Last year, the Washington Nationals (3-0) opened the beginnings of a fierce rivalry with the Atlanta Braves (2-1) with five straight disappointing losses, and went on to win just six of 19 contests with the Braves.
It seemed as though the pressure of a significant rivalry was too much for the Nationals to handle. But 2014 is a new year. With six games against to Braves in the next ten days, the Nationals have the opportunity to change the momentum of this rivalry right from the start of the season.
New National Kevin Frandsen noted the importance of this early season series to the team’s success for the rest of the year, according to MLB.com. “I’m excited [to play this series],” Frandsen said. “Here, the guys [on the Nationals] are hungry. There is such great vibe around here. I love it, so far, knowing that this series could set a true tone for the entire year. You get hot the first week or two, it sets a good tone for the season.”
The Nationals are coming off a strong three-game sweep of the New York Mets, in which the Nats hitters scored a total of 22 runs and pitchers struck out 39 batters. When coming from behind or with a lead, they didn’t give up or give in to the lackadaisical style of play that pervaded last season. This attitude filled their first three games with energy and excitement and displayed the hunger for winning Frandsen had identified.
The Nationals will take that momentum into Washington for their home opener, where the cheers of the crowd will surely be as hungry for a Braves loss as they are.
Brave Loss for National Gain
Though the Braves are the reigning wearers of the NL East crown, the Nationals are the favorite to win the division this year, and they have the players to do so.
The Nationals added Doug Fister (though he will miss about a month of playing time with a strained lat), Jose Lobaton, Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen, Jerry Blevins and Aaron Barnett to round out what was already a talented staff, without losing any key players in the offseason.
The Braves, however, lost All-Star catcher Brian McCann, and several pitchers, namely Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor to injuries, and Tim Hudson and Eric O’Flaherty to other teams.
Some have said that the loss of the pitchers won’t be a real hit to the Braves as their replacements in Aaron Harang, David Hale and others are more than competent. But there’s no doubt that an unintentional overhaul of their pitching staff isn’t a benefit.
With Beachy (career 3.23 ERA) and Medlen (career 2.95 ERA) out for the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, now is the time for the Nationals to capitalize on the absence of two of the Braves’ most promising young pitchers from the lineup.
Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post put it best when he said, “If the Nationals fail to take advantage of a wave of injuries in the Braves’ pitching rotation in their meetings this month, Atlanta will think, as it should, that the Nats talk a lot about talent but have a hard time with performance under pressure.”
This series is the Nationals’ opportunity to prove to the Braves that they can not only handle the pressure, but thrive under it.
In The Zone
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) .429 AVG, .429 OBP, .643 SLG, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 14 AB
Freddie Freeman (1B) .333 AVG, .500 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 2 HR, 3 BB, 9 AB
Chris Johnson (3B) .250 AVG, .250 OBP, .583 SLG, 1 HR, 0 BB, 12 AB
BJ Upton (CF) .083 AVG, .083 SLG, .083 SLG, 1 H, 6 SO, 12 AB
Justin Upton (LF) .091 AVG, .167 OBP, .091 SLG, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 SO, 11 AB
- 4/4, Jordan Zimmermann (0-0) vs. David Hale (0-0)
- 4/5, Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00 ERA, .238 BAA, 10 SO, 6.0 IP) vs. Julio Teheran (0-1, 3.00 ERA, .318 BAA, 2 SO, 6.0 IP)
- 4/6, Taylor Jordan (0-0) vs. Wood (1-0, 1.29 ERA, .208 BAA, 5 SO, 7 IP)