Braves-Nationals Preview

Although Stephen Strasburg’s season could be cut short because

of a management-imposed innings limit, the Washington Nationals

staff ace is one of the top contenders for the NL Cy Young

Award.

The Atlanta Braves, however, are one of the few team that have

given him problems on multiple occasions.

With the Nationals building their largest division lead in 18

years with a wild victory in the series opener, Strasburg hopes to

push the advantage over the Braves to seven games on Tuesday

night.

As the owner of baseball’s best record, Washington (76-46) has

had plenty of exciting victories, but Monday’s 5-4, 13-inning win

over Atlanta might have been the biggest. Danny Espinosa scored the

winning run from third on a ball bobbled by Braves second baseman

Dan Uggla off the bat of Chad Tracy. Espinosa got to third after

advancing all the way from first on a Kurt Suzuki chopper behind

the mound that third baseman Chipper Jones and shortstop Paul

Janish converged on.

“It was almost like a playoff game,” manager Davey Johnson

said. “They had their chances. We had our chances. It was that kind

of game.”

The Nationals took a six-game lead over the Braves – the

franchise’s first lead of this length since Montreal concluded the

1994 strike-shortened season six ahead of Atlanta. The Expos’

largest lead that year was seven games one day before the season

ended.

The Nationals are 9-4 against the Braves this season, but

Strasburg’s last two starts in the series have both been defeats

for Washington. He had a 7.56 ERA in those outings.

He has been hit hard by several Atlanta players this year, with

Brian McCann going 3 for 8 with a homer and double and Jason

Heyward 5 for 7 with a double. Uggla, likely eager to take the

field after Monday’s fielding gaffe, is batting .533 with two

homers and two doubles in 15 career at-bats against Strasburg

(14-5, 2.91 ERA).

Strasburg, though, comes into this meeting with a 1.50 ERA in

winning his three starts this month. In San Francisco on Wednesday,

he allowed two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in six

innings of a 6-4 victory.

Strasburg increased his strikeout total to 173 while bumping his

inning count up to 139 1-3. There are rumors that he will be shut

down after reaching either 160 or 180 innings, but the right-hander

has said he hasn’t been told of any limit.

He hasn’t gone more than six in his last four starts, but might

be asked to go a bit longer after the Nationals used seven

relievers to pitch eight innings Monday.

The Braves had five relievers go 6 1-3 innings in the opener,

and have said starters Ben Sheets and Tommy Hanson could move to

the bullpen Tuesday in case Paul Maholm (11-7, 3.39) gets into

trouble.

That hasn’t happened yet, however.

Maholm gave up a run and five hits in seven innings of

Wednesday’s 6-1 win over San Diego, improving to 2-1 with a 1.57

ERA in three starts since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs on

July 30. The left-hander is 7-1 with a 1.19 ERA in his last eight

starts overall, knocking almost two runs off his ERA from 5.38.

“He’s really figured out how to pitch, he’s really figured out

what type of pitcher he is,” Uggla told the Braves’ official

website.

This will be his first start of the season against the Nationals

after going 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in two outings against them last

year with Pittsburgh.

Jayson Werth is 4 for 9 with two doubles versus Maholm since

2010, and Ryan Zimmerman is a career .333-hitter against him in 18

at-bats.

Zimmerman is batting .359 with seven RBIs and six walks in his

last 10 games.