The Washington Times - May 25, 2012, 02:22PM

ATLANTA — The last time Ross Detwiler was on the mound to face the Atlanta Braves, he threw six shutout innings and allowed just four hits. It was a Sunday, the final Sunday of the season, and the Braves were clinging to their hold on the NL Wild Card. 

The Nationals swept them, capped by Detwiler’s performance that Sunday (including a third inning in which the Braves had the bases loaded, no outs, and still could not score). The Braves, of course, missed the Wild Card by one game. The St. Louis Cardinals won it, and then they won everything.

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Needless to say, there are probably some bad memories involved in facing the Nationals and Detwiler for the Braves players, very few of whom have changed since that September day.

But what has changed are the stakes. That September series meant something to the Braves, not the Nationals. This one means a great deal to both. 

No, the NL East crown won’t be decided this weekend. Neither team will leave the series with a firm grip on the division, either, but the Nationals are in first place, they’re a game ahead of the Braves and both teams appear to be trending in opposite directions.

The Nationals just took two of three from the Phillies, the first step as they tread into a brutal schedule stretch. The Braves just dropped four straight, getting swept out of Cincinnati in a four game series. Chipper Jones is hurt. Brian McCann is sick. And Freddie Freeman has been struggling with his eyesight. 

That being said, if the Braves could have picked anyone to start tonight against the Nationals (before they face Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in the series’ final two games) it’d be Tim Hudson, a Nationals killer.

Hudson has made five starts this season, coming off back surgery, and is 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA and looking more and more like the dominant ace he is with each passing outing. In 23 career starts against the Nationals he is 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA. In 158 innings, he’s allowed just 36 earned runs and struck out and average of 6.4 batters per nine innings. 

Detwiler finds himself in an interesting position with Chien-Ming Wang seemingly looming in the bullpen and Detwiler’s previous two outings coming up short of what the Nationals have come to expect from him. 

It’s an important game — an important series — for both teams and one thing is certain: it will be fascinating to see how these next three games play out. 

Back with more from the park soon.