ATLANTA — When the Atlanta Braves rolled out of Washington a few weeks ago, they were riding high. They had just swept the Nationals in a series that would fit among the ranks as one of the worst the Nationals played in some time.
The Nationals were impressed by the Braves. But they were also well aware that between two teams that will meet a total of 19 times this season, three losses may wind up being just that: three losses, regardless of whether they happened together or spread across the season series.
They spoke with confidence about their prospects, against the Braves and in the division, knowing, as manager Davey Johnson likes to say, you’re never as bad as you look when you lose or as good as you look when you win.
So here they are in Atlanta. Now. For the start of a four-game series that pits a 15-9 Braves team that’s no longer the scorching hot unit they opened the season as, coming off a 3-7 road trip, against a 13-12 Nationals team that’s still trying to find consistency.
And they’re not dancing around the fact that this is an important series.
“It’s a big series, it is,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche. “Regardless of what time of the year it is, this is the time that we can turn the tides a little bit.
“They came in here and killed us so it’ll be nice to try to even that out and keep the momentum going a little bit.”
LaRoche’s contributions could be a big part of that. Mired in a slump that’s seen him go seven straight games without a hit and stretched his hitless at-bat streak to an 0-for-26 that’s obviously frustrating the veteran, LaRoche is trying to find a way out.
Johnson asked LaRoche if he wanted to play or sit on Sunday against Reds’ rookie left-hander Tony Cingrani. LaRoche chose to play, and he will continue to choose to play as he tries to find his way back at the plate. Asked how he was feeing up there, LaRoche admitted “probably as good as it looks.”
The Nationals open the series with their pitching lined up from the top. Stephen Strasburg against Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson against Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann against Paul Maholm, and Kris Medlen facing Dan Haren. They felt confident, despite the results, when the last series between the two was over.
This is their first opportunity to prove it wasn’t just chatter.
“They’re in front of us,” Johnson said. “We come down there, we got the right matchups going. It should be a great series.”
– Wilson Ramos will come off the disabled list prior to today’s game for the Nationals, the first day the Nationals’ catcher is eligible after suffering a left hamstring injury during the Braves’ series. Jhonatan Solano heads back to Triple-A Syracuse.
– The Braves have Freddie Freeman, who missed the first series, will be without Jason Heyward. He is on the disabled list after requiring an appendectomy last week.