The surging Washington Nationals have opened a seven-game lead atop the NL East - the franchise’s largest in 18 years - by taking the first two contests in their home series with the suddenly slumping Atlanta Braves.
Despite their struggles, the Braves might like their chances of salvaging the finale with Kris Medlen getting the start.
While the Nationals look to take an eight-game lead for the first time in franchise history Wednesday night, Atlanta will be trying to win with Medlen on the mound for a 16th straight time.
After outlasting the Braves in Monday’s 13-inning, 5-4 win, Washington (77-46) made quick work of Atlanta on Tuesday as Stephen Strasburg and three relievers combined on a six-hitter in a 4-1 victory. Jesus Flores provided the big blow with a three-run home run - his first since June 29, also in a win over the Braves.
“Job isn’t finished,” Strasburg said. “It’s still August. We’re trying to win as many games as we can.”
The Nationals, winners of three straight and 14 of 17, improved to 10-4 on the season against Atlanta (70-54), one of the biggest reasons they have the franchise’s largest division lead since Montreal was seven ahead of the Braves on Aug. 10, 1994 - one day before that strike-shortened season ended.
“Eight would be better,” manager Davey Johnson said.
Flores has played a surprising role in Washington’s dominance over Atlanta this year, batting .344 with three home runs. He is hitting .204 with one homer against everyone else.
Michael Bourn is having the opposite effect for the Braves. Atlanta’s leadoff hitter is batting .186 against Washington, compared to a .301 mark versus all other opponents.
Despite having lost four straight for the first time since June 10-13, Atlanta maintains possession of the league’s top wild-card spot.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Paul Maholm, Tuesday’s starter and loser. “We’ve got 40 games left or whatever it is.”
Medlen (4-1, 2.03 ERA) appears a likely candidate for the postseason rotation should the Braves make it to a division series.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts since entering the rotation, striking out 22 and walking four over 25 2-3 innings. Medlen was at his best Thursday against San Diego, tossing a five-hitter - his first career complete game - in a 6-0 win.
“He’s more than stated his case to be in the rotation from here on out,” said Chipper Jones, who was given the day off Tuesday. “The guy just wins ballgames.”
More specifically, the Braves win when he starts.
Atlanta has won 15 consecutive games started by Medlen since May 29, 2010, tying a franchise record set by John Smoltz during his Cy Young Award-winning season of 1996.
Medlen has never started against the Nationals, but he appeared out of the bullpen in Atlanta’s last three wins in the season series.
Washington counters with Ross Detwiler (7-5, 3.25), who gave up three runs in six innings of Friday’s 6-4 win over the New York Mets, improving to 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his last four starts at Nationals Park.
One of those games came against the Braves on July 22, when he allowed two runs in seven innings of a 9-2 victory.
Bourn is 1 for 13 lifetime against Detwiler, but Martin Prado is 9 for 16 with three doubles.