Braves-Nationals Preview

The surging Washington Nationals have opened a seven-game lead

atop the NL East – the franchise’s largest in 18 years – by taking

the first two contests in their home series with the suddenly

slumping Atlanta Braves.

Despite their struggles, the Braves might like their chances of

salvaging the finale with Kris Medlen getting the start.

While the Nationals look to take an eight-game lead for the

first time in franchise history Wednesday night, Atlanta will be

trying to win with Medlen on the mound for a 16th straight

time.

After outlasting the Braves in Monday’s 13-inning, 5-4 win,

Washington (77-46) made quick work of Atlanta on Tuesday as Stephen

Strasburg and three relievers combined on a six-hitter in a 4-1

victory. Jesus Flores provided the big blow with a three-run home

run – his first since June 29, also in a win over the Braves.

“Job isn’t finished,” Strasburg said. “It’s still August. We’re

trying to win as many games as we can.”

The Nationals, winners of three straight and 14 of 17, improved

to 10-4 on the season against Atlanta (70-54), one of the biggest

reasons they have the franchise’s largest division lead since

Montreal was seven ahead of the Braves on Aug. 10, 1994 – one day

before that strike-shortened season ended.

“Eight would be better,” manager Davey Johnson said.

Flores has played a surprising role in Washington’s dominance

over Atlanta this year, batting .344 with three home runs. He is

hitting .204 with one homer against everyone else.

Michael Bourn is having the opposite effect for the Braves.

Atlanta’s leadoff hitter is batting .186 against Washington,

compared to a .301 mark versus all other opponents.

Despite having lost four straight for the first time since June

10-13, Atlanta maintains possession of the league’s top wild-card

spot.

“It’s not the end of the world,” said Paul Maholm, Tuesday’s

starter and loser. “We’ve got 40 games left or whatever it is.”

Medlen (4-1, 2.03 ERA) appears a likely candidate for the

postseason rotation should the Braves make it to a division

series.

The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts since

entering the rotation, striking out 22 and walking four over 25 2-3

innings. Medlen was at his best Thursday against San Diego, tossing

a five-hitter – his first career complete game – in a 6-0 win.

“He’s more than stated his case to be in the rotation from here

on out,” said Chipper Jones, who was given the day off Tuesday.

“The guy just wins ballgames.”

More specifically, the Braves win when he starts.

Atlanta has won 15 consecutive games started by Medlen since May

29, 2010, tying a franchise record set by John Smoltz during his Cy

Young Award-winning season of 1996.

Medlen has never started against the Nationals, but he appeared

out of the bullpen in Atlanta’s last three wins in the season

series.

Washington counters with Ross Detwiler (7-5, 3.25), who gave up

three runs in six innings of Friday’s 6-4 win over the New York

Mets, improving to 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his last four starts at

Nationals Park.

One of those games came against the Braves on July 22, when he

allowed two runs in seven innings of a 9-2 victory.

Bourn is 1 for 13 lifetime against Detwiler, but Martin Prado is

9 for 16 with three doubles.