Nine things to ponder entering the Nationals series

Now that the Braves have experienced a week that managed to be even worse than the one that bridged April and May, they will spend the next 10 games hosting three first-place clubs  —  the Nationals, Dodgers and A’s.

There are two ways to look at this.  If the Braves extend the struggles encountered during their eight-game losing streak, by this time next week you can essentially bid adieu to legit postseason hopes and that lingering frustration you have felt while following this year’s maddening team.  Or if they turn things around, you will feel much better about having spent the past 4 1/2 months watching this club’s interesting journey.

Here are nine things to ponder entering this weekend’s series against the Nationals:

1.  The Braves will get a better understanding about Andrelton Simmons’ left ankle later today.  If it’s determined he will be sidelined for more than a few days and possibly placed on the disabled list, there’s a strong possibility Jose Peraza will get a chance to make the jump from Double-A Mississippi to the Majors.  Peraza has played just 41 games above the Class A level, but the 20-year-old infielder has batted .335 with a .361 on-base percentage and 25 stolen bases (32 attempts) since getting promoted to Double-A Mississippi.

2.  Braves starting pitchers have completed at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less five times during the current eight-game skid.  In other words, most of the blame still points in the direction of an offense that now counts the Padres and Cardinals as the only two Major League clubs that have scored fewer runs.  If Peraza gets the call, he obviously fits the leadoff spot perfectly.  If not, this lineup could benefit from a decision to platoon Jason Heyward and Emilio Bonifacio in the leadoff spot.   Heyward’s .225 on-base percentage vs lefties is a concern.  But when clubs go with a southpaw starter, Fredi Gonzalez can go with Bonifacio, who has compiled a .442 OBP vs. lefties.

3. As the Braves have won 20 of 29 against the Nationals dating back to last year, there has been reason to wonder if some of their success has led to a mental edge.  But some of that edge might have evaporated when the Nats claimed victories in the final two games of a four-game set in Washington D.C. in June.

4.   The Braves will not have to deal with Nats ace Doug Fister this weekend.  It also appears they will miss Clayton Kershaw during the four-game series against the Dodgers.  But during the three-game set against the A’s, they are lined up to face Jason Hammel, Sonny Gray and Jon Lester.

5.  Ervin Santana looked like a $14.1 million bust as he produced a 6.44 ERA in the six starts he made from May 16-June 12.  But as he has posted a 2.95 ERA in the nine starts that have followed, he has proven capable of his assignment to solidify a fractured rotation that has lost three members to season-ending elbow surgeries dating back to March.

6.  Stephen Strasburg enters tonight’s start having gone 0-2 with a 3.90 ERA in the seven starts he has made against the Braves dating back to last year.  Strasburg has lasted fewer than five innings in three of his past five starts against Atlanta.

7.  If another reason is needed to put Heyward back in the leadoff spot, he has batted .423 (11-for-26) with a 1.098 OPS in his career against Strasburg.  Freddie Freeman has hit .450 (9-for-20) with a 1.319 OPS against the former top overall selection.

8.  One year after not losing more than four straight, the Braves have now lost at least seven straight games twice this season.  After their seven-game losing streak (April 28-May 5), they won 11 of their next 18 games.

9. There has been something missing from this club as this season has progressed.  It can be said the lack of spirit felt inside the clubhouse is simply a product of the fact that this has been a sub .500 club for the past 90 games (41-48).  Or some might say we were just spoiled to have the vibrant and humorous likes of David Ross, Tim Hudson, Peter Moylan and Brian McCann for so long.  But you have to wonder if the spirit of these aforementioned players might have at least been preserved better had Kris Medlen not been forced to assume a bystander role this year.

As this week has progressed, I’ve found myself realizing that I have overlooked Medlen’s absence far too often while attempting to dissect this club’s problems this year.  But instead of dwelling on what they do not have, the Braves simply have to hope that what they already have is enough to bounce back and prove they are a legit playoff contender.

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