Football is over, basketball and hockey are in full swing, which means baseball is the next major sport to begin. With pitchers and catchers reporting in days, it’s never too early to take a look at the schedule. A 162-game schedule almost always includes a couple stretches that a team looks at and dreads. Long road trips and difficult match-ups can be the difference in a team making the playoffs or falling a few games short.
The Atlanta Braves have some of these stretches, but the one that will give them their biggest test will come early in the 2013 season. The games beginning in Cincinnati on May 6 and concluding in Atlanta on May 19 will be an early sign of how good this Atlanta Braves team is. During this period, the Braves will play 13 games in 14 days, which includes 10 straight road games before a travel day back to Atlanta. Those 10 games on the road will conclude a 20-game streak without an off day – the longest streak of the season (happens two other times). It also follows games with division rivals, Nationals and Mets, and division games are always tough to win.
The timing will be physically demanding, but the opponents they’ll have to face will be the bigger issue. It kicks off in Cincinnati where the Braves get the defending NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds. The Reds look to be very strong once again with a very good middle of the lineup and now a lead-off man in Shin-Soo Choo. The pitching rotation is no slouch either with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos giving them a solid 1-2 punch. Jonathan Broxton gives them a solid closer, and the Aroldis Chapman move to a starter has potential at the very least.
Up next is a four-game series with the defending World Series champions, San Francisco Giants. San Francisco is a tough place to begin with, and they return all their key contributors from their championship team. They have one of the better starting staffs with Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. The lineup doesn’t feature much power but does have good average guys from 1-8.
The Braves finish the road trip with a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. This will be an intriguing series with Justin Upton and Martin Prado squaring off with their old teams. The Diamondbacks had visions of contending in 2012, but finished with a disappointing 81-81 record. They will be looking to have a bounce-back 2013 season behind starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, rising player Paul Goldschmidt, and the new acquisitions Prado and Cody Ross. Fatigue will be setting in at this point and will be a more tricky series for the Braves than one would think.
Following the travel day, the Braves come home but doesn’t get any easier with the Los Angeles Dodgers. On paper, the Dodgers appear to be one of the premier teams in the National League. The middle of the order is full of stars in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier. Their rotation isn’t too shabby either with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Aaron Harang. The Dodgers have a championship quality roster, which will make it tough on the Braves to protect the home turf.
As the season unfolds, we’ll know more about which stretches could be problematic. At this time, the two-week stretch against the Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks and Dodgers looks as tough as any on the rest of the schedule.