Braves-Nationals Preview

On paper, the Atlanta Braves’ schedule seemed favorable for them

to close out the NL wild-card race. Yet, it has been anything but

smooth over the last month for the slumping Braves.

Atlanta looks to avoid another costly loss as it closes a

three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Sunday.

Once leading the wild-card race by 8 1/2 games Sept. 4, the

Braves (89-69) have had their lead shrink to two games over St.

Louis with four remaining following a 4-1 loss to Washington

(77-80) on Saturday coupled with the Cardinals’ 2-1 victory over

the Chicago Cubs.

“We’ve got to win ballgames,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It’s

nice to watch the scoreboard and do all that kind of stuff, but

we’ve got to win our games that are in front of us.”

Atlanta was swept in three games by St. Louis earlier this

month, and the Braves have won back-to-back games just once since –

despite facing three opponents with losing records.

Since its series against the Cardinals, Atlanta has gone 3-3

against Florida, lost two of three to the New York Mets and split

the first two of this series. Overall, the Braves have lost nine of

14 and 16 of 26 since Aug. 26.

After a 7-4 win over the Nationals on Friday, Brandon Beachy

gave up four runs in six innings Saturday, while Freddie Freeman’s

homer in the fifth accounted for the team’s only offense.

Pitching struggles have been one reason for the team’s inability

to clinch a playoff spot. Atlanta’s starters have a 4.71 ERA over

the last 22 games while the bullpen has logged 18 2-3 innings in

its last six appearances.

“We have to take care of business and not worry about (the

Cardinals),” Freeman said.

Looking to help the Braves move closer toward securing a spot in

the playoffs, Mike Minor (5-2, 4.27 ERA) will take the ball.

However, Minor issued three homers and allowed four runs in 5

2-3 innings of a 6-5 loss to Florida on Monday. While he didn’t

factor in the decision, Minor hasn’t lost since May 31, and the

Braves have won nine of the left-hander’s last 11 starts.

Minor split a pair of starts against the Nationals last year,

allowing six runs in 11 innings.

The Nationals will start Ross Detwiler (3-5, 3.30), who gave up

three hits in 7 1-3 innings of a 3-0 win over Philadelphia on

Tuesday to snap a three-start winless streak.

“I just focused on keeping the ball down, I felt stronger as the

game went on,” Detwiler said. “When you pitch with a good rhythm,

it seems like the hitters don’t have a good rhythm.”

The left-hander doesn’t have a decision in five appearances,

including two starts, against Atlanta. He allowed three runs and

three hits in two innings of relief during an 11-1 loss on July

15.

He takes the mound as Washington tries to win a second straight

series against a playoff contender. The Nationals have won 11 of 14

and swept Philadelphia in a four-game sweep earlier this week.

Danny Espinosa, who hit a two-run single Saturday, is hitting

.383 over the last 13 games.

“When we beat the Braves, it’s a good feeling. We want to fight

for something,” Espinosa said. “If we keep them out of the

playoffs, we’ll keep them out of the playoffs. No hard

feelings.”