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Nationals vs. Braves Series Preview: The battle for NL East supremacy

The Washington Nationals enter this series just a half game up on the Atlanta Braves for first place in the Senior Circuit’s Eastern division.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves - Game One Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Nationals (32-22) vs. Braves (32-23) series info:

Game 1: Thursday, May 31 at 7:35 p.m. ET (MASN2/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Friday, June 1 at 7:35 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Game 3: Saturday, June 2 at 4:10 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Game 4: Sunday, June 3 at 1:35 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Thursday: Tanner Roark (2-4, 3.17) vs. Sean Newcomb (5-1, 2.75)

Friday: Stephen Strasburg (6-4, 3.13) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (4-3, 2.55)

Saturday: Gio Gonzalez (6-2, 2.10) vs. Brandon McCarthy (5-2, 5.02)

Sunday: Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 2.30) vs. Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 3.00)

What to watch for:

Rivalry renewed

From 2012-13, the Nationals’ biggest threat to the NL East crown was Atlanta. From 2015-16, the New York Mets stood the tallest in their way. In 2014 and 2017, well, there wasn’t really anybody putting up much of a fight. This season, however, the Braves — as well as the Philadelphia Phillies — are making a serious run at the division title. The Nationals reclaimed first place in the NL East on Wednesday after spending 26 days watching the Braves and Phillies hand it off. This series could go a long way to determining which team deserves to remain in that conversation the rest of the season.

Has the Murphy Moment finally arrived?

Murphy Moment? The Dance with Daniel? Return of the Really Good Second Baseman? I’m sorry, folks. This isn’t what they pay me the big bucks for. Regardless, Murphy has yet to see the field this season while recovering from knee surgery he underwent last October. He’s played in three rehab games for the AA Harrisburg Senators and is slated to play at least two more before rejoining the MLB club. It’s possible we won’t see Murphy donning the Curly W until their home series against the Tampa Bay Rays that begins June 5, but there’s a good chance he returns in time to greet his teammates in A-Town.

Braves must learn to live without Acuña

Although the Nats have been dealt several injury blows this season, the Braves are still reeling after losing star center fielder Ronald Acuña to knee and back sprains on a play that starkly resembled the one Bryce Harper endured late last season. Atlanta split a four-game series with the Mets after placing Acuña on the 10-Day DL. Preston Tucker and his 97 OPS+ are handling starting duties while Acuña works his way back, but the rest of the offense will have to look to other stars in the Venezuelan outfielder’s absence.

Series history:

The Nationals lead the all-time series (2005-present) 129-117 but are just 56-66 against the Braves on the road. The two teams have split the six games played between them so far this season, each taking two of three away from their home ballparks.