Braves-Nationals Preview

The Atlanta Braves don’t seem to be under much threat from the
Washington Nationals in the NL East race.

It may be somewhat different in the batter’s box in Wednesday’s
finale.

A night after plunking Bryce Harper, the Braves may be wary of
retaliation from the Nationals as they try to extend their longest
winning streak in 13 years with another sweep in the nation’s
capital.

Atlanta (69-45) leads the division by 14 1/2 games over
second-place Washington (54-59), winning 12 in a row for the first
time since a 15-game winning streak from April 16-May 2, 2000.

The Braves showed few signs of slowing Tuesday, beating the
Nationals 2-1 after taking the opener 3-2 a day earlier.

The latest victory, however, may have stirred some emotions for
the series finale and beyond. Atlanta’s Julio Teheran hit Harper
with a pitch two innings after the reigning NL Rookie of the Year
homered. Harper barked at Teheran and both benches emptied, though
no punches were thrown.

“Obviously Bryce didn’t like it, (and) we don’t blame him,”
first baseman Adam LaRoche said.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson isn’t forgetting the
incident.

“You file it for future reference,” Johnson said.

Johnson may be even more concerned with Washington’s struggles
at the plate. The team is batting .228 while dropping five of
seven, and a lineup shuffle produced just five hits Tuesday.

“There’s no point in looking back and hanging our head. We’ve
got two options now: We can cash it in and think about next year or
we can grind it out and see what happens,” said LaRoche, who is 6
for 41 with two homers in his last 11 games. “I’m pretty sure we’re
going to keep pushing.”

The task may be made much more difficult against a Braves
pitching staff that has a 2.17 ERA during the team’s winning
streak.

Atlanta has also compiled a 1.31 ERA while winning its past six
visits to Nationals Park.

Kris Medlen (8-10, 3.85 ERA), who will get the ball in the
finale, helped start that run by scattering seven hits with seven
strikeouts in seven scoreless innings of a 5-1 win Aug. 22.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA in three career starts
versus the Nationals. He won his second straight start Friday in
Philadelphia despite allowing four runs and three homers among his
six hits over six innings.

Atlanta’s offense, batting .290 over the last 12 games,
certainly hopes it fares better against Jordan Zimmermann (13-6,
3.06) than it did when he pitched two-hit ball for eight innings of
a 2-0 win in Atlanta on May 1.

The right-hander has struggled in his last two home meetings
with the Braves, going 0-1 while surrendering seven runs with five
walks in 11 innings, and he’s 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA over his last
three home outings overall after going 9-0 with a 1.50 ERA over his
first 10.

Zimmermann, who’s tied with St. Louis’ Lance Lynn and Adam
Wainwright for the league lead in wins, was better on the road
Friday. He walked four and hit a batter over six innings, but
didn’t allow a run in a 4-1 win at Milwaukee.

Harper is 4 for 21 with two homers during Washington’s home skid
against the Braves. He’s 2 for 10 with a solo homer versus Medlen,
but 0 for 4 this year.