One team has a history of winning that dates back to the early ’90s. The other is a young, talented franchise fresh off a division title.
The Atlanta Braves have been a National League standard, reaching the playoffs 14 consecutive times from 1991 to 2005. The Washington Nationals have built one of the best pitching units in baseball, with a tough lineup of their own to pitch around.
The Braves and Nationals enter this weekend’s series at Nationals Park with two of the best records in the NL. So is a rivalry brewing between Atlanta and Washington?
Local fans and players are both beginning to feel there’s potential for one to emerge. D.C. resident and Braves fan Andy House, a 27-year-old transportation policy coordinator from Gainesville, Ga., has seen the excitement over this series grow since he moved to the mid-Atlantic.
“The Braves always have seen the Nationals as a thorn in their sides,” House said. “Now that the Nationals are one of the preeminent teams, there’s a feeling that we’re going to be in a lot of battles with these guys. We were in battles with them when they weren’t any good.”
Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler said he paid plenty of attention to what the Braves did a season ago. The Nationals won a major league-best 98 games, while Atlanta was close behind with 94.
“Both teams were watching each other in the standings,” Detwiler said. “We were neck and neck the entire year. They won 94 games last year and didn’t win the division title. That’s going to hang over their head this year, and they’re going to be shooting for it even harder.”
Brandon Smith, a 24-year-old Georgia transplant and software engineer at DRS Technologies in Gaithersburg, Md., thinks a rivalry is unfolding based on recent interactions he’s had with Nationals fans.
“I usually get a pretty hard time wearing my Braves gear around here,” Smith said. “That said, I do find that Braves fans, and even myself, are disliking the Nats more and more every year.”
Nationals center fielder Denard Span said that for teams to initiate a solid rivalry, they have to give fans a reason to tune in even when the clubs experience down years.
“The Yankees and Red Sox aren’t as good as they were a few years ago, but every time they’re on TV fans still want to see it,” Span said. “And it seems players on each team, when they play each other, want to play their best game.”
For fans like House, more is needed for the Braves and Nationals to become rivals. Both teams will need to continue battling for division titles, as well as compete in a hard-fought postseason series.
“There’s a difference between a nemesis and a rival,” House said. “And I feel like at this point it’s still developing.”
Rivalry Built to Last
Washington and Atlanta have the two youngest active rosters in the National League.
27.8: Average age of the Nationals’ active roster
Key Nats who are 28 or younger
OF Bryce Harper, 20
SP Stephen Strasburg, 24
2B Danny Espinosa, 25
SP Jordan Zimmermann, 26
SS Ian Desmond, 27
SP Ross Detwiler, 27
SP Gio Gonzalez, 28
3B Ryan Zimmerman, 28
27.7: Average age of the Braves’ active roster
Key Braves who are 28 or younger
1B Freddie Freeman, 23
OF Jason Heyward, 23
RP Craig Kimbrel, 24
SP Mike Minor, 25
OF Justin Upton, 25
SP Brandon Beachy, 26
SP Kris Medlen, 27
OF B.J. Upton, 28