It’s not much of a surprise to see the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals at the top of the National League East standings. However, these might be the best two teams in Major League Baseball, and it’s rare to see Nos. 1 and 2 playing in the same division.
That should make for a fun weekend when the Braves and Nats square off for a three-game series, starting Friday night.
For the Braves, the first nine games of the 2013 season have been a lot of fun. They’ve beat up on the Phillies and trounced the Cubs and Marlins. At 8-1, Atlanta holds the best record in the majors and one of the fastest starts in franchise history.
They’re getting production from everyone. It hasn’t just been from the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward — players like Juan Francisco, Evan Gattis and even Jordan Schafer have carried the team recently. Even scarier, it’s happening without major players like Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, as both players are nursing injuries on the DL.
But they’ll face a different kind of animal this weekend, and they’ll find out just how good they are when they run into the Nationals. Washington’s pitching staff is better than anything the Braves have seen this season, and they’re much more likely to stifle an Atlanta offense that has averaged better than 4.5 runs scored per game. Atlanta will see an offense that hasn’t been great so far this year, but after the Braves faced a hapless Marlins lineup earlier in the week, anything is an upgrade.
Most of all, the Braves will be tested in their first true road environment of the season. A weekend series means Nationals fans will pile into the stadium and get excited about an early-season series that will take on a postseason feel.
I am fully prepared to see the Braves drop two of three games this weekend, and you shouldn’t be disappointed if it happens. The Braves and Nats are very closely-matched, and the advantage will probably go to the home team. At the same time, the Nationals aren’t perfect, and the Braves have been as close to perfect as any team this season. Atlanta is fully capable of taking this series.
Either way, the best baseball in the bigs will be played in the nation’s capital this weekend, and the race for first in the NL East is just starting.