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Preview: Braves (54-81) at Nationals (69-65)
Venue: Nationals Park
Date: September 05, 2015 7:05 PM EDT
While other players may also be chipping in, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman are taking on the leading roles in the Washington Nationals’ sudden uprising.
The star sluggers look to stay hot against the historically bad Atlanta Braves on Saturday night when host Washington tries to tighten the NL East race with its fourth straight win.
With Friday’s opener tied in the 10th inning, Harper and Zimmerman delivered singles ahead of Michael Taylor’s walk-off, three-run homer in a 5-2 victory. The Nationals (69-65) had evened the game in the ninth on a pinch-hit, RBI single by Matt den Dekker.
Harper went 2 for 3 with his 32nd home run to raise his average to .396 over his last 15 home games. The right fielder is 4 for 9 with 11 walks in 21 plate appearances over his last five overall.
“He’s been patient enough in viewing it as ‘OK, I’m not going to expand my zone,” manager Matt Williams said. “If they chose not to pitch to me, then I’ve got somebody behind me who can pick it up.”
Zimmerman picked up two more hits as Washington won for the ninth time in 11 games at Nationals Park. The first baseman is batting .404 with seven homers and 23 RBIs over his past 12 overall.
The Nationals now hope to trim more off their deficit after closing to within five games of the first-place New York Mets, who suffered an extra-inning defeat at Miami.
Harper and Zimmerman might have a tough time extending their torrid stretch since they’re a combined 4 for 20 lifetime off scheduled starter Shelby Miller (5-12, 2.56 ERA).
Miller, however, is trying to avoid a 20th consecutive winless start, a run of futility that is the longest by a Braves pitcher since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. The right-hander is 0-11 with a 3.13 ERA while getting one or no runs from the offense 13 times during the streak.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” manager Fredi Gonzalez told MLB’s official website.
Miller had been 2-0 with an 0.85 ERA in five meetings versus Washington before giving up five runs over five innings in a 6-1 loss June 30. He’ll have to be careful with Jayson Werth, who is batting .370 during a six-game hitting streak, and Yunel Escobar, who is hitting .464 in his last eight.
The Braves (54-81) have lost 10 straight and 17 of 18, 11 in a row on the road, and eight consecutive games in Washington. They haven’t lost 11 straight since 1982 and last dropped 12 in a row on the road in 1942, when the franchise was in Boston.
An anemic offense has been the biggest problem for Atlanta, which is batting .219 and averaging 2.2 runs during the 10-game skid.
Gio Gonzalez (9-7, 4.13) will try to keep them scuffling as he looks to build on only his second quality start in his last eight. After posting a 10.22 ERA in dropping three straight, he allowed three runs over six innings but did not factor in Monday’s 8-5 loss at St. Louis.
The left-hander had been 0-7 with a 5.32 ERA over an eight-start stretch versus Atlanta before giving up two runs over seven innings in a 9-2 home win May 8.
Freddie Freeman, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles Friday, had a pair of doubles versus Gonzalez in May and he’s 9 for 27 with two home runs lifetime off him.