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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Opening Day Take Two against the Atlanta Braves

Let’s try this again shall we? The Washington Nationals are finally set to get their 2021 season underway...

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Five days later than planned, let’s try this again... After multiple positive coronavirus tests right before Opening Day, the Washington Nationals will hope to open their 2021 season this week, and welcome fans back for the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 World Series.

You remember that series, right? That one where the Nationals only went and won the damn World Series. Good times, good times...

Anyway, some will say that this season is the Nationals’ true defense of their crown with a full 162-game schedule set to be played this season after last year’s abbreviated 60-game campaign.

Others are be expecting a bounce-back after a fairly pitiful title defense in 2020.

Either way, the Nationals will get underway against the Atlanta Braves who were swept away with near-ease by the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Weekend...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, April 6th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and MLB Network (out-of-market), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, April 7th, 12:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, April 7th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Max Scherzer (0-0, -.— ERA) vs Drew Smyly (0-0, -.— ERA)
  • Game Two: Stephen Strasburg (0-0, -.— ERA) vs Max Fried (0-0, 3.60 ERA)
  • Game Three: TBD (0-0, -.— ERA) vs TBD (0-0, -.— ERA)

Who’s hot?

Ryan Zimmerman: Make all the jokes you want about how Zimmerman hates Spring Training, but in 2021, he definitely made his presence felt at the plate for the Nationals.

In 27 spring at-bats, the first baseman slashed .481/.517/1.222 with six home runs and 15 RBIs.

Though Zimmerman looks set to take a back seat this season to new addition Josh Bell, you can still expect to see plenty of Mr. National this season against some left-handed starters and coming off the bench in big spots late in games.

It’s also worth noting that Bell was not one of the players spotted during the team’s workout on Monday. If he misses time early this season because of the coronavirus outbreak, then Zimmerman could earn a few starts early in the season.

Pablo Sandoval: In a dismal series for the Braves over the weekend, there weren’t too many standout performers. However, the Kung Fu Panda definitely made his mark on the series by smacking a pinch-hit, game-tying, two-run home run off of Aaron Nola on Thursday.

Sandoval earned his place on the roster after a scorching Spring Training where he slashed .400/.435/.475 in 40 at-bats. While he may not start either game this series, he will be someone to be wary of off the bench who could come up in a key spot given that form.

Who’s not?

Juan Soto: Aside from Carter Kieboom, who was optioned to the minor leagues at the end of Spring Training, Soto had the lowest OPS in Spring Training among all Nationals players with at least 10 at-bats.

Should Nats fans be worried that their young phenom posted an OPS of just .471? Definitely not. Come the end of the season, his batting average will probably be closer to .471 than his OPS will.

Cristian Pache: This could’ve very easily been Freddie Freeman here, but that would’ve essentially been encouraging him to demolish the Nationals as he always does. Instead, Pache didn’t get off to a great first three games of 2021 after a sluggish spring at the plate.

The young outfielder went just 1-for-10 in Philadelphia after posting a .184/.289/.289 slash line during Spring Training. Pache brings more than his bat to the team, with great defense in the outfield, but as a younger player, it wouldn’t be a surprise for his bat to heat up this year.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Braves storylines from our friends at Talking Chop...

One more thing to watch

Well, the main storyline now for the Nationals is how will they cope with their roster seriously depleted by the positive coronavirus tests that sprung up towards the end of last week.

Obviously, the main focus should be on those that have tested positive, and while the team’s GM, Mike Rizzo, confirmed that only one player had symptoms — which was a fever that has now cleared up — hopefully, they all come back fully healthy and ready to go.

On Sunday morning, Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post reported that the Nationals would be missing Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, Jon Lester, and Alex Avila, though it’s not clear which players, if any of the above, have tested positive, and which were quarantined following contact tracing.

More will become clear as the day and week goes on as to how the Nats will cope in the meantime, but the team’s depth is definitely going to have to step up in this series with the Braves.

“We like the players that we have down there in Fredericksburg,” Rizzo told reporters on Friday. “We’re going to be relying heavily on them, and again, when you’re trying to get where you’re getting, I said this in 2019, your stars have to be stars, and our good players are going to have to play well, and our depth is going to have to shine.

“We’re going to put the best 26 we can on the field and we’re going to give them hell, everybody we play.”

So far, the players that are reportedly being promoted to the active roster, per The Athletic’s Maria Torres, are Kyle McGowin, Tres Barrera, Luis García, Yadiel Hernández, and Sam Clay, though there will probably be more to come with a total of 11 Nationals’ players and two “staff” members still quarantining.

With a lot of players required to fill in for the immediate future, the players are adopting a “suck it up and deal with it” attitude, according to Max Scherzer. It’s an attitude that may serve them well against what is likely to be one of the best teams in the National League.