April 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson (15) pitches in the second inning against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Through 9 games, the Atlanta Braves are a scorching 8-1, and leading the National League East. As they head to Washington to face the preseason favorite Nationals, let’s take a look at what will be the first true “test” for Atlanta against a legitimate, quality opponent.
Friday, April 12th – 7:05 PM ET – Julio Teheran vs. Ross Detwiler
With all of the hype surrounding this series, things kick off with the 5th-starters squaring off. Teheran enters his 2nd start having scuffled in his first start (5 innings, 8 hits, 5 runs, 2 K’s), and he has a big-time challenge in the potent Washington lineup. It’s important for Teheran to be able to deploy his secondary pitches to keep this lineup guessing a bit, and if he can’t establish his curveball early, it’s going to be a long day. On the other side, Ross Detwiler is a 5th starter in name only, as he was dominant in his first start against Cincy (6 IP, 0 ER) and on 25 rosters, he’d probably be a 3rd/4th type of guy. Fortunately for Atlanta, the new-look lineup doesn’t leave them quite as vulnerable to left-handers this season, and the Uptons could be big on Friday.
Saturday, April 13th – 1:05 PM ET – Tim Hudson vs. Stephen Strasburg
No one ever wants to see Stephen Strasburg on the opposing rubber, but that’s what the Braves are faced with. First things first, Hudson looked pretty strong in his last outing against Chicago (after a semi-rough opening day), but there was widespread concern in the Spring about regressing stuff from Tim, and he’s certainly not a dominant #1 at this point in his career. Keeping the ball down to the power hitters from Washington is the key for Tim, and if he has that late, sinking life on his pitches, he could put up some good numbers here. Strasburg has certainly not been his elite self in his first two starts (4.38 ERA), but it’s probably only a matter of time until he turns in a 7-inning, 12-strikeout performance. Let’s hope it’s not on Saturday.
Sunday, April 14th – 1:35 PM ET – Paul Maholm vs. Gio Gonzalez
Paul Maholm has been a revelation since joining the Braves in the middle of 2012 (see here for details), but this is his biggest challenge by a wide margin this year. A big key for Maholm is in his ability to get swings and misses (read: strikeouts) in addition to his big-time ground-ball percentage, and if the Nats are making quality contact early, it should give Fredi and company some pause. Gio Gonzalez takes the hill for Washington, and he’s been electric (0.82 ERA, 12 K’s) over his first 11 innings this season. Gio “won” 21 games last year (I hate pitcher wins), but the bigger story was his 2.89 ERA and 207 K’s, and while had a rough offseason with PED concerns, etc., he’s a tremendous pitcher when he’s right.
With two day games including a national TV broadcast, the eyes of the world of baseball will be on this series. The majority of people (myself included) have these two teams battling it out for the NL East title with the loser grabbing the #1 wild card spot, and the season series between the two teams could go a long way in determining those final standings. This is going to be fun.