Just after a slump cost the Atlanta Braves the NL East lead, they got to face a team they've dominated recently - the one which had caught them.
Atlanta is back in first place after taking the first two of a four-game set with the Washington Nationals, and looks to extend its run in the series to six in a row behind ace Julio Teheran on Saturday night.
The East race has been generally controlled by Atlanta (38-35), which opened 17-7 and held a three-game lead as recently as June 1. However, the Braves then lost 10 of 15 to head to the nation's capital tied with Miami for second place, 1 1/2 games behind Washington.
The Atlanta pitching staff was mostly to blame, posting a 6.10 ERA in nine games before this series. Seeing the Nationals, though, seems to bring out its best.
The Braves limited them to three hits in a 3-0 win Thursday and held a 4-2 lead with two outs in the ninth Friday before closer Craig Kimbrel served up a two-run homer to Anthony Rendon. Kimbrel had a 0.92 ERA over his previous 30 appearances against Washington.
Yet, Atlanta didn't allow another hit and won 6-4 in 13 innings, improving to 7-1 in the season series with a 2.01 ERA. Washington (37-35) has hit .181 in five meetings at Nationals Park.
The Braves are 12-3 in D.C. as part of a stretch during which they've won 24 of 31 over Washington.
"Two years ago, it seemed like we beat the Braves every time we played them," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "And now the last (two years) it's been the other way. I think it's just one of those things in baseball that goes back and forth. Lately, they've just had our number."
Zimmerman has hit .178 in his last 20 matchups with Atlanta, including 5 for 42 in 12 home games and only an infield single in this series.
Zimmerman hasn't homered in 18 games since April 11, when he went deep off Teheran (6-4, 2.31 ERA). The right-hander allowed 10 hits and five runs - two earned - in six innings that night, but the Braves won 7-6 in 10. He beat the Nationals six days earlier with seven strong innings in a 6-2 victory, and Atlanta has won six of his seven starts against them.
He's 7-0 with a 2.11 ERA in his last 10 against NL East foes after holding Philadelphia to one run in eight innings of a 6-1, 13-inning loss Monday. Teheran has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 12 of 15 starts.
Washington's Doug Fister (5-2, 3.08) had done that in six straight before struggling Sunday. He yielded four runs and seven hits, including two homers, in six innings of a 5-2 defeat at St. Louis.
"I've got to do a lot better when it comes to critical pitches," Fister said. "That's what it comes down to."
The right-hander won his only start against Atlanta, striking out eight in seven innings of Detroit's 8-3 victory April 28, 2013.
He'll be facing many hot Braves hitters. Freddie Freeman is 6 for 11 in this series and has eight extra-base hits in his last seven games after homering Friday. Evan Gattis singled home the go-ahead run for his 21st RBI during a 19-game hitting streak, currently the majors' longest and the team record for a catcher. Chris Johnson had his eighth multihit effort in 12 games.
One player Fister likely won't face is Justin Upton, who missed a third straight start due to dizziness.
"He is frustrated with the way his body feels and the way he feels physically," said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who revealed Upton would get a full evaluation.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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