WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Johnson said he is not surprised that the Braves are in first place in the National League East.
Even though the Braves no longer have Nats killers such as Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, Johnson believes Atlanta has a more balanced lineup than it did last year. It helps that they acquired the Upton brothers -- Justin and B.J. Justin is one of the hottest hitters in the National League, going 12-for-34 [.353] with a National League-leading six home runs.
"I thought the Braves were a little too left-handed," Johnson said. "They added the Upton boys. I thought Chris Johnson was a great addition, too. They have three really good right-handed bats. Of course, the younger players are playing awfully well -- Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis and Juan Francisco. They are a balanced ballclub now."
The Nationals and the Braves face each for the first time during the regular season starting Friday at Nationals Park. Left-hander Ross Detwiler, right-hander Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Gio Gonzalez will be on the mound during the three-game series. Last year, the Nationals won the season series, 10-8.
"We'll see. We have some good pitching. That whole team strikes out a lot and we have strikeout pitchers. So we'll see how we match up, " Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said.
Although it's early in the season, the Nationals would like to send a message that they are still the team to beat the NL East.
"The Nationals already sent their message last year," pitcher Dan Haren said. "They have to come knock us off. With that said, they got off to a great start. It looks like they are playing really confidently. We are not going to take them for granted by any means."
Werth said you have to put this three-game series between the two clubs in perspective.
"It will help by winning the series, especially at home, but in the next breath, it's not that big of a deal," Werth said. "They are all big games, but it's early. You really can't let the outcome of games in April affect you a whole lot. But at the same time, they are all important games."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.