To this point, Stephen Strasburg's initiation to the majors has been progressive: four games against losing clubs and average-to-weak lineups, three of which aren't going to see him again for three years.
Strasburg has passed through that phase with nothing that would even qualify as a hiccup; his 1.78 ERA and big-league record 41 strikeouts in his first four games would support that. But his fifth start in the majors, which comes Monday night in Atlanta, will be something different.
It's not so much that the Braves are outfitted with dangerous hitters; they are in the bottom third of the league in most offensive categories, and they have just two hitters with double-digit homers. One of those two, the Braves' own rookie phenom Jason Heyward, might miss the game with a sore left thumb.
But make no mistake: This is a tough test for Strasburg for several reasons.
First, the Braves are in first place in the NL East, looking like one of the league's pre-eminent franchises again in legendary manager Bobby Cox's last season. Their offense may lack some punch, but one thing the Braves do well is get on base; their team on-base percentage of .348 leads the NL.
Second, Strasburg is facing Tim Hudson, whose mastery of the Nationals is well-established by now. To expect Hudson will give up more than two runs might be wishful thinking, so Strasburg will have to be on his game again.
And finally, the Braves are the first NL East team Strasburg will have faced. Unlike the Indians or Royals, they're going to see Strasburg many more times, each instance coming with more knowledge of his tendencies. This will be the first piece of live information they get on him, and they'll have plenty more chances to see him.
Game time is 7:10 p.m. at Turner Field. MASN and MASN HD will have the broadcast.