For a few years, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves enjoyed a turbulent rivalry, one that provided bench clearing brawls, incredible games (which Dan Uggla was on both sides of), and a whole lot of yelling from both fan bases (sometimes directed at each other). Although the Braves now are firmly in rebuilding mode, for at least two games on Monday and Wednesday, the fans will be out in full force, and no matter how poor expectations are, everybody can get excited. Welcome to Opening Week.
To start the season, the Nats will face off against the Braves in Atlanta. Manager Dusty Baker noted that he was excited to return to Atlanta, the city he started his career in.
"I'm looking forward to going back to Atlanta. Every time I go back it brings back childhood memories. I was a teenager when I was there, so it brings back very pleasant memories."
Baker is also excited to get things started in general, to bring the momentum from Spring Training into the regular season, and hopefully, to start with a win.
"You want to win to get that out of the way, then, 'Let's go!'. We want to urge the guys to just continue to do what they've been doing... I love our energy and I love my players".
The team is giving off a different energy at the beginning of the season than in years past, not only due to a successful spring, but also due to a completely healthy team that's ready to go.
In an article in the Washington Post, Baker explained that everyone is doing their part to stay healthy.
"I have to commend the guys that are coming in, working, stretching, the post-game workouts, the guys are running when they come out of the game like they're supposed to do. And I've got to commend the fitness and the medical staff, for getting these guys ready pre- and postgame," Baker said, as quoted by James Wagner.
One thing differentiating this year's Nationals' Opening Day roster from that of the last two years is that they are a healthy roster from top to bottom.
In years past, the Nationals have lost key players before or on Opening Day, from Doug Fister and Wilson Ramos, to Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Denard Span.
This year, the entire lineup from top to bottom is (knock on wood) healthy.
In 2015, with a lineup full of replacements, the first few weeks of the Nats' season, including their opening series versus the Mets, were problematic - we'll see if a healthy team can prevent history from repeating itself.
Being able to beat up on weak teams such as the Braves or the Phillies is a major key for the Nationals in keeping themselves in the NL East race, as they can add thirty-six wins to their total if they can win every game against the two. (They won't, but if they came close to that total, it would be huge.). And, against such a weak team, with a healthy lineup, it looks very possibly to take two of two in this series.
However, even if a healthy lineup can't produce what it's expected to, the Nationals should not have any problems beating the Braves.
After trading Shelby Miller, Atlanta's number one and two starters (Julio Teheran and Bud Norris) have a combined ERA of 5.38, and last year's team was only able to hit .241 against the Nats.
Although the Nationals look like the clear favorite in this series, some weird stuff has happened in seasons past when the two teams meet.
Since 2012, both teams have come back from more than eight run deficits to win, gone through a few brawls, and both teams have hit more walk-offs than anyone can possibly count - don't take anything for granted when these two play.
What to watch for in Atlanta:
Max Scherzer could etch his name into the baseball history books, again.
After finishing the season with a no-hitter, the Braves, who are among the weakest teams in the majors offensively, could be a prime target for Scherzer to complete a no-hitter against. If Scherzer somehow did complete a no-hitter on Monday, it would be the second no-hitter ever on Opening Day.
As for the possibility of a perfect game, the good news is that the two factors that prevented the Nationals' ace from completing the feat, Jose Tabata and Yunel Escobar, won't be present.
(It should also be noted that last year, Scherzer went 5.2 innings without a hit on Opening Day.)
Harper Homer Watch
Last season, Bryce Harper owned Atlanta pitching - he hit .369 with six home runs, sixteen RBI, and walked fourteen times in eighteen games. During his career, Harper has hit .435 with three home runs against Julio Teheran, the Braves' Opening Day starter.
No matter how bad the Braves are...
Freddie Freeman dominates the Nationals, and we shouldn't expect anything different this week. Over his career, he's hit at a .376 clip against the Nats, and against Stephen Strasburg, who he'll face on Wednesday, Freeman has hit .429.
Monday, April 4th: Nationals vs Braves, 4:10 PM (MASN2, WJFK)
Probable Pitchers: Max Scherzer vs Julio Teheran
Wednesday, April 6th: Nationals vs Braves, 7:10 PM (MASN, WJFK)
Probable Pitchers: Stephen Strasburg vs Bud Norris