The Washington Times - April 5, 2013, 08:53AM

CINCINNATI — In 2012, while the Washington Nationals were setting a hectic pace to reach the best record in the major leagues, there was one team they never could quite shake: the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds, who the Nationals played in April and May last year, ended the regular season falling one short of the Nationals 98-win total, and they too experienced a difficult loss in the National League Division Series. (They were up 2-0 in the series before the Giants won the next three games and, eventually, the World Series.)

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This season? Both are expected to be among the league’s best teams again. While the Nationals opened the season 7-1 favorites to win the World Series, the Reds weren’t far behind at 12-1. 

So after three games spent beating up on the Miami Marlins to open the season, just what will the Nationals be able to learn about themselves this weekend at Great American Ball Park?

“It’s early,” said Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth. “That’s more of a question for like, late May.”

“If we sweep or if we get swept or whatever, I think it’s a little too early to talk about that kind of stuff,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Regardless of whether the Nationals acknowledged it Thursday afternoon or not, the Reds (who took two of three from the Los Angeles Angels in their season-opening series) are a tougher opponent than the Marlins. But similarly to last year, the Nationals will also be done playing them early. After this weekend’s series, the Reds visit Nationals Park at the end of the month.

If the Nationals see them again, it’d be in the playoffs.

“We’ll be done with them before April, which is kind of unfortunate,” Zimmerman said. “Because neither team will get a chance to really get into a groove and establish themselves as what kind of team they are.

“It’s a good team and a good matchup. Whether it’s April or September, you’ve still got to go in there and try to win the series, just like everyone else.”

Last season, catching the Reds early worked to the Nationals’ advantage. They went 5-2 against them, dropping only one game in each series (home and away).

Their series in Cincinnati was probably still one they’d prefer to forget, what with it costing them Wilson Ramos for the season, Bryce Harper needing stitches for a self-inflicted wound and Joey Votto hitting a walk-off home run on what was almost a four-homer day for the former NL MVP. 

They could be forgiven for wanting a less eventful weekend this time around in the Queen City.

There’s little doubt facing the Reds’ lineup — not to mention their pitching staff — will prove to be a good test, but the Nationals also aren’t expecting to find out too many things about themselves over the next three days that they didn’t already know.

“We know the type of team we are,” Werth said. “I think what we went through last year over the course of the season and the postseason, that probably speaks more volumes about where we’re at as a team and what we learned about each other. As the season goes on we’ll continue to evolve and hopefully become an even better team than we are now.

“You’ve got to remember, we’ve got a lot of young guys on our team. The core of our team is second, third year in the league. Those guys are still learning, still coming into their own. I’m the oldest guy on the team, which is funny to say, but we’ve got a long way to go. It’s off to a good start, of course, and we’ve got to feel good about where we’re at but it’s going to be a long, hard road.”