GAME IN A NUTSHELL: They came to Atlanta feeling good about themselves, while the Braves returned home reeling from an 0-8 West Coast trip. And then within minutes, the script had flipped back to a familiar (and frustrating) one for the Nationals. The Braves rocked Stephen Strasburg for six runs in the first two innings, seven runs overall in five innings, leaving the Nats in a 7-0 hole and wondering if their longstanding troubles against their chief NL East rivals were back.
But just when it appeared all hope was lost, the Nationals scored four quick runs in the top of the sixth, getting a 3-run homer from Anthony Rendon. A 1-hour, 11-minute rain delay might have killed the positive momentum, but Wilson Ramos seized it right back with a towering homer in the top of the seventh, which preceded another run, trimming the deficit to 7-6.
But that's as close as it would get. The Nationals couldn't scratch across the one final run necessary to match the largest comeback in team history (June 17, 2006 against the Yankees at RFK Stadium). So they wound up losing for the eighth time in 11 games against the Braves this season and saw their lead in the NL East trimmed to 3 1/2 games.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Stymied for five innings by Ervin Santana, the Nationals suddenly and dramatic sprung to life in the top of the sixth. It began with Scott Hairston getting hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Denard Span and Asdrubal Cabrera to single. Then Rendon hammered a pitch deep to left-center, a 3-run homer that turned what had been an utter fiasco of a ballgame into something far more compelling.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: It feels like "lowlight" doesn't even begin to accurately describe what happened tonight. This was a miserable performance by Strasburg, all things considered. It was a microcosm of the right-hander's season. He was roughed up early, getting torched on his fastball, surrendering three home runs in two innings. Then he settled down and actually dominated for a stretch, retiring seven in a row (five via strikeout). Then he served up yet another homer, his fourth of the night. Put it all together and you've got five innings, seven earned runs, nine strikeouts and yet another nightmare in Atlanta. Strasburg has now made seven career starts here and failed to reach the sixth inning in five of them.
STREAK WATCH: With a sharp single to right leading off the top of the fourth, Denard Span extended his streak of games reaching base to 34. He also has a 12-game hitting streak now.
KEY STAT: Steven Souza Jr. became the sixth Nationals player to get hurt while playing at Turner Field in the last two seasons, joining Jayson Werth (hamstring), Bryce Harper (ribcage), Stephen Strasburg (oblique), Denard Span (concussion) and Ryan Zimmerman (thumb).
UP NEXT: The forecast remains spotty for Saturday's 7:10 p.m. game, with more storms expected. It'll be Tanner Roark and Aaron Harang on the mound, assuming they play.