Opposite dugout: Braves hoping to turn tide against Nationals

braves-logo.jpgManager: Brian Snitkner (3rd season)

Record: 2-1

Who to watch (2017 stats): 1B Freddie Freeman (.307/.403/.586 with 28 HR, 71 RBIs), CF Ender Inciarte (.304, 22 SB), RF Nick Markakis (.275, 76 RBIs), RHP Julio Teheran (11-13, 4.49 ERA), RHP Arodys Vizcaino (.283 ERA, 14 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (9-10 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

April 2: RHP Tanner Roark (13-11, 4.67 ERA in 2017) vs. LHP Sean Newcomb (4-9, 4.32 ERA in 2017), 7:35 p.m., MASN2
April 3: RHP A.J. Cole (3-5, 3.81 ERA in 2017) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 6.35 ERA), 7:25 p.m., MASN2
April 4: RHP Max Scherzer (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (0-0, 3.60 ERA), 12:10 p.m. MASN

Inside the Braves:

The Braves have been a welcome foe for the Nationals over the past couple of seasons. Last year, the Braves were 9-10 against the Nats - and that was an improvement from their 4-15 records in head-to-head competition in the 2016 and 2015 seasons. No one expects the Braves to contend for the National League East title in 2018; they're continuing their rebuild as they enter their second season at SunTrust Park in the Atlanta suburbs. The Braves' 72-90 record last season was good for third place in the NL East, a surprise considering they leapfrogged the sore-armed Mets and retooling Phillies. Time wll tell if they play well enough to finish third again - or perhaps even challenge for a wild card. But they most assuredly don't want to backslide into the bottom portion of the division.

A look at the Braves lineup suggests they can be a dangerous offensive club. Center fielder Ender Inciarte and second baseman Ozzie Albies are adept at getting on base, which sets the table for first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis. Freeman, in particular, has been a Nats killer during his career, posting a .326/.384/.536 slash line with 17 homers and 71 RBIs, including seven homers and 35 RBIs in 60 career games at Nationals Park. Last season, Freeman was hindered by a wrist injury that sapped his power for a time, but he's always a tough out and feasts on Nationals pitching. Don't be surprised if he has a cautious eye; so far this season, Freeman has already walked seven times. Markakis already has five RBIs through the Braves' opening series, and is tied with Inciarte for the team lead, while left fielder Preston Tucker, the placeholder for top prospect Ronald Acuna, is hitting .417 through the early going.

Left-hander Sean Newcomb, one of the Braves' promising young hurlers, will draw the assignment for Monday's opener. The 15th overall selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft didn't fare well in his lone career outing against the Nats, allowing four runs in four innings at Nationals Park last July 9. He's done a nice job keeping the ball in the ballpark, yielding only one home run in his last seven starts. Tuesday's starter is righty Julio Teheran, who was once a flame-thrower, but his strikeout totals have declined for the past four campaigns. He's 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 18 career starts against Washington. Mike Foltynewicz will work the Wednesday finale, and he's traditionally had trouble with the home run ball when the opposition is wearing curly W caps. He's allowed five homers in just 32 innings pitched against the Nats in his career, posting a 2-2 record and 5.63 ERA in six lifetime starts.

Should the Braves get a lead to the ninth inning, they'll call on right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, who closed for hte second half of last season. But the best arm in their bullpen may belong to left A.J. Minter, who boasts a 100 mph fastball.

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