A season-high four-game winning streak and a sweep of the defending World Champions has put the Atlanta Braves back in the thick of the NL East race.
A visit to Washington could help them climb even higher.
Some challenges could lie ahead for the Braves on their 10-game road trip, but they’ll first open a three-game set on Friday night against the lowly Nationals.
The Braves have struggled with consistency - especially offensively - this season, but picked a good time to find a bit of a groove, totaling 21 runs and 37 hits in a three-game sweep of Philadelphia earlier this week.
They’re still in fourth place in the East, but only two games in back of the struggling Phillies, who are in a virtual tie with Florida. Atlanta (38-40) is one game behind the third-place New York Mets.
“(We’ve got) a long way to go, but we’re happy with our position,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
The winning streak has come without injured leadoff hitter Nate McLouth(notes) (hamstring), but Martin Prado(notes) has helped pick up the slack. He went 7 for 12 with three doubles, a home run and six RBIs against the Phillies.
Casey Kotchman(notes) and Garret Anderson(notes) each hit two-run home runs, and Matt Diaz(notes) notched his second straight three-hit game in Thursday’s 5-2 win to cap their first home sweep of the Phillies in more than four years.
The Braves last won five in a row from May 18-22, 2008. With an NL-worst 5.21 team ERA, Washington could help Atlanta keep rolling.
Cox’s club will face the Chicago Cubs and Colorado later in the trip, but the Nationals (22-54) have the worst record in the major leagues. They return home after a 1-5 road trip, which closed with three straight losses to Florida including 5-3 on Wednesday as Washington stranded 13 runners.
“We had plenty of chances,” manager Manny Acta said. “I think, right now, our situational hitting flat out stinks.”
Rookie Ross Detwiler(notes) (0-4, 5.24 ERA) is well aware of that. He has received one run of support in five of his eight starts, including last Friday at Baltimore as he allowed five runs in five-plus innings of an 11-1 defeat.
The Nationals are 1-7 when he pitches.
His mound opponent will be Kenshin Kawakami(notes) (4-6, 4.25). The right-hander has not pitched since June 24, when he was forced to leave after three perfect innings when he was hit in the base of the neck by a line drive from the bat of New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain(notes).
“I’m fine,” Kawakami told the Braves’ official Web site through a translator. “I’m alive. At first, I was worried that it might have hit a bone. I’m glad it didn’t.”
The 34-year-old rookie has allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his last 10 starts. He’s 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA over that span.
Both of his starts against Washington came before that stretch. He beat the Nationals in his major league debut on April 11, but lost to them 10 days later after allowing four runs - two earned - over five-plus innings at Nationals Park.
Atlanta swept the Nationals at home from April 10-12, but the team managed six total runs while losing two of three in the nation’s capital April 20-22.