Opposite dugout: Braves making some noise in early stages of 2018

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

Record: 6-3

Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (.367/.558/.733 with 11 RBIs), LF Preston Tucker (.370/.400/.667 with 9 RBIs), CF Ender Inciarte (2 SB, 5 RBIs), SS Dansby Swanson (.382/.400/.618), RHP Mike Foltynewicz (15 Ks in 10 1/3 innings), RHP Arodys Vizcaino (1.93 ERA)

Season series vs. Nationals: 2-1

Pitching probables:

April 9: RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 10.13 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (1-1, 1.64 ERA), 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 10: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-0, 2.62 ERA) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 3.65 ERA) 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 11: RHP Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 3.97 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Cole (0-1, 24.55 ERA) 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Braves:

Preseason predictors expected the Mets and maybe the Phillies to challenge the Nationals for the division title they had sewn up so quickly in 2017. Out of the gate this year, however, the Braves look as though they, too, are prepared to contend. They took two of three from the Nats last week in Atlanta, and are looking down at the defending champs in the National League East standings as they come to D.C. for the first time in 2018. The Braves come into this evening's play with a team ERA of 3.23 and leading the majors in runs scored.

Leadoff man Ender Inciarte is off to a slow start coming off his first All-Star year, but the center fielder has been a reliable table-setter for the Braves for the past two seasons. First baseman Freddie Freeman, now in his eighth full season with the Braves, seems ready to rebound from the broken wrist that sidelined him for the better part of two months in 2017. Freeman hits Nats pitching well, and historically wears out Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to start the middle game of this three-game series. Freeman is 15-for-40 against Strasburg, with four homers and four doubles. Preston Tucker never caught on with the Astros and spent all of last season in Triple-A before being dealt in the offseason for a player to be named. Now starting for the Braves in left field, Tucker has shown unexpected pop, notching two doubles and two homers already in 2018. Since coming to the Braves after six years with the Orioles, utility man Ryan Flaherty has also proved a pleasant surprise, hitting a team-leading .414 while starting at third base in all but one game to this point. Coming into his second full season with the Braves, shortstop Dansby Swanson could be on the cusp of a breakout year. In just 34 at-bats, Swanson has raked three doubles, a triple and a homer while collecting seven RBIs. Veteran right fielder Nick Markakis, always a solid hitter for average, is hitting .324 and is tied with Swanson for third in team RBIs with seven.

Opening day starter Julio Teheran takes the hill for the Braves tonight. In his last start, Nats hitters torched Teheran for five runs on six hits, three of them home runs. He's done fairly well at Nats Park, though, going 5-2 with a 3.46 ERA. He's recorded more strikeouts there (55) than in any other park outside Atlanta, but also allowed more homers (nine) there than any other road venue. Righty Mike Foltynewicz gets the start tomorrow. Skipper Brian Snitker would no doubt love to get an extra inning or two out of Foltynewicz this time out - he's gone five and 5 1/3, respectively, in his first two starts of the season - but Snitker can't complain about the results so far. On March 30, Foltynewicz struck out seven Phillies while allowing two earned runs on a couple of solo homers. On Wednesday, he picked up his first win of 2018, holding the Nats to a single run on four hits while walking two and striking out eight. Sinkerball pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who starts Wednesday's series finale, came with three other players and cash when the Braves dealt Matt Kemp to the Dodgers last December. Now in his 13th season in the bigs with his seventh team, McCarthy has seen remarkably little of the Nationals. He's picked up victories in each of his two starts so far this year.

Lefty setup man A.J. Minter has allowed just one hit and no runs in four appearances with his 95 mph fastball and hard slider. Two of those outings came against the Nationals, a total of 2 1/3 innings. The only blemishes were one walk in each game. Closer Arodys Vizcaino is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in five appearances so far this year, but has yet to record a save or even have the opportunity.

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