Braves-Nationals Preview

The Washington Nationals are moving closer to their second NL East title in three years and the Atlanta Braves’ anemic offense doesn’t appear capable of changing that.

The Nationals seek a fifth win in seven games against the punchless Braves on Tuesday night.

Washington (81-61) is comfortably atop the division by eight games over Atlanta (74-70), which is tied with Milwaukee at 1 1/2 back of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot.

The Nationals took a step closer to another East crown and damaged the Braves’ playoff hopes with Monday’s 2-1 victory in the opener of this three-game set.

Despite the sizable advantage in the standings, Washington is 5-9 in the season series with Atlanta.

"We’ve struggled all year against the Braves," reliever Drew Storen said. "It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game – and that’s a tight game that can swing either way – for us to lock that down is really good."

The Braves’ offense – or lack thereof – has helped Washington turn the tide in the season series. They were limited to four hits Monday and are batting .192 with 16 runs during a 3-6 stretch.

"We felt good, to be honest with you, as a group going up to the plate," said Jason Heyward, who was 0 for 3 Monday and is batting .137 against Washington this year. "I feel like we were just missing barrels."

Atlanta has totaled two runs with a .140 average while losing three straight in the nation’s capital.

The Nationals’ starters have yielded only one of those runs in 20 1-3 innings and the staff has a 2.17 ERA while taking four of six from Atlanta.

Doug Fister provided the latest gem, holding the Braves to two hits in seven innings in the series opener.

Now, Jordan Zimmermann (10-5, 2.93 ERA) attempts to continue his success against the Braves, but he could use some assistance.

The right-hander has allowed three runs with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings over two starts – both at home – against Atlanta this year, but he’s 0-1 since he hasn’t received any run support.

Zimmermann held the visiting Braves to two runs over seven innings June 19, but Washington was three-hit in a 3-0 defeat. He’s 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in six home starts since.

He’s also 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA in his past seven overall outings – all Washington victories.

That was the case Wednesday in Los Angeles, when the right-hander surrendered two runs in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-5 win in 14 over the Dodgers.

Denard Span is looking to continue his own hot stretch against Atlanta. He’s 13 for 30 (.433) with four doubles and two triples over the past seven meetings, and he’s 12 for 30 against scheduled starter Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.61).

Santana leads the Braves in wins after going 7-1 with a 2.94 ERA over his last 10 starts, completing at least six innings in nine. The right-hander went six and won again Wednesday, allowing four runs in a 7-4 victory over Philadelphia.

Santana has split two season meetings with Washington, yielding seven runs in 12 innings.

Braves catcher Evan Gattis’ status is unclear after he was sidelined for the series opener with strep throat. He’s batting .308 versus Washington this year and has homered on one of his two hits in eight lifetime at-bats against Zimmermann.