The clubs at opposite ends of the NL East will meet when Washington begins a three-game series at Turner Field on Tuesday night.
Atlanta beat the New York Mets 3-2 on Sunday to move into first place for the first time since April 5, 2006. The Mets took over first the next day and went on to snap the Braves’ record run of 14 straight division titles.
The Braves are 5-1 for the first time since they won the World Series in 1995.
“We’ve got to keep going,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox told mlb.com. “We’ve got Washington coming in, and they can jump up quick and bite you, also.”
Washington (1-6), though, is considered one of the worst franchises in baseball after finishing in last place in the NL East in two of the last three seasons. The Nationals are at the bottom again through seven games this year after posting a 5.86 ERA—among the worst in baseball.
The offense hasn’t been much better, going 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position during one stretch. The Nationals were swept by Arizona in a four-game series over the weekend.
“It’s the first week of the season. I laugh at people who hit the panic button after the first week,” Washington right fielder Austin Kearns said.
“Yeah, it hasn’t gone good, we know that. But if we hit the panic button after the first week, come August, I guess you guys would expect to see guys hanging themselves or something.”
Since the franchise moved to Washington two years ago, the Nationals have been competitive against the Braves, winning 17 of 37 meetings. They managed to win only 11 of 38 games versus Atlanta in the club’s final two seasons in Montreal.
Atlanta staged an eighth-inning rally to win Sunday. Brian McCann doubled in the tying run and Jeff Francoeur followed with a go-ahead double for the Braves, who have trailed in four of their five victories.
“Obviously it’s huge for us, just from a momentum standpoint,” said Francoeur, who has driven in a run in four straight games.
The Braves will send Tim Hudson (0-0, 1.29 ERA) to the mound. Hudson pitched well in his first start of the season Wednesday, allowing one run and two hits over seven innings as Atlanta rallied for a 3-2 victory in 11 innings at Philadelphia.
“I feel like I’m back on top of my game,” Hudson said.
The right-hander struggled at home last season, going 6-6 with a 4.40 ERA in 18 starts. Hudson faced Washington once last season and gave up five runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss on June 5.
Hudson’s battery mate, McCann, is off to a strong start, hitting .364 (8-for-22) with a team-high seven RBIs. McCann batted .367 (18-for-49) with 11 RBIs in 14 games against the Nationals last season.
Washington will give Matt Chico (0-0, 13.50) his second career start after he had a difficult outing in his debut. He lasted only four-plus innings and was tagged for six runs and eight hits in a 7-6 victory over Florida on Wednesday.
The left-hander was acquired by the Nationals in an August trade that sent Livan Hernandez to Arizona. He spent all of 2006 pitching in Double-A.