Examining the Most Difficult Stretches in the Atlanta Braves 2013 Schedule

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIFebruary 6, 2013

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12:  Stephen Strasburg #37 congratulates Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals  after a win against the New York Mets during a game at Citi Field on September 12, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report to camp in days, which means the season will be upon us in no time.

Expectations are sky high in Atlanta following some big splashes in the offseason, and a few key stretches in 2013 could be the difference in having a special season or not.

Over the course of 162 games, teams will endure slumps. The key is to limit those losing streaks to two to three games rather than five-plus.

A few key stretches on the Braves schedule look to have a big impact on how the season unwinds.

Here's a few of those stretches that I think will reveal just how good this 2013 Atlanta Braves team will be.

May 6-19

Opponents: Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers

This two-week stretch in May will be an early test for the Braves.

The Braves will play 13 games in 14 days, which includes 10-straight road games (three-game series with Reds, four-game series with Giants, and three-game series with Diamondbacks).

Beginning May 6 in Cincinnati and ending May 19 in Atlanta, the Braves will have played the defending World Series champions, the odds on favorite to win this year's World Series, the defending NL Central champions and a team that had a disappointing 2012 season but still finished with a .500 record.

The off day following the Diamondbacks' series will be their first in 20 games.

That means a physically demanding trip combined with strong opponents and tough venues to play in. These two weeks will be the toughest stretch for the Braves in 2013.

May 24-June 2

Opponents: New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals

May doesn't get any easier for the Braves.

10 games in 10 days will be what the Braves face at the end of May and heading into June. It begins with a date in New York against the division rivals.

Yes, the Mets are not expected to contend for the NL East this season but still have a good middle of the order and a potentially good pitching staff if Johan Santana can stay healthy. Division games are never easy—especially on the road.

It's weird mentioning Toronto Blue Jays and tough test in the same sentence, but on paper they look to be just that.

Their offseason acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle give the Blue Jays the pieces to finally compete in the AL East.

Oddly, this series will begin with two games in Toronto and then head for two in Atlanta.

Then there's three games with the Nationals in Atlanta.

Most of their key contributors from their NL East winning team have returned, and they arguably have the best rotation in the majors (depending if anything happens with Gio Gonzalez).

Keep an eye on these 10 games with division rivals and one of the favorites in the American League.

April 26-May 2

Opponents: Tigers, Nationals

The Braves begin interleague play in 2013 by traveling to Detroit to take on the American League representative from last year's World Series—the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers look to have a formidable team again in 2013, with the return of Victor Martinez to the middle of an order featuring Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

They also acquired Torii Hunter this offseason and still have the top pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander.

The Braves will likely get two of the hardest throwers in the game in back-to-back series in Verlander and Nationals' pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

After the road series in Detroit, the Braves get the Nationals for four games.

These head-to-head battles will likely determine the winner of the NL East, which means avoiding the one-game wild card round.

That's why this four-game series at home will be a significant early series for the Braves.

And that's why these stretches will be the games that really test the Braves in 2013.


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