With the Atlanta Braves owning a comfortable lead in the NL East, perhaps the only intrigue surrounding this weekend’s series with Washington is what type of controversy Nationals star Bryce Harper might find himself in the middle of with their division rival.
The Braves look to pad that lead with a sixth straight victory over Harper and the Nationals on Friday night at Turner Field.
A winner in 17 of 19, Atlanta (74-47) holds a whopping 14 1/2-game lead over Washington. The Braves’ current surge included a three-game road sweep of the Nationals (59-61) last week.
Washington is 3-10 against the Braves in 2013, and batting .178 while totaling 10 runs during a five-game series skid. Harper is 5 for 33 with two homers and three RBIs during the season series, and even drawn the ire of the Atlanta organization.
After Harper homered early in Washington’s 2-1 loss Aug. 6, he was hit by Julio Teheran the next time up. Harper took exception, the benches cleared but no punches were thrown,
However, “Clown move bro” was posted to the Braves’ official Twitter account shortly after. The Nationals then went to their own team account with, “Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?”
Braves general manager Frank Wren said later that a tweet directed at Harper was “an inappropriate attempt at humor.”
There were no incidents during Atlanta’s 6-3 win a night later, but Washington manager Davey Johnson said the beaning of Harper was something to file away “for future reference.”
Harper’s struggles have not been limited to the Braves as he’s gone 6 for 40 in his last 11 games overall.
Whether anything happens this weekend remains to be seen as the Nationals try to cool off Atlanta and bounce back after Rafael Soriano allowed a two-out, three-run homer in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 4-3 loss to San Francisco.
The defeat snapped a five-game winning streak for Washington, which got a two-run double from Ian Desmond.
“A lot more positives than negatives,” Desmond said of Washington’s recent play. “But right now, I think we’re just kind of resting on the negative. Shake that off and we’ll be ready to go (Friday in Atlanta).”
Desmond is 11 for 24 with three RBIs in the last six games, and batting .333 while hitting safely in nine straight at Turner Field.
Washington will get its first look at Atlanta rookie Alex Wood (2-2, 2.78 ERA), who is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts since joining the rotation July 25. He allowed two hits and struck out seven in six innings of a 1-0 loss to Miami on Saturday that snapped the club’s 14-game winning streak.
“I feel like I’m really starting to hit my stride,” the left-hander told the Braves’ official website. “I feel really good.”
He’ll be opposed by fellow rookie Taylor Jordan (1-3, 4.14), who has never faced the Braves.
The right-hander has yielded four runs in each of his last two outings, the latest along with seven hits over five innings while not factoring in the decision of an 8-5 win over Philadelphia.
Jordan will try to contain Atlanta’s Chris Johnson, who leads the NL with a .337 batting average. However, he’s 5 for 32 with 11 strikeouts in his last eight games versus Washington.
Teammate Jason Heyward is batting .179 in eight against the Nationals this season, but .467 (14 for 30) in his last seven overall.
The Braves lost infielder Tyler Pastornicky for the season after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a collision with Heyward on Wednesday. Pastornicky, who took over as the starting second baseman this week when Dan Uggla went on the DL to have eye surgery, will be replaced by Triple-A callup Phil Gosselin.