Braves-Nationals Preview

With six meetings between these NL East rivals over the next week, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves could play a major role in each other’s potential playoff positioning.

That may not bode particularly well for the division-leading Nationals, who have struggled in the season series.

The visiting Braves look to continue their pursuit of a postseason berth when they open a three-game series seeking their 10th victory in 14 meetings with the Nationals on Monday night.

Washington (80-61) has held at least a five-game lead in the NL East since winning 10 in a row Aug. 12-21, though Atlanta (74-69) could make things interesting with a sweep ahead of next week’s three-game set at Turner Field.

The Braves, seven back in the division and just behind Pittsburgh in a tight three-team race for the second wild-card spot, own a 22-10 record against the Nationals since the start of last season.

While Atlanta lost 4-0 at Miami on Sunday, Adam LaRoche hit two home runs in Washington’s 3-2 home win over Philadelphia. The first baseman is 5 for 16 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in his last four games.

Atlanta, though, has limited the Nationals to 2.9 runs per game in the season series. Mike Minor (6-9, 4.65 ERA) will try to keep those bats quiet again as the Braves look to avoid their sixth loss in nine contests.

Minor has posted a 2.17 ERA while lasting at least seven innings in each of his last four starts. He allowed three runs over 7 1-3 on Tuesday but suffered a 4-0 home loss to the Phillies.

"I feel like this has been the year for us letting down our pitching staff," third baseman Chris Johnson told MLB’s official website. "It feels like every time our pitchers give a quality start, they’re leaving with a loss. It stinks as an offense."

Minor is 0-1 in four career starts at Nationals Park despite a 3.04 ERA. The left-hander gave up two runs with a season-high 11 strikeouts over seven innings of a 6-4, 13-inning win there June 20.

The Nationals, with the second-largest division lead in baseball, will try to bounce back from their first home series loss since late May after avoiding a sweep by last-place Philadelphia on Sunday.

After going 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA over a 10-start stretch, Doug Fister (12-6, 2.66) has posted a 5.94 mark in three straight defeats. He surrendered a season-high 10 hits for the second straight outing Tuesday, giving up four runs over five innings of a 4-1 road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I have to be better," Fister said. "I have to be better picking up my teammates. It’s unacceptable for me."

The right-hander, 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two career starts against the Braves, allowed five hits and walked one in eight innings of a 3-0 victory over visiting Atlanta on June 21.

He’s done a nice job against Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, limiting them to two singles in a combined 11 at-bats. Freeman, however, has hit .481 with four home runs in the season series, while Upton has batted .359 with four homers.

Atlanta, though, has totaled 15 runs in its last eight games.