With the Atlanta Braves owning a comfortable lead in the NL East, perhaps the only intrigue surrounding this weekend's series with Washington is what type of controversy Nationals star Bryce Harper might find himself in the middle of with their division rival.
The Braves look to pad that lead with a sixth straight victory over Harper and the Nationals on Friday night at Turner Field.
A winner in 17 of 19, Atlanta (74-47) holds a whopping 14 1/2-game lead over Washington. The Braves' current surge included a three-game road sweep of the Nationals (59-61) last week.
Washington is 3-10 against the Braves in 2013, and batting .178 while totaling 10 runs during a five-game series skid. Harper is 5 for 33 with two homers and three RBIs during the season series, and even drawn the ire of the Atlanta organization.
After Harper homered early in Washington's 2-1 loss Aug. 6, he was hit by Julio Teheran the next time up. Harper took exception, the benches cleared but no punches were thrown,However, "Clown move bro" was posted to the Braves' official Twitter account shortly after. The Nationals then went to their own team account with, "Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?"
Braves general manager Frank Wren said later that a tweet directed at Harper was "an inappropriate attempt at humor."
There were no incidents during Atlanta's 6-3 win a night later, but Washington manager Davey Johnson said the beaning of Harper was something to file away "for future reference."
Harper's struggles have not been limited to the Braves as he's gone 6 for 40 in his last 11 games overall.
Whether anything happens this weekend remains to be seen as the Nationals try to cool off Atlanta and bounce back after Rafael Soriano allowed a two-out, three-run homer in the ninth inning of Thursday's 4-3 loss to San Francisco.
The defeat snapped a five-game winning streak for Washington, which got a two-run double from Ian Desmond ."A lot more positives than negatives," Desmond said of Washington's recent play. "But right now, I think we're just kind of resting on the negative. Shake that off and we'll be ready to go (Friday in Atlanta)."
Desmond is 11 for 24 with three RBIs in the last six games, and batting .333 while hitting safely in nine straight at Turner Field.
Washington will get its first look at Atlanta rookie Alex Wood (2-2, 2.78 ERA), who is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts since joining the rotation July 25. He allowed two hits and struck out seven in six innings of a 1-0 loss to Miami on Saturday that snapped the club's 14-game winning streak.
"I feel like I'm really starting to hit my stride," the left-hander told the Braves' official website. "I feel really good."
He'll be opposed by fellow rookie Taylor Jordan (1-3, 4.14), who has never faced the Braves.
The right-hander has yielded four runs in each of his last two outings, the latest along with seven hits over five innings while not factoring in the decision of an 8-5 win over Philadelphia.
Jordan will try to contain Atlanta's Chris Johnson , who leads the NL with a .337 batting average. However, he's 5 for 32 with 11 strikeouts in his last eight games versus Washington.
Teammate Jason Heyward is batting .179 in eight against the Nationals this season, but .467 (14 for 30) in his last seven overall.
The Braves lost infielder Tyler Pastornicky for the season after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a collision with Heyward on Wednesday. Pastornicky, who took over as the starting second baseman this week when Dan Uggla went on the DL to have eye surgery, will be replaced by Triple-A callup Phil Gosselin.
|August 13, 2013||Wilson Ramos||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|August 11, 2013||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Right knee|
|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||60-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 13, 2013||Dan Uggla||15-Day DL||Eye surgery|
|August 06, 2013||Jason Heyward||Day-to-Day||Strained neck|
|July 29, 2013||Reed Johnson||15-Day DL||Left knee tendinitis|
|July 26, 2013||Gerald Laird||15-Day DL||Kidney stone|
|July 26, 2013||Gerald Laird||15-Day DL||Kidney stone|
|July 25, 2013||Tim Hudson||15-Day DL||Fractured right ankle|
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Braves insisted they weren't trying to hit Bryce Harper .
They were just going for the knockout punch in the NL East race against the Nationals.
Justin Upton hit a home run with one out in the 10th inning to power Atlanta to a 3-2 win over Washington on Friday night as the Braves continued their domination of the season series.
The Braves, who swept a three-game series at Washington on Aug. 5-7, lead the season series 11-3, including six straight wins.
Jason Heyward had two hits and scored one run for Atlanta, which stretched its lead over the second-place Nationals to 15 1/2 games.
"There's a lot of baseball to be played," Upton said. "Our lead is pretty big right now, but crazier things have happened in baseball. You've got to go out and win as many games as you can."
Upton's 23rd homer to left-center came on a 2-2 pitch from Ian Krol (1-1). It was his third career game-winning homer and second of the season.
"It's a great feeling when you can go out and win the ballgame for your team," Upton said. "There's nothing like that."
Scott Downs (2-0) pitched a scoreless 10th for Atlanta.
Harper was hit by pitches in the fourth and eighth innings by Alex Wood and Luis Avilan , respectively. Home plate umpire Marty Foster warned both benches after Avilan hit Harper on his shoulder in the eighth.
Washington's players rose to the top of the dugout but didn't come onto the field.
It wasn't the first time Harper had been hit by a pitch against the Braves this month.
Both Atlanta pitchers insisted they didn't try to hit Harper.
"I tried not to look at him," Wood said of Harper. "It was embarrassing to hit somebody with a curveball."
Avilan was trying to protect a 2-1 lead when he hit Harper.
"I didn't want to put the runner on," Avilan said.
"I was like, I hope he doesn't think I did it on purpose. We're leading 2-1. ... I felt bad because I almost hit him in the head because it's dangerous, you know."
Harper did not talk with reporters after the game.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he thought Avilan should have been thrown out of the game.
Asked if he thought Braves pitchers were trying to hit Harper, Johnson said, "I hope not, because it's ridiculous. In a close ballgame, they've got a lot more to lose than we do at this point, so it would be a ridiculous thing to do.
"After he got hit the second time they should have thrown (Avilan) out of the ballgame and be done with it. But it's their choice."
On Aug. 6, both benches emptied when Harper was hit by Julio Teheran in the Braves' 2-1 win at Washington.
Downs threw an inside pitch past Harper to the backstop before walking Harper with one out in the 10th. Jayson Werth hit into a double play to end the inning.
Wood gave up one run and five hits and no walks and a career-high nine strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings.
Washington's Taylor Jordan did not allow an earned run, but was hurt by three errors. Jordan allowed two runs, both unearned, and seven hits and three walks in six innings.
Heyward led off the first inning with a single and took off for second base on ball four to Upton.
Washington catcher Wilson Ramos made an unnecessary and wild throw to second base for an error, allowing Heyward to advance to third before scoring on Freddie Freeman 's double play grounder.
Paul Janish , starting at second base after the Braves announced Tyler Pastornicky would need season-ending knee surgery, singled to lead off the third.
After Janish advanced to third on Heyward's single, shortstop Ian Desmond fielded Upton's grounder and threw to second to force Heyward. Second baseman Anthony Rendon attempted to complete the double play, but threw wild to first for an error, allowing Janish to score for a 2-0 lead.
There was no reaction from Harper when he was hit by a pitch from Wood to lead off the fourth.
Harper calmly jogged to first base and then made a comment to Freeman at the bag, prompting both to laugh. Harper advanced to third on Werth's single and scored when Desmond hit into a double play.
Harper wasn't laughing after he was hit by Avilan's pitch in the eighth following a double by Ryan Zimmerman . Luis Ayala replaced Avilan and gave up a single to Werth as the Nationals pulled even at 2-2.
NOTES: Upton also hit a game-winning homer against the Cubs on April 6. ... RHP Drew Storen , recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday, pitched a scoreless ninth. ... Braves 2B Phil Gosselin, recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett, made his major league debut as a defensive replacement in the 10th. ... Braves RHP Jordan Walden , who hadn't pitched since taking a liner off his pitching hand on Saturday, said his hand is fully recovered. ... The series continues Saturday night when Atlanta's Mike Minor will try for his 13th win against Washington's Stephen Strasburg , who is only 6-9 despite a 2.83 ERA.