The Atlanta Braves have taken advantage of sloppy fielding by the Washington Nationals to take the first two games of their weekend series. Bobby Cox’s club hopes that trend will continue and result in a sweep.
Looking to move up in the NL wild card standings and keep its hopes of winning the NL East alive, Atlanta (73-69) goes for its sixth straight win over Washington (63-79) on Sunday.
Atlanta won its third straight and fourth in five games overall with a 9-2 rout of Washington on Saturday night. But the Braves remained 4 1/2 games behind San Diego for the wild card and 7 1/2 in back of the East-leading New York Mets. Both the Padres and Mets also won on Saturday.
“With 20 games left, we hope to finish strong. We’re on a little roll now,” said Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur, who had a three-run homer.
The Braves have outscored the Nationals 16-3 in the first two games of this series, and 39-6 in their winning streak over Washington. After John Smoltz carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a 7-1 win on Friday, Chuck James followed that up by holding the Nationals scoreless over the first six innings before giving up a two-run homer to Ronnie Belliard in the seventh on Saturday.
Belliard singled Friday to end Smoltz’s no-hit bid.
Atlanta tallied six unearned runs courtesy of three Washington errors Saturday after scoring two unearned on Friday. The Nationals, who came into this series having won five straight, have made eight errors in the series - four by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
“Obviously we haven’t been playing good defense over the last two games,” Washington rookie manager Manny Acta said.
A win on Sunday would give Atlanta its first four-game winning streak since July 8-15. To do so, they’ll need to find a way to score off Washington’s Jason Bergmann (3-5, 4.30 ERA).
The right-hander is 1-1 in three starts against the Braves this season, but he has a 1.00 ERA after allowing just two runs over 18 innings. Overall, Bergmann is 2-2 with a 2.34 ERA in five starts and six relief appearances against Atlanta.
He earned his first win since July 18 on Monday after allowing one run and four hits in seven innings of a 6-3 victory over Florida. Bergmann struck out nine - one shy of his season high - and walked only one.
“He was back in his old form,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. “He was getting ahead with his fastball and then he was going to that slide. … That was the Bergmann of old.”
Injuries have limited Bergmann to 16 starts this season.
Atlanta will counter with Lance Cormier (2-4, 6.69), who’s looking to win his third straight start. He limited Philadelphia to one run and four hits over 5 2-3 innings Monday in a 5-1 win.
“I feel like I’m where I need to be,” said the right-hander, who struck out five for the second straight game and walked only one. “You’re not always going to have the best outing of your life, but it feels good to get a win today.”
Cormier is 3-3 with a 7.08 ERA in three starts and five relief appearances against the Nationals franchise. All three starts, though, have come on the road.