The Atlanta Braves have stumbled lately, but they’re still atop the NL wild-card standings.
The Washington Nationals would like nothing more than to knock around another contender from the East.
Despite losing 13 of 20, the Braves (88-68) control their playoff fate. They received a nice gift during Thursday’s off day when second-place St. Louis coughed up a four-run ninth-inning lead and lost 8-6 to the New York Mets to fall two games back in the wild-card chase.
“I’m still optimistic that this club has enough in the tank to get it done,” third baseman Chipper Jones(notes) said after the Braves tied a season low with a two hits in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at Florida. “… We’ve just got to go take care of business.”
Giving the ball to Tim Hudson(notes) (15-10, 3.19 ERA) could help the Braves regain some traction. The veteran right-hander is 13-3 with a 1.95 ERA in 22 career starts against the Nationals, including 3-1 with a 2.16 ERA in four this season.
Hudson should have plenty of confidence Friday after making a slight adjustment to his delivery in last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Mets. Moving his heel closer to the rubber, the right-hander struck out 10 in eight innings of four-hit ball.
“It was like night and day,” said Hudson, who had been 1-3 with a 5.55 ERA in his previous four starts. “It was good to figure it out now.”
Now, he’ll face a Washington team that’s won 10 of 12 following a four-game sweep at Philadelphia. The Nationals outscored the East champs 20-9 while their starters posted a 1.13 ERA in the series.
“You want to compete against the teams in your division and we took a step in that direction,” manager Davey Johnson said after the Nationals extended the franchise’s longest road winning streak in 17 years to eight with Thursday’s 6-1 victory.
Jayson Werth(notes) has missed the last two games with a bruised right elbow, but could return to Washington’s lineup for this three-game set. The right fielder is 4 for 10 with two homers off Hudson this year.
“I hope he is ready for the Atlanta series because we want to be spoilers,” Johnson told the Nationals’ official website.
Washington (76-79), which needs to go 5-1 to secure the franchise’s first winning season since 2003, opens its final home series of 2011 with Strasburg (0-0, 1.29) making his fourth start.
The 23-year-old phenom hasn’t missed a beat since a 12-month absence following Tommy John surgery, allowing two runs over 14 innings while striking out 11 while walking none.
“I’m just trying to throw strikes. Walks are going to happen,” Strasburg said after going a season-high six innings in Saturday’s 4-1, 13-inning loss to Florida.
In his only career start against the Braves, Strasburg walked two and yielded four runs in a 5-0 road loss June 28, 2010.
Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla(notes), 3 for 4 with a double and a homer off Strasburg, is batting .291 (16 for 55) with a team-high five homers and 11 RBIs in the season series, which the Braves lead 8-7.
Ivan Rodriguez(notes) will be behind the plate Wednesday when Strasburg starts the season finale at Florida, but rookie catcher Wilson Ramos(notes) - batting .347 in his last 20 games - should be in Friday’s lineup. He is 10 for 30 off Atlanta pitching this season.