ways. It’s been a rough stretch. It will be an interesting series, unless there is a sweep.”
Smoltz did not predict who will win the series, but he is impressed with the Nationals’ pitching staff. He said their pitching depth is so good that they can mix and match with any team. Smoltz also said the bullpen is underrated.
“[The bullpen] is probably the best in the National League collectively,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz believes the Nationals will be even better once their players are healthy. The biggest piece that is missing is outfielder Bryce Harper, who hasn’t played since April 25 because of torn ligaments in his right thumb. As of now, Harper is expected to be back by July 1.
Smoltz pointed out the Nationals have been inconsistent scoring runs because key players such as Harper, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos have been hurt at some point this season. Like Harper, Ramos is expected to be back with the team soon.
“Once they get healthy, they will score more runs than they have been scoring,” Smoltz said. “Left-handed, when you are missing LaRoche like you were and you are missing Harper. That’s a big left-handed weapon out of your lineup. The right-handed hitters have held their own, but they have to get some balance in their lineup.”