Braves’ early regular season against a wall of contenders

Braves fans, enjoy the annual optimism of spring training. The reality check begins with opening day.

April and the first half of May present a brutal stretch of games. In the first week, the Braves play six games against the Nationals (two at home, four on the road) and three against the Cardinals (at home).

Of the first 41 games, 35 will come against the Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox and Royals. Nineteen are home and 22 are on the road.

To emphasize, that pack includes the defending World Series champions (Royals), the defending National League champs (Mets) and two other defending division champs (Cardinals and Dodgers). It includes the wild-card Cubs, who won 97 games last season and are the pick of many to win the Central (and maybe the World Series) this season; the wild-card Pirates, who won 98 last season; and the Diamondbacks, who won only 79, but added superstar pitcher Zack Greinke and (oh, yeah) Shelby Miller, and are expected to contend in the NL West.

Then there’s last season’s underachieving Nationals, who should contend primarily with the Mets to win the NL East this season. Plus, the Red Sox, who signed David Price and are team many observers think could contend in the AL East.

As for the other six games, three are against Marlins, an unpredictable team with young talent, and the Phillies.

Overall, it’s a treacherous first quarter of the schedule. What do you think of that stretch? How many of those games will the Braves win?

The Braves’ schedule in April and early May:

April 4, 6 — at home vs. Nationals (2)

April 8-10 — at home vs. Cardinals (3)

April 11-14 — at Nationals (4)

April 15-17 — at Marlins (3)

April 19-21 — at home vs. Dodgers (3)

April 22-24 — at home vs. Mets (3)

April 25-26 — at home vs. Red Sox (2)

April 27-28 — at Red Sox (2)

April 29-May 1 — at Cubs (3)

May 2-4 — at Mets (3)

May 6-8 — at home vs. D-backs (3)

May 10-12 — at home vs. Phillies (3)

May 13-15 — at Royals (3)

May 16-19 — at Pirates (4)

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