An eight-game losing streak seemed to knock the Atlanta Braves out of contention in the NL East and clear the way for the Washington Nationals.
However, with eight games remaining against the Nationals, the Braves appear to be far from out of the division race.
After roughing up Washington’s staff ace in the series opener, Atlanta looks to continue to frustrate the Nationals and pull closer to first place Saturday night at Turner Field.
The Braves (59-56) were just a half-game back of first-place Washington on July 28, but the team’s longest losing streak since May 2012 allowed the Nationals (62-52) to open a 4 1/2-game advantage. The race is hardly over, though, as Atlanta pulled 3 1/2 back and improved to 8-3 in the season series by holding on for a 7-6 win Friday.
”After a rough road trip and an off day, it’s nice to come back and win a ballgame that we needed,” Justin Upton said. "It’s good to jump out and get the first one.”
Freddie Freeman, Tommy La Stella, Justin Upton and B.J. Upton all homered off Stephen Strasburg as the Braves built a 7-0 lead after five innings.
Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos each homered to pull Washington within one run in the seventh, but Atlanta hung on for its 16th win in the last 22 meetings.
Justin Upton and Freeman have been instrumental to Atlanta’s dominance over the Nationals.
Upton is batting .394 with three homers in the season series, and is hitting .519 with four home runs in his last seven matchups in Atlanta.
Freeman has hit safely in all 11 games against Washington this season, batting .477 with four homers, eight RBIs and 15 runs scored. He is also 3 for 9 with a double against Tanner Roark (11-7, 2.94 ERA), who is looking to bounce back from an uncharacteristic ineffective outing.
After allowing one run over seven innings to win each of his previous four starts, Roark was tagged for five runs – his most in 16 games – and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings in Monday’s 7-3 loss to Baltimore. He served up two homers after surrendering just two in his previous 10 outings.
”If the ball’s up and I’m not hitting spots, I’m going to get hit hard," the right-hander said.
Roark gave up a run over 5 1-3 innings in a 4-1 victory over the Braves on June 22, but permitted five runs in 4 2-3 innings in a 7-6, 10-inning loss in Atlanta on April 11.
The Braves turn to Aaron Harang (9-6, 3.41), who has a 2.72 ERA in his last eight outings and hasn’t lost since June 18.
Although the veteran right-hander is pitching well, Atlanta has lost each of his last four starts. Harang has a 2.88 ERA in those games, but has been backed by an average of 2.88 runs of support. He gave up two runs in six innings in Sunday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to San Diego.
In his lone start of the season against the Nationals on April 13, Harang yielded a run in six innings of a 10-2 win. He is 2-3 with a 2.63 ERA in his last seven starts versus Washington.
Bryce Harper is 4 for 8 with a double and triple against Harang, but Jayson Werth, who is expected to play after getting Friday off to rest a sore right ankle and shoulder, is 3 for 22 with 10 strikeouts. Werth’s .136 average against Harang is his third-worst among the 43 pitchers he’s faced at least 20 times.