Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals got the best of the slumping Atlanta Braves in the opener of a three-game set between the top two teams in the NL East.

They appear to have a good opportunity to create further separation in the standings with Stephen Strasburg taking the hill opposite Mike Minor on Saturday afternoon at Turner Field.

Ryan Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel each also drove in a pair Friday as Washington (27-18) earned its fourth win in five games, beating Atlanta (26-21) 7-4 to extend its division lead to two games. The Nationals improved to 10-1 when scoring at least six runs, compared to 17-17 when totaling five or fewer.

Losers of three straight in this series, the Braves have totaled 12 runs while dropping a season-worst five in a row overall, and things aren't about to get any easier with Strasburg (4-1, 2.21 ERA) on the hill.

While the hard-throwing right-hander has lost both of his starts against Atlanta with a 4.35 ERA - his highest against any opponent he's faced more than once in his career - Chipper Jones knows his club will be in for a challenge Saturday. Jones, however, won't be available as he heads to the 15-day disabled with a bruised left leg.

"He has the best stuff, the best repertoire of pitches, that I've seen on any one single pitcher," Jones told "He is like a Kerry Wood in his prime and Justin Verlander hybrid.

"He has the fastball, just like those two, the breaking ball just like those two. The changeup is what sets him apart ... (Strasburg's changeup) is a 90-plus (mph) split that falls off the table. When you are geared up going for 95-96 and he throws you 90 and the bottom drops out of it, it's a pretty lethal combination."

Strasburg yielded three runs - one earned - four hits and struck out eight over five innings of Sunday's 9-3 win over Baltimore before being removed as a precaution due to tightness in his bicep.

"The bicep is fine," he said. "Starting out, I threw a lot of pitches early and then we put up a lot of runs. I got a little tired. (The bicep) got a little tight. It's nothing different than any other outing. It's probably gonna be like this for the rest of the year. It's all part of coming back from Tommy John (surgery). It's something I have to be smart about."

Owner of the highest ERA among NL qualifiers, Minor (2-4, 6.96) - who has also been taken deep a league-worst 12 times - has had an especially rough time in recent weeks.

The left-hander dropped to 0-3 with an abysmal 10.46 ERA over his last five starts after allowing four homers and four walks in six innings of Monday's 4-1 loss at Cincinnati.

Minor is 1-2 with a 4.02 ERA in three starts against the Nationals.

Atlanta hasn't lost six in a row since a nine-game slide April 21-29, 2010.

Braves second baseman Dan Uggla, mired in a 3-for-27 (.111) slump over his last nine games, is 5 for 6 with a homer against Strasburg - the most hits Strasburg has allowed to any player.