Braves continue to be the thorn in the Nats’ side


Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals lost two of three to the Braves in the teams’ first series against each other this season. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Nationals are a different team when they play the Braves.

Atlanta knocks them out of their comfort zone, and they struggle against the Braves’ pitching staff. Washington plays its division rival tight, but it hasn’t been on the winning side of things recently.

No game was decided by more than three runs in last weekend’s series against the Braves, with Atlanta taking two of three at Nationals Park. In 2013, 16 of the Nationals’ 19 games against the Braves were decided by three runs or less, with Atlanta winning 11 of them.

“They’re always big games against these guys,” pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said. “It’s going to be a battle every time. There are going to be a lot of close games. Hopefully we come out on top in most of them.”

Washington opens a three-game series Friday in Atlanta.

Last year, the Nationals averaged 4.2 runs in games not against the Braves. When facing Atlanta, that number dropped to 2.6.

And the Nationals’ struggles from 2013 seem to have carried over into this season. Washington has averaged 7.3 runs in six games against the Mets and Marlins. Against Atlanta, the Nationals have scored a total of five runs in three games.

The Nationals figured to hit the Braves better last weekend, given the injuries that have taken a toll on Atlanta’s pitching staff. Braves starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost for the season due to elbow injuries suffered in spring training, with Mike Minor (shoulder) and Gavin Floyd (elbow) looking to rejoin the Braves later this month.

Even so, Atlanta’s makeshift rotation and deep bullpen were able to keep Washington’s bats at bay.

“They have good guys in the bullpen, obviously,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who also praised their deep starting rotation. “But we have confidence in ourselves. We think we can score runs against them. They’re one of the toughest to do it against.”

Since 2012, when the Nationals won the NL East, Washington is a combined 17-23 against Atlanta. During this span, the Braves recorded just 13 more runs than the Nationals, though.

“There are going to be some close ones,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We’ve had a lot in the past. It seems every time we play them, if it’s not extra innings, it’s really close.”

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Seth Vertelney · April 10, 2014