Nationals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals have thrived with strong pitching all season, but now their bats are also hot.

The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, have recently experienced more success on the mound.

The Nationals look to re-establish their success against the Braves and widen their NL East lead in a three-game series starting Friday night at Turner Field.

Washington (43-31) leads Atlanta (40-35) by 3 1/2 games atop the East, thanks largely to a major league-leading 3.11 staff ERA and in spite of a .245 team batting average.

However, the Nationals' bats awakened in the last three games of a four-game split at Colorado. They totaled 33 runs and 10 homers in those three contests, and plated 10 runs or more in three consecutive games for the first time since they did so as the Montreal Expos from June 10-13, 1995.

Washington racked up 14 hits - including three homers - Thursday, but fell 11-10 to the Rockies in 11 innings.

Michael Morse and Ian Desmond are each 8 for 15 with five RBIs over the last three games, which have come immediately after the Nationals batted .200 as a team and totaled five homers and 25 runs during a 3-7 slump.

Bryce Harper, whose solo homer Thursday forced extra innings, is 8 for 16 with three solo home runs in five meetings with the Braves. One of those homers came in a 3-2 home loss June 3, a defeat which snapped Washington's six-game winning streak in the series.

The Nationals swept their last three games in Atlanta from May 25-27.

The Braves lost 3-2 to Arizona on Thursday, failing to complete a three-game sweep. Atlanta starters were solid in the series, allowing six runs over 20 innings following a 4-9 slump during which they'd posted a 4.66 ERA and manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged his rotation to improve.

Randall Delgado (4-8, 4.52) is getting his first start since Gonzalez's challenge, and he's trying to rebound from his worst performance in the majors.

The rookie right-hander has lost his last three starts, and Saturday's 8-4 loss at Boston was particularly hideous. He was chased with one out in the second, getting charged with four runs and six hits while walking two and hitting another batter.

"When you bring a young starter along, there are going to be days where it's not going to look as good," Gonzalez told the Braves' official website. "Sometimes you're going to feel like the young man has turned the corner and then he takes a step backwards."

The Nationals will counter with Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.09 ERA), who is facing the Braves for the first time since surrendering three runs, five hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings May 25. That effort temporarily cost the left-hander a spot in the rotation, but Chien-Ming Wang wasn't much better, going 1-3 with a 6.62 ERA in four starts.

Detwiler is back trying to prove he should remain the Nationals' No. 5 starter, and he made a strong case in Monday's 2-1 loss at Baltimore, yielding four hits in five scoreless innings.

"To tell you the truth, the fifth starter needs to just eat up innings," Detwiler told the Nationals' official website. "Only going five? That's not the way to do it."

Detwiler is 1-0 with a 3.80 ERA in seven games - four starts - versus Atlanta. Braves left fielder Martin Prado is 6 for 12 with three doubles and a triple against him.

What to Read Next