The Washington Nationals have fought hard to re-insert themselves in the wild card race.
Staying there may well depend on whether they can beat the Atlanta Braves, whom they host for a three-game series starting Monday.
Even while going a major-league best 25-10 since Aug. 9, the Nationals dropped two of three to the Braves at Turner Field from Aug. 16-18 - one of only two series they dropped during that span.
Atlanta has won seven of the last eight between the teams and 12 of 16 overall this season. The Nationals are batting .205 and averaging 2.3 runs versus Braves pitchers.
Against everyone else, the Nationals (79-70) have bashed the ball.
They are batting .318 with 20 home runs while winning eight of their last nine. On Sunday, they tied a season high with 18 hits in beating Philadelphia 11-2 for their fourth straight series win.
Wilson Ramos hit his fifth home run in eight games and finished 4 for 4.
"He's been hitting the heck out of the ball, catching good, throwing people out. He's hard to take out of the lineup," manager Davey Johnson said. "We've missed him for two years, so we're going to ride him."
Ramos, who tore the ACL in his right knee last year and hindered this season by a bothersome left hamstring, has started a major-league best 23 straight games behind the plate.
"That was very important for me," said Ramos, who has 49 RBIs in 54 games off the disabled list. "That's a good test for my knee, for myself, to show everybody that I can play every day."
He is batting .182 against Atlanta this season, but the one Atlanta pitcher Ramos has hit well is Mike Minor, against whom he is 6 for 8.
Ramos helped send Minor (13-7, 3.15 ERA) to an early exit when he last faced them, lacing a two-run single in the first as the Nationals chased him in 1 2-3 innings of their 8-7 victory Aug. 17.
Home runs have plagued Minor of late, giving up five in his last three starts. He yielded three Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to Miami in which he allowed five runs and 11 hits over six innings overall.
The Nationals' surge over the past month-plus began Aug. 9 with a win by Dan Haren (9-13, 5.02), who avoided losing a third straight start Wednesday by limiting the New York Mets to one hit while striking out eight in six innings of a 3-0 victory.
After allowing 19 home runs through his first 15 starts, he has allowed seven in 12 since.
Haren has a win and a save against Atlanta this season, logging eight innings of one-run ball on May 2 in a 3-1 victory before pitching a scoreless 15th to earn his first career save on Aug. 17.
The Braves (89-60) could clinch the NL East with two wins over the Nationals.
"We don't want that," Johnson said. "We need to at least send a message these next three days that we're better than them."
Denard Span, with two hits Sunday, has hit in 26 straight and could tie Michael Cuddyer for the longest streak in the majors this year with a hit Monday.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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