In dire need of momentum to become a factor in the NL East, the Washington Nationals’ remaining schedule presents that opportunity.
Losing Bryce Harper, however, would make that very difficult.
After avoiding being swept by the best team in baseball, the Nationals may be without their best hitter as they try to capitalize on a four-game series with the spiraling Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.
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Washington (67-65) got two homers and three RBIs from Ryan Zimmerman in a 4-3 victory over St. Louis on Wednesday but remained 6 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the division.
If the Nationals are going to eventually catch the Mets, they’ll need to take advantage of a favorable schedule. Of their remaining 30 games, 24 are against five teams out of postseason contention while the other six are against New York – including a crucial three-game home set that starts Monday.
Before that, Washington will play the first of seven remaining games with the Braves (54-79), who have lost 19 of their last 22 games and nine straight on the road for their longest such slide since dropping 10 in a row in 1996.
The Nationals may be without Harper after he was removed in the fourth inning Wednesday with tightness in his left glute. The right fielder is having a career year, batting a league-leading .331 with 31 homers and 78 RBIs.
He’s hitting .372 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his last 11 games against Atlanta.
Zimmerman appears very capable of picking up the slack. He’s batting .359 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in the last 10 games and has gone deep four times while going 7 for 14 with eight RBIs in his past three.
Jordan Zimmermann (11-8, 3.45 ERA) takes the ball in search of a fourth straight winning start for the first time since last September. The right-hander’s current streak has been aided by 21 runs of support while he’s compiled a 4.34 ERA.
He turned in his best performance of that stretch Saturday, yielding one run in seven innings of a 5-1 win over Miami.
"Fastball was a lot better and slider was pretty good," Zimmermann said. "Still not where I want it, but better than the last start."
Zimmermann is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his last nine starts against the Braves, tossing 18 2-3 scoreless innings over the past three. He shut out Atlanta for 7 2-3 in a 6-1 victory June 30.
The Braves are 25 games under .500 for the first time since finishing 65-97 in 1990. They’ve also been outscored 67-19 during an eight-game slide after losing 7-3 to Miami on Wednesday.
"We’re in some kind of a perfect storm right now not scoring very many runs and allowing the other team to score a lot," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It’s a tough combination."
Matt Wisler (5-5, 5.22) seeks his first win since July 26 after going 0-4 with a 7.85 ERA in his last six starts. The rookie right-hander was 4-0 with a 3.30 ERA in his previous five outings.
He’s 0-3 with a 9.35 ERA in his last four road starts but was effective at Turner Field in his most recent outing Saturday, limiting the New York Yankees to two runs over six-plus innings of a 3-1 loss.
Wisler has split two starts against Washington, giving up six runs over four innings in a 7-0 loss in the nation’s capital on June 25 before tossing 5 1-3 scoreless in a 4-1 home victory seven days later.