Starting tonight in Atlanta, the Nationals will receive the kind of test that has remained absent since their first season in Washington. Sitting in first place, they will walk into the second-place team’s stadium and have to fight to stay at the top. The Nationals’ most anticipated games this season came against the Phillies, but their series against the Braves, in regard to the current National League East standings, is more crucial.
The Nationals are up one game, so they will have to win the three-game series in order to leave Atlanta in first place by themselves. Stephen Strasburg will pitch Saturday. Sunday night on ESPN, Brandon Beachy and Gio Gonzalez, ranked first and fourth in the National League in ERA, will face each other. This should be fun.
The Braves enter the weekend showdown staggered a bit, having been swept by the Cincinnati Reds. But they have been one of the best teams in the league all year. The Braves own the division’s best run differential, by a decent margin, at plus-32. The Nationals are plus-19, second best.
The Braves have scored 4.87 runs per game, second-best in the National League and up from 3.96 last season. They still have one of the toughest bullpens in baseball. Tim Hudson, a notorious Nationals killer, will start the series opener tonight, followed by Mike Minor, the weakest link in Atlanta’s rotation with a 6.96 ERA.
Unlike their historically lopsided series with the Phillies, the Nationals have typically played the Braves close, even as the Nationals were at the bottom of the division and the Braves sat near the top. Now the Nationals are holding on to first and the rest of the division is looking up at them. The next three games could determine how long it stays that way.
FROM THE POST
Bryce Harper’s first month in the majors has been more about his performance than being 19, even if his teammates find a way to have fun with his age occasionally.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 13, Columbus 4: Corey Brown went 3 for 5 with a home run and a triple. Brett Carroll went 2 for 5 with a double. Zach Duke allowed four runs in six innings on eight hits and two walks, striking out two.
Altoona 5, Harrisburg 4: Eury Perez went 2 for 4 with a stolen base. Robert Gilliam allowed five runs in six innings on four hits and four walks, striking out six.
Potomac was off.
Hagerstown 2, Lakewood 0: Jason Martinson went 1 for 2 with a walk. Matt Skole went 1 for 3 with a double. Taylor Hill allowed no runs in 6 1/3 innings on three hits and two walks, striking out seven.
Hagerstown 4, Lakewood 3: Billy Burns went 3 for 4. Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 4. Jason Martinson went 1 for 3 with a triple and a walk.