Fans of the 2013 Washington Nationals will receive an early gift as the MLB home schedule brings three of the five NL postseason teams from last year to town. The Nationals will get an early gauge on the competition and fans will see some competitive baseball early.
Washington will play the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park in April. The Braves finished second to Washington in the NL East. The Reds won the NL Central. The Cardinals finished second to Cincinnati then defeated the Braves and Nationals in the post season. All three of these teams are expected to challenge for a post season spot in October.
Not only will Washington face these teams at home, but their first road trip is to Cincinnati and they end the month in Atlanta. This means that the Nationals will play 15 games against playoff teams in the month of April. Ten of the games will be at home.
The Braves come to town first on April 12 for a three game weekend series. Atlanta and Washington are the odds on favorites to battle for NL East supremacy. Each is expected to make the post season. Though their first series will come only two weeks into the season, it will be an important one. Neither the Braves nor Nationals want to play in the wildcard game so both will try to get a leg up on the other early.
A week after the Atlanta series, Washington returns home to face the Cardinals in a three game series beginning April 22. The memory of losing to St. Louis last season still lingers and the Nationals will be anxious to play the Cardinals. St. Louis and Washington may not be in the same division, but their matchups will have playoff implications. It would be best for both teams to win a series against the other sooner rather than later.
When the Cardinals leave, Cincinnati comes to town for four. The Nationals and Reds finished with the two best records in baseball last season. Each was eliminated in the NLDS. Cincinnati seems to be the team most similar to Washington in make up and organizational philosophy. Each has built their franchises around solid pitching, good defense and talented young players. Each is managed by men with veteran experience in Dusty Baker of the Reds and Davey Johnson of the Nationals.
After making the post season for the first time and suffering bitter defeat, the Nationals are now relevant. Washington and its fans are looking forward to an exciting season of baseball.
Thanks to the schedule makers, that excitement should come early.