LIVE: Braves vs. Nationals (showdown, part I)

WASHINGTON -- Welcome to the first in a series of 19 measuring sticks between the Braves and Washington Nationals.

We shouldn't overstate the importance of an early April series between the two favorites in the National League East. The season just started and the Braves and Nationals will face each other a bunch of times. But can anything be learned from this series in terms of how the match up?

When asked whether he viewed this series as an opportunity for the Braves to gauge themselves against the Nationals, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "We’re looking to try to win the series. It doesn’t matter how many times you play them. It doesn’t matter that it’s early April. You have to try to win every single game and every single series. What do we always preach: two out of three. It doesn’t change anything for me when you play them, or don’t play them."

Rookie David Hale will be making only his third career start for the Braves. He'll face Washington's Jordan Zimmerman, who had been scratched from a scheduled start the day before in New York because of the flu. Hale will face a Nationals team that beat up on Mets' pitching and ranks second in the National League with a .304 batting average and first with a .530 slugging percentage (five homers, nine doubles, one triple).

I had a chance to spend some time with the Nationals in New York and wrote a column for, which is linked here.

This Nats team isn't nearly as cocky as the one that went into 2o13 after a 98-win season the year before. They missed the playoffs and were beat up by the Braves (who won the season series 13-6).

Among the comments in the column was this admission from pitcher Stephen Strasburg: "Two years ago I think we kind of snuck up on other teams that didn’t expect anything out of us."

There also was this from center fielder Denard Span: "To me, the target is on their [Braves'] backs. They’re the defending National League East champions. They won it. We didn’t win anything. We don’t deserve to be that team that everybody is hunting for.”

Is that true? The Nationals are the consensus favorite in the N.L. East.

What are your thoughts on the importance of this series and who should be considered the favorite. Also, I'll be here to respond to questions and comments during the game.

Some recent ramblings, on demand . . .
-- MyAJC ($): Nationals assumed too much in 2013 -- but not now
-- Blog: As Freeman powers Braves, Upton still searching for...anything
-- MyAJC ($): B.J. Upton is under fire -- and he knows it
-- Blog: Tiger Woods out and Masters will take a hit
-- MyAJC ($): Teheran does his part but Braves lose anyway
-- Blog: Short take on Braves' loss to Milwaukee
-- Blog: LIVE: 5 questions going into Braves' season
-- MyAJC ($): Strong opener by Teheran would ease some Braves' concerns
-- MyAJC ($): Injuries means Braves have little margin for error
-- MyAJC ($): NCAA needs to take the hint, start paying players
-- Blog: Mike Mills' song pushes Dale Murphy for Hall of Fame
-- MyAJC ($): Did Dimitroff lose benefit of doubt after bad season?
-- Blog: Dimitroff on Falcons, failure, his draft board and Umenyiora
-- Blog: Mercer (Georgia's shining light) stuns Duke
-- MyAJC ($): SEC needs to go to nine-game schedule, eliminate cupcakes
-- Blog: SEC needs to expand conference schedule (column preview)
-- MyAJC ($): Richt has been tough, even if some haven't noticed
-- Blog: More arrests at UGA, and Herbstreit jumps Richt
-- MyAJC ($):Georgia loses but Fox goes down swinging at NCAA