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A Comparison of National League East Contenders: Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals

March 31st, 2013 at 2:21 PM
By Cody Fields

As Opening Day approaches, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are the clear front-runners in the National League East. Here's a rundown of their strengths and weaknesses.

Atlanta Braves:

Pros: There's a ton of buzz around the Braves since the signing of B.J. Upton and the trade for Justin Upton. They, combined with Jason Heyward in right field, provide one of the most athletic and talented outfields in the big leagues.

The rotation is also solid and poised for a big year. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor did have rough springs, but they were also trying out new pitches, so their inflated ERAs shouldn't be an indicator of future performance. Julio Teheran won't keep pitching like Justin Verlander, but he has shown that he is clearly ready to provide a solid fifth starter until Brandon Beachy returns from Tommy John.

Cons: The biggest worry for the Braves right now is the health of Jonny Venters, who has an appointment with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday for his sprained left elbow. He already had Tommy John surgery in 2005, and it's rare for a pitcher to return from a second operation.

Dan Uggla is also a huge hole in the offense and defense. If he can hit, the defense won't matter as much, but the Braves can't have him putting up sub-Mendoza numbers for months at a time anymore. He has to produce consistently.

Washington Nationals:

Pros: Stephen Strasburg won't be shut down, so he can actually pitch come October, which is just scary when combined with the rest of an intimidating rotation that includes Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. Combine that with Rafael Soriano being the new closer, and they should in theory win a lot of close ballgames.

Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman anchor an offense that should put up plenty of runs. The addition of Denard Span gives them a quality lead-off man and a good glove in center field.

Cons: That's hard to say for a team that won 98 games last year, but Zach Duke is the only lefty in their bullpen. The Braves' lineup is considerably less left-handed than previous years, but the Nationals may find themselves having to choose which lefty bat with whom to play the match-up game, giving another lefty down the line an advantage.

Furthermore, keep an eye on Gonzalez. He's one of the league's best when he's on, but he can suffer from control problems from time to time. If those control problems are frequent this year, the Nats could be in trouble.



Photo credit: crymzn / / CC BY-NC-ND

Tags: Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, MLB, Washington Nationals

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