Quick! Let's play a game before we get into the preview. Here are the Braves' records against the other NL East teams in the last 3 years. Name team A, B, C and D:
Team A) 27-27
Team B) 33-21
Team C) 28-26
Team D) 23-31
As you can see, the Braves have dominated one team, been dominated by another and broke even with the other 2. Knowing that the Washington Nationals have won an average of 64 games the last 3 seasons, you would sure think Team B would be the Nationals.
Now for some math: The Nationals have won a total of 191 games the past 3 seasons. 27 of those wins have come against the Braves. That's about 14%. That's really bad considering how poorly the Natinals have played since 2007.
In other words, the Braves need to go into this upcoming series focused and ready for a fight.
A perfect example of the Braves struggling against the Nationals came in the last series of the 2009 season when the Braves were swept in Atlanta. Was the season pretty much over? Probably. But there's absolutely no reason to play as badly as the Braves did. If the Braves would've played up to their ability, they could've easily swept the Nationals and reached the 90-win mark for the first time since 2005. Instead, they made bonehead plays and allowed the Nats to win the final 4 games of the season. Both the 2009 and 2010 Braves teams are much more talented than the Nats -- now this 2010 team needs to play like it.
The Nationals are off to a solid start in 2010. In the off-season, their front office put an emphasis on improving their pitching and defense. The Nats improved their horrible bullpen with the acquisition of Matt Capps and development of Tyler Clippard and both have been very good so far this season. They also signed Jason Marquis, who isn't great, but he's a veteran innings eater who will be a good influence on their young pitching staff.
Another player the Nats signed cheaply in the off-season was veteran catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. When signed, the Nats originally figured Pudge would serve as a starting catcher every few days and would be more of a clubhouse presence for all their young players. No one was expecting him to hit .400 in April. Rodriguez has been fantastic for the Nats so far and is a big reason behind their surprising start.
On offense, the Nationals have been an average bunch. They're currently 10th in the NL in team average and are tied with the Braves at 14th with only 16HRs. Surprisingly, they've hit a ton of doubles and triples, tied for 1st with 57 doubles and 11 triples. The Nats do run the bases often, as they come into the series with 24 steals in 34 attempts. Brian McCann and David Ross will need to be ready to throw behind the plate.
Kawakami's Stat Line: 0-4 5.48ERA 21.1IP 10K/8BB .286 opp. BA
Hernandez's State Line: 3-1 0.87ERA 31IP 10K/8BB .176 opp. BA
Kawakami's Last Start: KK was banged up a bit in his last start, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in 4.1IP against St. Louis. The Braves defense and bats certainly didn't help him, but runners were on base all night.
Hernandez's Last Start: The right-handed veteran pitched 7 strong innings in Chicago, giving up just 1 run on only 6 hits and 1 walk. Livan's only defeat on the season was a tough luck 2-0 loss against Colorado.
Advantage - Hernandez
Hanson's Stat Line: 2-2 2.17ERA 29IP 33K/10BB .217 opp. BA
Atilano's Stat Line: 2-0 2.25ERA 12IP 5BB/2K .234 opp. BA
Hanson's Last Start: Tommy Hanson was filthy in his last start, pitching 8 strong innings of 2-run ball. Big Red showed fantastic command of his pitches last Friday night, throwing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 28 batters he faced.
Atilano's Last Start: In his 2nd start of the season, Atilano threw 6 solid innings and allowed 2 runs on six hits. He got himself into trouble twice against the Cubs, but was able to work his way out of it.
Advantage - Hanson
Hudson's Stat Line: 2-1 2.87ERA
Olsen's Stat Line: 2-1 4.35ERA
Hudson's Last Start: Despite being pulled early in Saturday's game against the Astros due to heat cramps, Huddy pitched a great game allowing only 1 run in 6 2/3 innings. After allowing a run to score in the 1st inning, Tim was on cruise control the rest of the afternoon, allowing only 3 hits after the 1st.
Olsen's Last Start: Scott Olsen is currently on a 13-inning scoreless streak and 6 of those came in his last start against the Marlins. In those 6 innings against Florida, Olsen struggled with his command (3 walks, 5 hits), but was able to work out of multiple jams with clutch strikeouts and a double play.
Advantage - Hudson
Questions of the Series:
1. Will the Braves hot bats travel with the team to Washington? Or will they stay in Atlanta?
2. The Nationals have played a bit over their head in April and are 0-2 in May. Will that continue against the Braves?
3. Will Kenshin Kawakami get back on track in Washington? He was awful in April.