Although they’re still 3 1/2 games behind Colorado in the wild-card race, the Braves (82-70) have won 11 of their last 13 to remain in the conversation.
After their three-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citi Field this week, they carry a seven-game road winning streak into Nationals Park - their longest such run since they won eight straight away from Atlanta from April 13-May 2, 2003.
“We’ve got 10 games to go and anything’s possible,” manager Bobby Cox said. “Keep winning and see what they do.”
Cox may have provided his players with extra incentive for the stretch run. The longtime Atlanta skipper announced Wednesday that he will retire after next season, which will be his 25th with the team.
“That was nice. It was a good little gift for him,” said LaRoche, batting .355 since getting traded to Atlanta on July 31. “We’ve done everything we can to get back in this.”
The Braves’ outstanding starting pitching has been the main reason for their surge. The team’s starters are 10-2 with a 2.54 ERA since Sept. 8, with Vazquez going 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA in that stretch.
Vazquez (14-9, 2.91 ERA) is one of three Atlanta starters with an ERA below 3.00, dropping back to that level after allowing three hits in seven shutout innings during a 6-4 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
“It’s a good streak I’m in,” Vazquez said. “I feel like I’m throwing the ball well.”
The right-hander, who spent his first six seasons with the Washington franchise when it was in Montreal, hasn’t faced the Nationals this season due to scheduling quirks. The Braves are 7-4 in the season series.
Vazquez made his only two starts against Washington in 2005, going 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA.
This Nationals club, however, is significantly worse, becoming the season’s first 100-loss team after a 7-6 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday. Washington (52-100) has been especially bad down the stretch, losing 18 of its last 24 overall and 12 of 16 at home.
“It’s a menagerie of things, stuff that didn’t go right,” reliever Jason Bergmann(notes) said. “I wasn’t here all year for it, but there’s a reason why some guys aren’t here and there’s a reason why some guys are here.”
John Lannan(notes) has been one of the mainstays, and he’ll pitch Friday trying to reach 10 victories for the first time in his career. In his first attempt at the feat, the left-hander lost despite tossing seven efficient innings in a 3-2 defeat to the Mets on Saturday.
Lannan (9-12, 4.07) is 1-4 with a 6.39 ERA in his last eight starts, a stretch that started with an 8-1 loss to the Braves on Aug. 11 in which he allowed six runs in 4 2-3 innings. But in two home starts against Atlanta this season, Lannan is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA.