How the Nationals can pull ahead in the NL East

July 31

The Nationals are 3-7 against the Braves in 2014. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Nationals and the Braves have been fighting for the NL East lead all season. But the Marlins and the Mets are still in striking distance if they can put together a run. Including the Nationals’ series against the Marlins, which ended Wednesday, Washington is in a stretch of five straight series against NL East opponents (with a makeup game against the Orioles wedged in on Monday). Here’s what the Nationals need to do in their upcoming matchups to take command of the division.

Don’t overlook the Phillies

Philadelphia has been the worst team in the division, but Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd have had a few big games against the Nationals this year. In the Phillies’ three wins over Washington, Rollins, left, was 7-for-12 with three RBIs, a triple and two home runs. Byrd went 4-for-11 with two doubles and two RBIs in those three wins. While Nationals hitters are batting only .241 against the Phillies, they’ve scored 43 runs and have won six of the nine games. Washington opens a four-game series against Philadelphia today.

Stick with what’s worked against the Mets

Washington is 5-1 against New York this season, with its lone loss a 5-2 defeat on May 17. The Nationals have dominated the Mets, outscoring them 35 to 20. Nationals pitchers hold a collective 3.27 ERA against New York, with the offense batting .284. However, the Nationals will need to pitch better to center fielder Juan Lagares, who is a .278 hitter this year but holds a .421 average against Washington with two home runs. Two upcoming series against the Mets are at home Aug. 5-7 and away Aug. 12-14.

Finally beat the Braves

This is an obvious one: The Nationals need to take at least two of three against the Braves when they’re in Atlanta Aug. 8-10. Assuming the two teams are still neck and neck in the division standings, this series could provide some distance in the short term. The Nationals have yet to take a series against Atlanta this year. They are 3-7 against the Braves in 2014 and were 6-13 last year. This season, the Nationals have averaged just 2.7 runs per game against the Braves and 4.4 runs a game against all other teams.

Read more from Express Sports:

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Nationals prospect Michael A. Taylor is making a name for himself in Double-A

Nationals’ Rendon: ‘I don’t watch baseball — it’s too long and boring’

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Rudi Greenberg · July 31