Braves-Nationals Preview

The Atlanta Braves are running away with the NL East.

This could become an even more one-sided race if they can take
care of the Washington Nationals in a three-game set starting
Monday night in the nation’s capital.

Led by Alex Wood’s six strong innings and Chris Johnson’s ninth
multi-hit game in 10 contests, Atlanta (67-45) won 4-1 at
Philadelphia on Sunday. The Braves, who also reeled off 10 straight
victories from April 5-16, now have multiple 10-game winning
streaks in a season for the first time since they had three in 1954
when they called Milwaukee home.

Now 12 1/2 games ahead of second-place Washington (54-57) with
the Nationals losing 8-5 at Milwaukee earlier Sunday, Atlanta owns
the largest division lead by any team through games of Aug. 4 since
the 2005 Chicago White Sox held a 14-game AL Central cushion.

“We have to keep battling,” Nationals center fielder Denard Span
told the team’s official website. “Don’t quit trying to win the
division until you are mathematically out of it.”

While there are still eight weeks left in the regular season,
another Braves sweep in Washington – they did that from April 12-14
– would put the Nationals in an even more precarious spot.

These teams play just six more times after this series.

“They are getting to be all important at this point,” Nationals
right fielder Jayson Werth said.

Washington will get its first look this season at Mike Minor
(11-5, 2.75 ERA) in the opener.

The left-hander is 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA in his last five outings
after posting a 4.80 ERA in his previous five.

“This is who he is,” catcher Brian McCann told the Braves’
official website after Minor fanned six and allowed two hits in
seven innings of Wednesday’s 9-0 victory over Colorado. “He’s a guy
who takes the ball and knows exactly what he’s trying to
accomplish.”

Minor faces a Nationals team that plated 14 total runs and hit
.162 with runners in scoring position on its just-completed 2-3
trip.

“That has been (part of the problem) all year – getting runners
in scoring position, don’t swing the bat or get the big hit,”
manager Davey Johnson said.

Stephen Strasburg (5-9, 3.04) is well aware of those issues, as
the Nationals have scored eight total runs in his last four starts,
losing each time. He’s 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA in that stretch after
getting tagged for five runs – including a grand slam by Alex Avila
– in seven innings of Tuesday’s 5-1 loss at Detroit.

“When things are going like they have been lately, you know that
there isn’t much margin for error,” Strasburg said.

Washington has scored six times in the right-hander’s three
starts versus Atlanta this season. Strasburg is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA
in those contests, with the last one – a 3-2 victory May 31 –
registering as the shortest of his career (two innings) due to a
strained muscle on his right side.

Strasburg better be at full strength against a Braves team
averaging 6.6 runs since its last defeat.

Johnson is 20 for 40 in that run to up his batting average to an
NL-leading .346. He’s hitless in six at-bats off Strasburg in 2013,
though.

Dan Uggla has three hits in seven at-bats this season when
facing the former No. 1 overall pick. Uggla has more hits (11) and
at-bats (24) against Strasburg that any player.

Atlanta, winner of seven of 10 from Washington this season, has
matched its longest undefeated stretch since a 15-game run in
2000.