Braves have chance to make move on Nats

BY foxsports • July 20, 2012

The Atlanta Braves have an outstanding opportunity to make their move.

Despite losing two of three to San Francisco, the Braves have won eight of their past 10 games and are 3½ games behind the Washington Nationals entering this weekend's four-game series.

A sweep of the Nationals would launch the Braves into first in the NL East, but that's a daunting task, especially considering how the Braves have played against the Nationals this season.

Three wins, or a split of the series, are more realistic expectations.

And even that might be considered overly optimistic since the Nationals are the Braves' biggest enemy not named Melky Cabrera.

Washington has won six of the eight games between the teams this season, outscoring the Braves 44-28. The Nationals took two of three at Turner Field three weeks ago and are 45-35 against the Braves since the beginning of 2008.

"It's going to be a big weekend, four games in three days," Braves starter Tim Hudson said after Thursday's 3-2 win over the Giants. "We need, at the very least, to win two games. It would be great to gain a game on them when we are up there. They are good. We have to go and play better, pitch better, and hopefully, win the close ones."

It's time for the Braves to begin playing better against Washington. The Nationals aren't going away anytime soon. They lead the NL with a 3.16 ERA and are holding opponents to a league-low .232 average.

Their starters, not surprising, with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez holding down the top spots in the rotation, have a 3.13 ERA. Their relievers are at 3.23.

And they're gaining reinforcements.

Drew Storen, who saved 43 games in 2011, was activated from the DL on Thursday and pitched a perfect inning in his season debut. He had surgery earlier this year to remove a bone chip in his right elbow.

The Braves will see Strasburg for the first time since he went only three innings in the blazing Atlanta heat on June 30, but he's struggled at times against them, going 2-3 with 4.26 ERA in his career.

The Braves won't have to face Gonzalez, who was smacked around by the Mets on Thursday, but John Lannan might prove to be just as formidable.

Even though he's pitched at Triple-A Syracuse all season, Lannan has controlled the Braves throughout his career, going 8-5 with a 3.25 ERA against them. He was 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in five games last season and was chosen to make his season debut in one of two games on Saturday.

The Braves will need to improve on hitting with runners in scoring position after going 2-for-17 in the series against the Giants. And that included going 1-for-3 in Thursday's 3-2 victory. After repeatedly coming through in the clutch earlier this season, the Braves are 11th in the NL with a .239 average with RISP.

Their deficiencies in situational hitting were never more evident than when Paul Janish and Michael Bourn both struck out swinging with the winning run on third in the bottom of the ninth in what ended up being a 9-4 extra-inning loss to the Giants on Wednesday.

The Braves worked around those issues on Thursday with two solo home runs and a RBI triple for their only three hits. It provided some momentum for this weekend's series.

"They are leading us and we haven't played well against them yet and beat them," backup catcher David Ross told the media on Thursday. "If we want to win the division, lead the division, we've got to play good against them. If not, there is a lot of baseball left. We've got a lot of division games coming up and we just need to be playing well in general right now."

Braves at Nationals

Friday: Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.66), 7:05 p.m. (FOX Sports South, Peachtree TV)
Saturday: Ben Sheets (1-0, 0.00) vs. Edwin Jackson (5-4, 3.73), 1:05 p.m. (FOX Sports South, Peachtree TV)
Saturday: Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52) vs. John Lannan (0-0, 0.00), 7:05 p.m. (FOX Sports South, Peachtree TV)
Sunday: Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20) vs. Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.15), 1:35 p.m. (FOX Sports South)

Braves vs. Nationals in 2012

May 25: Nationals 7, Braves 4
May 26: Nationals 8, Braves 4
May 27: Nationals 7, Braves 2
June 2: Nationals 2, Braves 0
June 3: Braves 3, Nationals 2
June 29: Nationals 5, Braves 4
June 30: Braves 7, Nationals 5
July 1: Nationals 8, Braves 4

Remaining series

Braves at Nationals, Friday-Sunday
Braves at Nationals, Aug. 20-22
Nationals at Braves, Sept. 14-16

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