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Braves-Nationals Preview: Time to get back on track


Photo: Curtis Compton

After a brutal start to the 2021 campaign that included a sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves look to rebound and gain their first win of the year today as they take on another N.L. East rival, the Washington Nationals. This will be the first game of the year for Washington, as a COVID-19 outbreak postponed their opening series with the New York Mets. This game was also originally slated for yesterday, but was postponed for today. A doubleheader was announced for Wednesday to make up Monday’s game.

Going into this series, here are some questions to keep in mind and things to look out for:

Offense, you good?

Remember that scene in the movie Back to the Future when Biff Tannen pounds on George McFly’s head shouting, “Hello?! Hello?! Anybody home?” Well, that basically sums up what me and other Braves fans wanted to do to the offense this past weekend. Over the three game series with the Phillies, the Braves, who had one of the best offenses in baseball a year ago, managed just three runs over three games.

Their work will be cut out for them to get back on track this series though. Over the past couple seasons, the Nationals have had one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, one that helped carry them to the 2019 World Series. I expect more of the same this year. On Tuesday, Atlanta will have to face one of the best pitchers of the last decade in Nats’ ace Max Scherzer. They will also most likely see veterans Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin during Wednesday’s doubleheader, though no starter has been officially announced yet for those games by Washington. An advantage for the Braves is that they have played well against the Nationals over the last two seasons, and are hoping to continue that today and tomorrow.

As frustrating as slow starts are, there is no need to panic. There is way too much offensive firepower on this team for people to be worried about our lack of runs. Mark Bowman of pointed out a similar situation with the 2003 Braves club. They began the season by being swept by the Montreal Expos, but went on to win 101 games that season and scored a franchise record 907 runs. That team, like the Braves of 2021, had big offensive weapons such as Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield (just to name a few). Let’s not give up on this team just yet.

How much of an impact will Drew Smyly have?

On Tuesday, 2020 free agent signee Drew Smyly is scheduled to make his Braves’ debut. He appeared in seven games last year for the San Francisco Giants and had a 3.42 ERA. What was most impressive about that season was that in 26 ⅓ innings, he struck out 42 batters, averaging to a 14.4 strikeout per 9 inning ratio. That appeal was what most likely attracted the Braves to sign him to a contract. That strikeout power will be needed against a Nationals lineup on Tuesday that could include hitters such as Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and new hitters like Josh Bell and the power threat/free swinging Kyle Schwarber.

Battle of the MVP Candidates

This series will feature no shortlist of star power. One matchup to keep an eye on is Ronald Acuña Jr. vs Juan Soto. Both of these players are leading N.L. MVP candidates and some of the brightest young stars in the game. Although neither of them are 25 years old yet, they have already combined for a total of 150 home runs between the both of them in their young careers. That’s more home runs than Ichiro Suzuki had in his entire 19 year MLB career. We will no doubt see these two faces of their franchises battle it out over the next decade, and this series provides another exciting chapter in their no doubt storied careers.

Will we see any memorable doubleheader moments?

The 7-inning doubleheader rule has carried over from last season to this one. Last season, the Braves did pretty well in these doubleheaders. It also provided some memorable moments, from Freddie Freeman hitting his first career grand slam (against the Nationals ironically), and Ian Anderson’s debut vs the New York Yankees.

As of now, the Braves have Huascar Ynoa set to start one of the doubleheader games on Wednesday. The other starter has not been announced yet.

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