Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

Stephen Strasburg may be touted as the ace of the Washington Nationals, but Gio Gonzalez is making his own case for that distinction.

Brandon Beachy has been no slouch for the Atlanta Braves.

Runs may be hard to come by as two of the major leagues' ERA leaders oppose each other when Gonzalez and the NL East-leading Nationals look to deal the Braves their seventh straight loss in the finale of a three-game set Sunday at Turner Field.

Strasburg allowed four runs in five innings to earn an 8-4 victory Saturday, helping Washington (28-18) win for the fifth time in six games. Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 and hit his third homer, and is batting .435 during a six-game hitting streak.

The Nationals, who won Friday's series opener 7-4, are going for their first sweep in Atlanta since they took all four games Oct. 1-4, 2009. They've beaten the Braves in four straight meetings overall.

"The offense scoring seven runs two days in a row, I feel like I'm on vacation or something,'' manager Davey Johnson said.

Though the offense has picked it up in this series, solid pitching has been the calling card of the Nationals.

While Strasburg receives the lion's share of the attention on a staff that leads the majors with a 2.95 ERA, Gonzalez (6-1, 1.98 ERA) arguably has been the team's best pitcher.

Gonzalez won his fourth straight start Monday, striking out nine in six scoreless innings of a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia. He is among the NL leaders with 69 strikeouts, ranks third in ERA and is holding opponents to a major league-low .167 batting average.

The left-hander, who has never faced the Braves, will look to become the Nationals' first pitcher to win five straight starts since Ramon Ortiz did it May 18-June 7, 2006.

Few have pitched better than Gonzalez this season, though Beachy (5-2, 1.77) has a case.

Beachy leads the majors in ERA and his .183 opponent batting average ranks third behind Gonzalez and Detroit's Justin Verlander. He went 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA in seven starts from April 15-May 17 before allowing a season-high four runs and a career-high three homers in seven innings of a 4-3 loss to Cincinnati on Tuesday.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals, which may not bode well for an Atlanta team struggling without Chipper Jones.

The Braves (26-22) dropped to 7-17 when Jones doesn't start after the veteran was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a bruised left leg. They've lost six straight overall, and four of their last six at home.

"We're not playing particularly well right now,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "And there are no excuses. We've just need to get it going."

Braves second baseman Dan Uggla hit a two-run homer Saturday. His last four hits have gone for extra bases, but they've come in a span of 30 at-bats over 10 games.

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