Nats head into Atlanta, seek first win

The Nationals look to record their first win of the season as they march into Atlanta today trying to avoid the Tomahawk Chop.

The Braves looked very solid in their first series of the year recording a 2-1 record against the reigning world champions Philadelphia, only losing the last leg of the series by playing without injured Chipper Jones or Garret Anderson. Atlanta is hoping that this good start can rally them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

It wont be an easy road for the Braves this season however, it appears every team in the National League East got better from 2008 to 2009 and Atlanta only got older.  The teams hopes will rally around free agent acquisition Derek Lowe, who will be playing the role of ace for the first time in years, slugging catcher Brian McCann who already has two homers on the year, and franchise standby and legend Chipper Jones.

chipper-jonesThe Nats have issues of their own of course. Following an embarrassing opening sweep by the Marlins, the Nats are desperately searching for answers to a line up that wont hit and a pitching staff that can’t make the outs it needs. Manager Manny Acta will take these questions and put them in the hands of 21-year-old Shairon Martis, who will take the mound tonight in Atlanta.

Martis made the Nationals pitching staff out of spring training by posting a 2.76 ERA in seven starts. Martis has been a fringe prospect for the Nationals for the last several years, and was rocketed to the front of the scene after pitching a no-hitter in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 for the Netherlands.

He will have to deal with the Braves line-up featuring hot young rookie centerfielder Jordan Schafer. Despite his recent HGH problems, Schafer is the one young bright spot for the Braves line-up and hopes to make a lasting impact roaming center the way Andruw Jones did 10 years ago. Only 22, the former third round draft pick has a combination of great power and speed, which led him to be Baseball America’s 25th best prospect in 2008. The Nats will have to harness him as he is already off to a great start, batting .300 with two homers and three RBI.

With the Braves lineup firing on full cylinders, and their pitching staff looking strong, the Nats will have to play very solid baseball to win this series. Ryan Zimmerman’s bat will have to come alive if the Nats want to drive runs in, and both Shairon Martis and John Lannan will need to return to spring form.

Probable Starters:

Shairon Martis (0-0, -.00) vs. Derek Lowe, (1-0, 0.00)

Martis’s big accomplishment for 2009 is already set, he made the Nationals opening day rotation despite great odds. Lowe on the other hand is an accomplished Major League pitcher who has in his career both saved 40 games and won 20. In his career against Washington he is 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA.

John Lannan (0-1, 18.00) vs. Keshin Kawakami, (0-0, -.–)

John Lannan looks to improve upon an excellent rookie year, and a great historical track record against Atlanta. In his career Lannan is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA against the Braves. Kawakami on the other hand is making his first ever Major League start after being on of the top pitchers in Japan for the last 13 seasons. In his past five years he went 65-35 with a 3.12 ERA,  winning the Sawamura Award (Japan Cy Young) and the central league MVP in 2004.

Scott Olsen (0-1, 24.00) vs. Jair Jurrjens (1-0, 0.00)

j_jurrjensOlsen had a terrible first outing for a new club that had high hopes for him. He lasted only three innings and gave up eight earned runs against his old ball club. If history tells us anything, it will be a rough second outing as well, as Olsen is 2-4 with a 6.71 ERA against them in his career.

Jair Jurrjens on the other hand is one of the most underrated young pitchers in the game. At the age of only 22 last season, he compiled a 13-10 record with a 3.68 ERA and struck out 139 in 188 innings. Jurrjens had a great first start for 2009 and could very well be the ace of the future for Atlanta.