Strong-starting Braves face struggling Nationals

Washington Nationals' Trea Turner strikes out with the bases loaded and argues the call with Home Plate Umpire Doug Eddings in the 6th inning of a home opener game against the New York Mets on April 5 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

By Jeff Seidel, The Sports XchangeUPI

The Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals have gotten off to different starts so far this season.

Atlanta has won all three of its series to start the season while the Nationals, a team many believe to be one of baseball’s best, has dropped five games in a row. The two teams will start a three-game series Monday night in Washington.

Julio Teheran (0-0, 10.13) starts for the Braves against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (1-1, 1.64 ERA).

Teheran started in the April 3 game versus the Nationals and gave up five runs on six hits in just 2 1/3 innings but came away with a no-decision as the Braves scored a 13-6 victory.

For Scherzer, this will be his second start of the season versus the Braves. He gave up five runs on six hits in five innings in a 7-1 loss in Atlanta on April 4.

The Braves won two of three games against Washington when the two teams met last week. Atlanta’s offense has been a big reason the Braves have started 6-3 and lead the majors with 62 runs scored in nine games.

“We’re grinding. We’re playing baseball, we’re playing well together, and our pitching’s been outstanding,” said Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday. “When you get good pitching, defense, timely hitting, good things happen.”

The Braves won two of three versus the Rockies in Colorado this past weekend, finishing the series with a 4-0 victory on Sunday. Markakis and Dansby Swanson both homered in the win.

The Washington offense has not done as well recently, scoring nine runs in a three-game series versus the Mets. New York swept the Nationals in Washington, completing the sweep with a 6-5 victory in 12 innings Sunday night.

Washington (4-5) comes into this series also having struggled at times with pitching during the five-game losing streak. The Nationals gave up grand slams in each of the final two games of the New York series, a big reason the Mets were able to win each contest.

However, Bryce Harper is off to a great start on offense with the Nationals. He hit his major league-best sixth home run in Sunday’s loss. Harper will come into this series with a .357 batting average but others are still struggling at the plate.

Ryan Zimmerman, who did not play games in most of spring training after a big season in 2017, had just a .111 average after the New York series. The Nationals also went 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position during Sunday night’s loss.

The team remains unsure about the return date of Daniel Murphy, recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee six months ago. However, he does seem to be progressing with running being a big question at this point.

“I would say he’s probably got another week of running the bases,” Washington manager Dave Martinez told The Washington Post Sunday. “We want to see him really run the bases, go first to third, scoring on a base hit, things like that. After that, we’ll determine where he’s at.”