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Nats-Braves series preview

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Nats-Braves series preview

Braves @ Nationals
70-51 2nd in NL East 75-46 1st in NL East

The Rundown
Monday, August 20 Wednesday, August 22
Series 40
Season Series Record vs. Braves: 8-4

Pitching Probables
denotes left handed pitcher

Monday, August 20 7:05 pm
Tim Hudson (12-4, 3.59 ERA) @ Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38 ERA)

Tuesday, August 21 7:05 pm
Paul Maholm (2-1, 1.57 ERA) @ Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 2.91 ERA)

Wednesday, August 22 7:05 pm
Kris Medlen (4-1, 2.03 ERA) @ Ross Detwiler(7-5, 3.25 ERA)

Whos Hot & Whos Not

Braves

Hot: SP Kris Medlen 3-0, 1.05 ERA as a starter
Not: 2B Dan Uggla .156 AVG, 12 K in last 10 games

Nationals

Hot: OF Michael Morse 4 HR, 10 RBI in last 10 games
Not: RP Drew Storen 6.00 ERA, 6 BB in month of August

A Series Look

Its finally here. If you want as big of a series as you can get late in the season, this is it right here: Nationals vs. Braves. Evidence could be seen during yesterdays Mets-Nats rain delay, when the Braves game was played on the scoreboard. Every time the Braves would give up a run, the Nationals fan base would cheer.

While the Nationals may be calling it just another series, everyone in the baseball world knows whats on the line between the Braves and the Nationals this week in Washington. The Nationals, owners of baseballs best record, are nursing a 5 game lead over the Braves in the NL East. After this 3-game set, the teams meet only one more time before seasons end.

Tim Hudson, tonights starter who has generally owned the Nats in his career, has absolutely been shelled by Nats hitters this season. The veteran right-hander is 0-2 with a 8.53 ERA against the Nationals in two starts in 2012. His counterpart, Jordan Zimmermann, believe it or not hasnt faced the Braves this year. Zimmermann is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in his career against the Braves. The NL ERA leader, Zimmermann, made his MLB debut against the Braves back in 2009 (a 3-2 win).

Tonights game could set the tone for the rest of the series. This week wont make or break either teams postseason hopes, but one of two things will certainly happen. The Nationals will build upon their NL East lead; or the Braves will cut into it. Regardless, Nats fans have been waiting for years to have meaningful baseball in the late summer months. Its finally here.

Prediction: Nationals win 2-1

News and Notes>Odds & Ends:SP Gio Gonzalez needs just one more win to set a personal single season record in number of wins Closer Tyler Clippard posted his fifth consecutive scoreless appearance with yesterdays save, his 27th of the season The Nationals have sent out postseason packet information to season ticket holders.
Down on the Farm

>AAASyracuse: Expect RP Christian Garcia to not only be a September call-up, but to be a key piece to the Nationals postseason run. In 48 innings in AAHarrisburg and AAASyracuse combined, the former Yankees prospect has allowed just 4 earned runs. Garicas fastball is in the mid-90s range and has 63 strikeouts in both levels.

>AAHarrisburg: 3B Anthony Rendon, who is potentially a candidate for a September call-up (although highly unlikely), is hitting .125 since being called up to the Senators.

>A (Advanced)Potomac: 2011 1st round pick SP Alex Meyer continues to pitch well for the P-Nats. He is the owner of a 2-2 record with a 2.45 ERA.

Quote Corner
The Braves missed a chance to put some pressure on the Nationals, which they would have done had they come into the series closer than five games back. It wouldn't have been easy for them to do that, the way the Nationals have been playing, but by allowing the gap to get to five games, the Braves failed to really put the Nationals under pressure.

This team has responded well to everything so far, and there's no reason to believe they would fall apart under pressure. But we're not really going to find out, not this week, anyway.-Danny Knobler, Baseball Columnist, CBSSports.com

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Nats' bullpen, defense continue to cause problems, lead to losses

Nats' bullpen, defense continue to cause problems, lead to losses

Starter A.J. Cole made it 5 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon, which is pretty good considering that's how much Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg combined to pitch against the Rockies less than two weeks ago. Gio Gonzalez also only made it three innings in that series due to a rain delay.

And in the time since, the Nats' bullpen has been battered around by all sorts of elements including injuries and short outings from starters. The Nationals' next off-day on Thursday, Sept. 1 can't come soon enough to put them out of their current 20 games in 20 days misery.

Cole's outing, by all accounts, could have been a lot worse. But unfortunately for the Nationals, Saturday's game went to extra innings, forcing manager Dusty Baker to do some things he wouldn't normally prefer to do. Like, use the newly acquired Marc Rzepczynski for 2 1/3 innings. Or, to go to Mark Melancon for the third straight game. Or, to leave Yusmeiro Petit on the mound in the 11th even when it was clear he just didn't have it.

For Petit, in particular, Baker felt like he had no other choice, even after the right-hander served up a two-run homer to Charlie Blackmon.

"We felt badly for Yusmeiro because we had to leave him in there, he was our last pitcher we didn't have [Koda] Glover and we were trying to stay away from [Mark] Melancon because that was his third day in a row and we didn't have [Shawn] Kelley. We were down to our last player, we had no more players on the bench and that was our last player, I don't know who was going to pitch if he didn't get out of that inning. He took one for the team so to speak," Baker said.

Petit's inning got off on a sour note with an error by Anthony Rendon at third base. It was one of two errors committed by the Nationals on Saturday. One was by Rzepczynski in the seventh and that one helped lead to a run. Rzepczynski also messed up fielding a bunt in the ninth. Cole also allowed a run on a wild pitch during an intentional walk.

It was a rough day for the Nats, who were plagued by uncharacteristic mistakes. That has been a theme lately and the Nationals hope it ends soon.

“We address it daily, but you cant harp on it. Like I said the other day these things go in streaks," Baker said. "Tony is sure handed over there. We haven’t seen Rzepczynski. He just threw that ball over the head. They bunted on us twice a couple of times and got hits on us. We just have to continue to work.”

The Nats have now made 14 errors in their last nine games. It's been bizarre to watch and it has some at a loss for words.

“Can’t call it. I don’t know. One of those things," left fielder Jayson Werth said.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Before ejection, Bryce Harper continued recent hot streak vs. Rockies

Before ejection, Bryce Harper continued recent hot streak vs. Rockies

Before Bryce Harper earned his eight career ejection following a strikeout in the 10th inning, the Nats right fielder actually had a pretty good game at the plate. He landed an RBI double, walked and scored a run. He has now reached base in all 14 games since he returned from nursing a stiff neck.

The double was a familiar sight for Harper. He dropped it into the left field corner at Nationals Park, just as he did his triple the night before and just as he did his double the night before that. Three straight games with extra-base hits to the opposite field. That's not bad.

That, in fact, is something manager Dusty Baker has been waiting to see for quite some time.

“That’s a good sign, that’s an excellent sign," Baker said. "When he’s hitting that ball to left field and not pulling everything or rolling over means staying on the ball and he’s staying through the zone. That’s a very good sign. He’s been heating up. We know the best is yet to come.”

In the 14 games since he returned, Harper is 21-for-54 (.389) with six doubles, 16 RBI and 11 runs. This is the best Harper has played in months and he's showing no signs of slowing down.

"I feel good. I think the balls are falling where they should," the Nats right fielder said. "It's nice to go into a game and score some runs and have some fun."

In these 14 games, Harper has raised his season average from .233 all the way to .254. It's almost certainly too late for him to repeat as NL MVP, but he's heating up at a good time with September right around the corner and the playoffs, if the Nats keep their current pace, right after that.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Bryce Harper explains 10th inning ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike'

Bryce Harper explains 10th inning ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike'

Bryce Harper is not one to back down when it comes to arguments with umpires, even after he's been ejected from a game and has time to cool down and collect his thoughts.

So, it should probably come as no surprise that on Saturday after he was tossed in the 10th inning of the Nats' loss to the Colorado Rockies, Harper referred to home plate umpire Mark Winters' called strike three as a "mistake." 

Here is Harper, in detail, on the call that led to him throwing his helmet to the ground and confronting Winters, who immediately sent him to the showers:

"You're in a game like that, 4-4 in the 10th, you get to a 2-2 count. He throws a pitch off the plate which they said was a strike, which was a ball. I was reading it all the way in. If you look at the tape, I was looking down at the ball the whole way into the glove and it was just, you know, it was off the plate. I could possibly see one more pitch and maybe hit a homer or a double or walk. I could even strike out. But I just wanted to see that last pitch and I never got there. It just shouldn't happen. Just bad [call] there. It's not a strike," he said.

"You don't want an umpire to make a mistake in that big of a situation. That's just not good. I wanted to see that last pitch. We could have possibly not played the 11th or the 12th or whatever. I mean, getting on base with [Anthony] Rendon behind me would have been huge as well, possibly could have stolen second, a ball hit to the ride side and you never know."

On if Harper regretted his actions, he did concede it was not a good time to be tossed, given the game was tied and the Nats had a chance to beat the Rockies.

"I know we had a short bench. I think going into it you don't ever want to get ejected," he said.

Manager Dusty Baker didn't offer a harsh assessment to Harper's ejection. He basically described it as just part of the game.

"Everybody blows up from time to time," he said. "These things happen. Especially it happens this time of year tempers are short. It’s hot, played a lot of games, been around the same people for a long period of time. This is the time of year when tempers do flare up.”

Outfielder Jayson Werth was brief in his comments on Harper. But did note how this isn't the first time for the reigning MVP. Harper has now been ejected from eight games in his career.

"I’ve been kicked out of one game my whole career. Bryce, on the other hand, has been kicked out of multiple," he said.

[RELATED: Harper ejected after arguing balls and strikes]

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