Over the last year the Washington Nationals have struggled mightily with their division rival Atlanta Braves. The Nationals went 6-13 against the Braves last year, and lost two out of three in their opening series of 2014.
To overcome last year’s struggles and win the NL East, Washington must figure out how to beat Atlanta on a consistent basis. To do this, they must avoid late game deficits and regular matchups against the Braves’ bullpen. To go along with the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel, the Braves have flame throwing set up man Jordan Walden. This relief corp will only improve in June when lefty Jonny Venters returns from Tommy John surgery. For the Nationals to have success against the Braves pitching staff, they will have to take advantage of a group of depleted starters who have been ravaged by injuries.
Ryan Zimmerman has battled shoulder pain for the better part of two years. As his throwing shoulder continues to bother him, he had an MRI taken on Sunday morning. Thankfully for Zimmerman and Nationals fans, the shoulder showed no structural damage.
Zimmerman made a costly throwing error during Saturday night’s game that caused the Nationals to give up two unearned runs. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to Zimmerman’s regular throwing errors, as the physical limitations of his shoulder have become something that he cannot control. Crucial to the Nationals chances of winning the division is the health of Ryan Zimmerman and his return to being the elite defensive third basemen he has been in the past.
Obviously, errors are bound to happen throughout a baseball season. Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg has had a difficult time bouncing back from his teammates errors over his career, and will need to develop his mental toughness if the Nationals are going to be able to rely on him in their biggest games. Quality teams like Atlanta put pressure on their opponents defense, forcing them into mistakes. It is the job of an elite starting pitcher to pick up his teammates, and not allow one mistake to lead to a major inning, a problem the Nationals have had against the Braves recently.
Lastly, the Nationals will need their closer Rafael Soriano to throw scoreless ninth innings throughout the year. Soriano struggled during his first year with the club, blowing six saves in forty nine chances. He failed to have many quick innings, running up his pitch count in the process. Soriano got off to a solid start in his first save opportunity of the season on Sunday, shutting down the Braves and finishing off a 2 to 1 win for the Nationals.