Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals still have the best ERA in the major leagues, but their pitching staff is going through a rough stretch.

Giving the ball to Gio Gonzalez could help the NL East leaders finish off their 10-game trip on a positive note.

With temperatures in Atlanta again expected to reach triple digits, Gonzalez will try to match the major league lead in road wins in Sunday's series finale.

A 3.15 staff ERA has carried the Nationals to the top of the division, but Washington (44-32) has compiled a 5.87 ERA and .319 opponent batting average in its last six games, allowing four runs or more in each of them.

The bullpen is overworked, logging 15 innings over the last three contests. Ace Stephen Strasburg left after three innings of Saturday's 7-5 loss due to weather-related issues. According to the National Weather Service, Atlanta recorded its hottest-ever temperature at 106 degrees.

The temperature in Atlanta on Sunday is forecast to reach 104.

"I don't know if anybody had the advantage today, but we play here," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's official website after his club ended a four-game home losing streak to Washington. "I know it gets hot in D.C., but we play here. This is our field, and we're used to the conditions. Maybe not extreme, but it shouldn't be a problem for us."

Pitching on the road hasn't been an issue for Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78 ERA), who is 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA in eight starts outside the nation's capital, including a 7-2 victory over Atlanta on May 27 when he allowed two runs and one hit - a Michael Bourn triple. He also might have less trouble than some in the heat, as he is a Florida native.

Gonzalez, who can match Texas' Matt Harrison for the most road wins in the majors, can also become the first left-handed 11-game winner for the Nationals franchise since it relocated from Montreal in 2005. John Lannan (10-13 in 2011) is Washington's only other southpaw to reach double-digit victories.

While the Nationals will try to finish their trip at .500, the Braves (41-36), who have dropped five of seven to Washington this season, have a chance to move within 2 1/2 games of first place for the first time since June 10, when they were two games back.

"They've obviously had our number the last 10 or 12 games," said Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla, who had an RBI double Saturday after being held out of the lineup for the first time this season in Friday's 5-4 loss. "They've got great pitching and a great lineup. But so do we. It's time we turn the corner."

Tim Hudson (6-3, 3.58) could make that happen Sunday when he tries to win a season-best third consecutive start.

The veteran right-hander is 14-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 24 starts against the Nationals/Expos franchise, but he surrendered a season-high seven runs in a 7-4 home loss to Washington on May 25.

Ryan Zimmerman had a three-run double off Hudson in that contest, but the Nationals third baseman is batting .154 (4 for 26) in the last six games between these clubs.

Washington right fielder Michael Morse is batting .536 with two homers and six RBIs during a six-game hitting streak, and is also riding a string of five straight multihit games.

Bourn, who has an RBI in a career-high five consecutive games, is 3 for 5 against Gonzalez.

No Braves player has homered off Gonzalez, who is giving up a major league-low .30 home runs per nine innings.

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