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Washington Nationals Series Preview: First look at the defending champion Atlanta Braves

Despite a poor series against the Mets, the Nationals hope they can take the momentum from a win in the series finale to Atlanta...

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

For three games to start the 2022 season, it was pretty dismal for the Washington Nationals as they dropped the first three against the New York Mets at Nationals Park.

It looked like the series finale might follow a similar script with the Nationals down 2-1 heading into the eighth inning. However, thanks to some unlike heroes in Dee Strange-Gordon and Lucius Fox, they played some beautiful small ball to tie the game before Nelson Cruz drove in a pair to give Washington a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

After the late win, the Nationals head on the road to take on the Atlanta Braves. It will be the first time the two sides go toe-to-toe since the Nats’ division rivals won the World Series last fall.

The Braves are coming off of a somewhat disappointing series — well, as disappointing as a series that included a World Series ring ceremony could be — against the Cincinnati Reds where they could only take two of four against a team that blew things up this offseason.

Here’s the lowdown from Truist Park ahead of the three-game series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, April 11th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, April 12th, 7:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, April 13th, 12:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: TBD (Josh Rogers?) (0-0, -.-- ERA) vs Huascar Ynoa (0-0, -.-- ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin (0-1, 4.50 ERA) vs Max Fried (0-1, 7.94 ERA)
  • Game Three: Josiah Gray (0-1, 9.00 ERA) vs Charlie Morton (1-0, 3.38 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Sean Doolittle: Folks, maybe it’s a bit premature, but it looks like Doolittle is back... more or less.

The fan-favorite started the season strong against the Mets with a pair of perfect, scoreless innings, striking out three batters, while also running his fastball back up to his usual 95mph. If he can maintain that velocity and movement, he could be a valuable piece of the bullpen.

Spencer Strider: We all know the Braves have a star-studded roster, plenty of whom had strong series against the Reds. Instead, we’ll look at something of a lesser-known name to Nationals fans in Strider, who has had a meteoric rise since becoming a fourth-round pick in 2020.

2021 was the left-hander’s pro ball debut, and he rose all the way from being a starter in the minors to a reliever for the big league club right at the end of last season. He then carried that over to this spring and impressively won a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.

Then in the first series of the season, Strider opened even more eyes with 2.1 perfect innings against the Reds while striking out five batters. He has the versatility to do a lot of things out of the bullpen, so could dazzle again if called up in this series.

Who’s not?

Maikel Franco: Thrust into the full-time starting third base role following the Spring Training injury to Carter Kieboom, Franco hasn’t gotten off to the best start with his new team.

After a mediocre spring, Franco failed to record a hit in his first three games as a National, struggled on defense, and went just 1-for-13 in the four-game set against the Mets. He’ll need to improve quickly if he wants to stick around on the roster this season.

Eddie Rosario: One of the Braves’ October heroes on their run to the World Series last year, Rosario hasn’t quite gotten off to the start he would’ve wanted to 2022 as yet.

The 30-year-old outfielder could only muster one hit in 14 at-bats over the weekend against Cincinnati, which comes on the heels of a sluggish spring where he slashed just .167/.167/.200 with nine strikeouts and no walks. He’ll be looking to get back on track in this series.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Braves storylines from our friends at Battery Power...

One more thing to watch

Not only one of the biggest stories in this series, but one of the biggest stories in baseball this year was when Freddie Freeman left the Atlanta Braves for the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency, and all other NL East fans were left to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It was one of the few things they agree on, Freeman at the plate in a crucial situation was the stuff of nightmares for all. Now he’ll only get to do it six times a season instead of 19.

Filling those rather large shoes in Atlanta now is Matt Olson, who arrived in a blockbuster with the Oakland Athletics in March, and then immediately signed a massive eight-year, $168 million contract. So yeah, not much chance for respite going from Freeman to Olson.

Despite essentially replacing a franchise icon, Olson is trying to stay focused on the present.

“I understand there’s always going to be some sort of parallel or connection that’s tried to be drawn, but that can’t affect what I do, can’t affect what we do as a team,” Olson told Justin Toscano of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month.

“This is an incredibly talented lineup. As far as pressure goes, I’m not feeling pressure to be the guy or anything. There’s nine dudes who can do it any given night. That’s a good feeling. Incredibly talented team. There’s no pressure as far as that goes.”

I get it, you don’t believe those words, everyone would say that in the same scenario. Well, maybe you should see how Olson has started the season in Atlanta then.

In his first four games this season, Olson has gone 8-for-14 with a home run, a pair of doubles, three walks, and three strikeouts, giving him an early .571/.647/.929 slash line.

Look for Olson to be at the heart of what the Braves do at the plate in this series...

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: The Nationals have faced four former Cy Young winners on Opening Day since 2005. Jacob deGrom, who was set to do so again this year before he was shut down with an injury, is one of the four pitchers. Can you name the other three?

Answer: Tom Glavine (2006), Roy Halladay (2010), Bartolo Colon (2015)

As mentioned in our last preview, we’re trying out a new feature in our series previews this year. We’re going to have a trivia question each series for you to try your hand at and answer down in the comments, then we’ll reveal the answer in our next series preview.

Here’s the trivia question for this series against the Braves...

The last time that Freddie Freeman wasn’t the Braves’ first baseman for the opening series of the season between the Braves and Nationals was 2013. Who was the first baseman for the Braves in that game?