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Nationals-Braves Preview

AP - Sports

Just in the last few days, the Washington Nationals have turned an NL East title from a likelihood to a near certainty.

The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, may want to start considering Kris Medlen for a potential one-game wild-card playoff.

Medlen will look to shut down the Nationals again Friday night as these teams open a three-game set in Atlanta, with the Braves likely needing a sweep to maintain even a slim chance at the division.

Washington (89-54) pushed its lead from 5 1/2 games to a season-high 8 1/2 this week, sweeping New York while the Braves were swept at Milwaukee. Things are going so well that even Stephen Strasburg's replacement in the rotation, John Lannan, pitched into the sixth inning of Wednesday's 2-0 victory.

For a franchise that has reached the postseason once in more than four decades - in 1981 as the Montreal Expos - the magic number is 11 for clinching the division and even lower for a playoff berth.

"Oh, I look at them," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "It's time to be looking at magic numbers. And I've been looking at them for a while now."

The Braves (81-63) still comfortably control the NL's top wild-card spot, although they'd like to see some improvement from an offense that has scored three or fewer runs eight times in nine games. Atlanta totaled three runs in three games against the Brewers, managing five hits in an 8-2 defeat Wednesday.

Medlen (8-1, 1.64 ERA) hasn't needed much support since entering the rotation July 31. He is 7-0 with a 0.81 ERA in eight starts in 2012, and the Braves have won his last 19 starts dating to 2010.

"He pitches and it seems like the guys like playing behind him," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Saturday's outing against the Mets was the first time Medlen has allowed more than one run as a starter this year. He gave up two along with four hits in six innings as Atlanta cruised to an 11-3 win.

In his first career start against Washington, Medlen scattered seven hits over seven scoreless innings and struck out seven in a 5-1 road victory Aug. 22.

"He was mixing really well, his fastball was good," said right fielder Bryce Harper, 0 for 4 against Medlen this year. "He was throwing his curve ball and changeup. You just try and do the best you can against a guy like that. Nothing you can do but tip your cap."

Ryan Zimmerman managed two hits off Medlen in that game, and he brings a 16-game hit streak into Friday. He has six homers and 17 RBIs in that stretch, while Ian Desmond is batting .405 with four homers during a 10-game run.

Ross Detwiler (9-6, 3.23) kept the Nationals in the game against Medlen last month, but opposing him again may not be the best way to become Washington's fourth 10-game winner.

The left-hander already had one chance to do that, but he allowed five runs in five innings of a 7-6, 10-inning victory over Miami on Saturday. Detwiler yielded a pair of homers, matching his total from his previous 11 starts.

This will be his fifth start of the year against the Braves. He's 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in the first four, although he can't seem to find a way to get Martin Prado out. Prado is 8 for 10 with four doubles and a triple against Detwiler in 2012.

The Nationals, 5-1 in Atlanta this year, will likely be without Michael Morse, who is dealing with an injured left wrist.

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