In the first series of what promises to be a fierce rivalry this season, the Washington Nationals (7-2) are set to face off against NL East competitor the Atlanta Braves (8-1).
After the Braves finished four games behind the Nationals last year and kept pace with them in a close race toward the division championship, Atlanta is likely to be the Nationals biggest competition this year. The Nats have a 73-72 record against the Braves since 2005, and finished 10-8 against them in 2012. However, Atlanta won the teams’ final four matchups. The Nationals don’t want the Braves to become too confident about their most recent successes, which is why they would like to use this series to remind them that Washington still holds the NL East crown.
"The Nationals already sent their message last year," pitcher Dan Haren said, according to MLB.com. "They have to come knock us off. With that said, they got off to a great start. It looks like they are playing really confidently. We are not going to take them for granted by any means."
Like the Nationals, the Braves also swept their first faceoff with the Miami Marlins, and swept the Chicago Cubs before that. Atlanta will ride its six-game winning streak into Washington where the Nationals, who are still undefeated 6-0 at home, have the momentum to end the streak after coming off their own three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox.
After balancing out what was a predominantly left-handed lineup with right-handed acquisitions B.J. and Justin Upton, Nationals manager Davey Johnson feels the Braves are in a better offensive position this year. However, right fielder Jayson Werth thinks the match-up between the two teams is still fairly even.
"We'll see. We have some good pitching. That whole team strikes out a lot and we have strikeout pitchers. So we'll see how we match up, " Werth said, according to MLB.com.
There is no doubt that the Uptons have already proven to be assets in Atlanta, though. Justin Upton leads the National League with six home runs and a 1.365 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), and both brothers have shown that their value in the field elevates the Braves’ outfield to among the best in baseball.
Though B.J Upton has had a slow start to the season, with only three hits and 12 strikeouts in 29 at-bats, his career slash line of .254/.335/.420 suggests that his slump will not last long.
In the Zone
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) 1-for-2, hit a two-RBI double after White Sox pitcher Dylan Axelrod intentionally walked Bryce Harper (4/11)
- Friday will be Zimmerman’s 1,000th game
Justin Upton (LF) .353 AVG, .395 OBP, .971 SLG, 6 HR, 9 RBI (nine games)
Evan Gattis (C) .391 AVG, .440 OBP, .826, SLG, 3 HR, 6 RBI (six games)
Jason Heyward (RF) .071 AVG, .257 OBP, .179 SLG, 2 RBI, 7 SO (nine games)
BJ Upton (CF) .103 AVG, .212 OBP, .207 SLG, 1 RBI, 12 SO (eight games)
4/12, Ross Detwiler (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 SO, 6 H, 6 IP) vs. Julio Teheran (0-0, 9.00 ERA, 2 SO, 8 H, 5 IP)
4/13, Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 4.38 ERA, 8 SO, 12 H, 12.1 IP) vs. Tim Hudson (1-0, 3.27 ERA, 10 SO, 9 H, 11 IP)
4/14, Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.82 ERA, 12 SO, 6 H, 11 IP) vs. Paul Maholm (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 13 SO, 7 H, 12.2 IP)