The Atlanta Braves are running away with the NL East.
This could become an even more one-sided race if they can take care of the Washington Nationals in a three-game set starting Monday night in the nation's capital.
Led by Alex Wood 's six strong innings and Chris Johnson 's ninth multi-hit game in 10 contests, Atlanta (67-45) won 4-1 at Philadelphia on Sunday. The Braves, who also reeled off 10 straight victories from April 5-16, now have multiple 10-game winning streaks in a season for the first time since they had three in 1954 when they called Milwaukee home.
Now 12 1/2 games ahead of second-place Washington (54-57) with the Nationals losing 8-5 at Milwaukee earlier Sunday, Atlanta owns the largest division lead by any team through games of Aug. 4 since the 2005 Chicago White Sox held a 14-game AL Central cushion.
"We have to keep battling," Nationals center fielder Denard Span told the team's official website. "Don't quit trying to win the division until you are mathematically out of it."
While there are still eight weeks left in the regular season, another Braves sweep in Washington - they did that from April 12-14 - would put the Nationals in an even more precarious spot.
These teams play just six more times after this series.
"They are getting to be all important at this point," Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth said.
Washington will get its first look this season at Mike Minor (11-5, 2.75 ERA) in the opener.
The left-hander is 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA in his last five outings after posting a 4.80 ERA in his previous five.
"This is who he is," catcher Brian McCann told the Braves' official website after Minor fanned six and allowed two hits in seven innings of Wednesday's 9-0 victory over Colorado. "He's a guy who takes the ball and knows exactly what he's trying to accomplish."
Minor faces a Nationals team that plated 14 total runs and hit .162 with runners in scoring position on its just-completed 2-3 trip.
"That has been (part of the problem) all year - getting runners in scoring position, don't swing the bat or get the big hit," manager Davey Johnson said.
Stephen Strasburg (5-9, 3.04) is well aware of those issues, as the Nationals have scored eight total runs in his last four starts, losing each time. He's 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA in that stretch after getting tagged for five runs - including a grand slam by Alex Avila - in seven innings of Tuesday's 5-1 loss at Detroit."When things are going like they have been lately, you know that there isn't much margin for error," Strasburg said.
Washington has scored six times in the right-hander's three starts versus Atlanta this season. Strasburg is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA in those contests, with the last one - a 3-2 victory May 31 - registering as the shortest of his career (two innings) due to a strained muscle on his right side.
Strasburg better be at full strength against a Braves team averaging 6.6 runs since its last defeat.
Johnson is 20 for 40 in that run to up his batting average to an NL-leading .346. He's hitless in six at-bats off Strasburg in 2013, though.
Dan Uggla has three hits in seven at-bats this season when facing the former No. 1 overall pick. Uggla has more hits (11) and at-bats (24) against Strasburg that any player.
Atlanta, winner of seven of 10 from Washington this season, has matched its longest undefeated stretch since a 15-game run in 2000.
|August 03, 2013||Gerald Laird||15-Day DL||Kidney stone|
|July 29, 2013||Reed Johnson||15-Day DL||Left knee tendinitis|
|July 25, 2013||Tim Hudson||15-Day DL||Fractured right ankle|
|July 21, 2013||Paul Maholm||15-Day DL||Bruised left wrist|
|July 21, 2013||Paul Maholm||15-Day DL||Left wrist contusion|
|July 13, 2013||B.J. Upton||15-Day DL||Right adductor strain|
|August 01, 2013||Ross Ohlendorf||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 24, 2013||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Blister|
|July 24, 2013||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Left knee soreness|
|July 04, 2013||Ross Detwiler||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|June 23, 2013||Dan Haren||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 23, 2013||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin strain|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The calendar says it's August and, thanks to Justin Upton 's tiebreaking homer Monday night, the Atlanta Braves are 13 1/2 games ahead of the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
"I thought," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "that the division was going to be a lot closer."
Upton led off the eighth inning with his 20th homer, and Atlanta extended its winning streak to a season-high 11 games by beating fading Washington 3-2.
"You want to step on their necks, especially when we've got this big of a lead," said Freddie Freeman , who drove in Atlanta's first two runs with a pair of singles off Stephen Strasburg in the third and fifth. "We can expand it a little bit more against them. I think we set the tone tonight."
Reliever David Carpenter (3-0) earned the win by retiring all five batters he faced after Mike Minor went six-plus innings, giving up eight hits and three walks, yet allowing only two runs. With Braves closer Craig Kimbrel getting a night off after pitching in the previous three games, Jordan Walden earned his first save of the season, but not without some difficulty.
Walden gave up a leadoff single to Anthony Rendon , who went to second on Denard Span 's sacrifice bunt - although Nationals manager Davey Johnson wanted Span to try to bunt for a hit there. Rendon took third with one out on Walden's wild pitch, giving Washington a terrific opportunity to tie the score.
But clutch hitting was the Nationals' biggest problem on this night - and all season, really - and Scott Hairston popped out to the catcher in foul territory, before pinch-hitter Chad Tracy flied out to left.
All part of Washington's 1-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position.
"Came up with nada," Johnson said.
The Nationals again failed to provide much run support for Strasburg, who struck out nine in seven innings, allowing two runs and five hits. The last five times he's allowed two earned runs or fewer, Washington lost.
In every inning from the second through seventh, the Nationals put the leadoff batter on base, but had little to show for it.
The Braves, meanwhile, did a lot with a little. In the third, they followed two infield hits with Freeman's blooper on a 3-0 pitch.
"Lucky golf swing," Freeman called it.
In the fifth, Upton got a two-out single and came home on Freeman's single after stealing second, a recurring issue for Strasburg.
"He has the same pattern every time," Johnson lamented. "He's very quick to the plate, but he is locked in his ways."
Upton, who went 3 for 4, delivered his 20th homer on a 3-2 changeup from Tyler Clippard (6-2), who replaced Strasburg to begin the eighth.
"Not a good pitch," Clippard said.
Shaking his head, along with a plastic water bottle in his right hand, Clippard summed up where things stand for the Nationals at the moment, saying: "We've got to turn this thing around. If it's going to happen, it's got to happen soon. ... Two months left, and we're 13 games back. So we've got to get moving."
Washington led the majors with 98 wins in 2012. But Atlanta's 12 1/2-game cushion entering Monday was the largest margin through Aug. 4 in any division since 2005, when the Chicago White Sox led the AL Central by 14 games, according to STATS.
NOTES: Nationals RF Jayson Werth originally was listed as hitting cleanup but was scratched from the starting lineup during batting practice because of a lingering groin injury. He pinch hit for Strasburg with a man on second in the seventh and struck out. ... Werth was selected as NL Player of the Month for July, after hitting .367 with seven homers and 22 RBIs. He led the league in RBIs and on-base percentage (.450). ... In Game 2 of the series Tuesday, LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.57) pitches for Washington, while RHP Julio Teheran (8-5, 3.02) starts for Atlanta. ... Gonzalez was cleared Monday by Major League Baseball after its investigation of players linked in media reports to a clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs. Gonzalez, third in NL Cy Young Award voting last year, said Monday he has "no lingering sense of animosity" over being connected to the case. ... Atlanta 2B Dan Uggla made a nice diving grab of Ian Desmond 's liner in the third.
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