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One big series down, a bigger one to come

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One big series down, a bigger one to come

Yes, this week's series in Philadelphia was important for the Nationals, who took two of three from the Phillies and made another statement about the shifting balance of power in the NL East.

But all along, there's been an even bigger series on the horizon, one that opens tonight in Atlanta when the Nationals face a Braves club that has spent the last two weeks swapping spots with them atop the division.

Even Davey Johnson recognized this when he insisted Ryan Zimmerman sit out Tuesday's game at Citizens Bank Park with a sore shoulder.

"We can lose this battle, but I need you for three games in Atlanta," the manager told his star third baseman. "They're the ones on top, and we need to put our best foot forward down there."

So buckle up for should be an intriguing weekend of baseball in the deep South, the first meeting this season between Nationals and Braves clubs that should each be in the thick of the division race all summer.

Washington enters the series feeling good about itself after taking care of business in Philly. Atlanta, on the other hand, is reeling from a four-game sweep in Cincinnati.

There were some extenuating circumstances. Catcher Brian McCann missed three games with flu-like symptoms. Third baseman Chipper Jones, meanwhile, hasn't started a game in a week due to a badly bruised calf. How important is Jones (in his final season) to the Braves' fortunes? They're now 19-5 when he starts, 7-15 when he sits.

Put that all together, and the Nationals enter the weekend holding a slim, one-game lead in the division. They will, however, have to face Atlanta's best during this series.

Ace Tim Hudson starts tonight's series opener against Ross Detwiler; Hudson is merely 13-3 with a 2.09 ERA in his career against the Nationals.

The matchup does tilt back in Washington's favor tomorrow when Stephen Strasburg goes for his fifth win against left-hander Mike Minor and his 6.96 ERA.

And that sets up a fantastic showdown for Sunday night's nationally televised finale: Gio Gonzalez (6-1, 1.98) vs. Brandon Beachy (5-1, 1.77).

Is this a make-or-break weekend for the Nationals? No. The NL East won't be decided over the next three games.

But this will serve as yet another key test for the upstarts of the division, who must again prove it's ready to overtake yet another traditional powerhouse.

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Nationals lose to Diamondbacks in dramatic fashion

Nationals lose to Diamondbacks in dramatic fashion

PHOENIX -- Three straight homers off Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the first inning had the Arizona Diamondbacks set up for an easy Major League Baseball victory over the NL East leaders.

Instead, they needed Brandon Drury's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 victory Friday night.

The home runs by David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb to start their first at-bat helped stake the Diamondbacks to a 5-0 lead against Scherzer.

"We did a great job getting his pitch count up and also putting runs on him," the Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock said. "Great getting on him early. We would've loved to have (scrapped) a couple of runs in the middle of the game, but the key point is we won the game and we came through in the end."

The first-inning feat was the first in the majors since Baltimore did it against Texas on May 10, 2012. It was the first time in Nationals history (2005 to present) that an opposing team has hit back-to-back-to-back home runs.

The Diamondbacks last hit three straight homers on Aug. 11, 2010, when they had four in a row at Milwaukee.

It was the most runs allowed by Scherzer in a first inning since July 2, 2011, against San Francisco, when he gave up five.

"I had four pitches today. I was using them. They beat me," Scherzer said. "I just couldn't get the ball exactly where I wanted it. When you do that against this type of ballclub and these types of hitters, they are really good and they make you pay."

Scherzer's five runs allowed tied for the most he's given up in a start this season, and the five innings tied for his shortest outing of the season.

Arizona sent nine batters to the plate in the four-run first and the Diamondbacks made it 5-0 in the second on Lamb's RBI double.

Scherzer had allowed just one home run in 34 2/3 innings over five starts before he surrendered the three home runs on his first 10 pitches. The All-Star right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner was tagged for three homers in a game for the first time since May 6, 2016, against the Chicago Cubs, when he allowed four.

"I don't think I have ever seen a game starting off with three homers. Max hadn't seen it, either," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.

Peralta, Pollock and Lamb also each had a double, another historical first for the Diamondbacks.

The Nationals rallied with Daniel Murphy's run-scoring double in the fourth, then added two more runs in the fifth off Diamondbacks starter Zack Godley. A leadoff double for Matt Wieters led to Brian Goodwin's RBI groundout, and Ryan Raburn singled in Wilmer Difo with two outs.

Godley struck out a career high 10 in 5 2/3 innings, and allowed four runs and five hits.

Difo drove in two runs, one to cut the lead to 5-4 in the sixth and the other that tied the game on a groundout to first in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks loaded the bases in the ninth on Pollock's triple and intentional walks to Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt by Enny Romero (2-4). After Gregor Blanco flied out to shallow left, Drury bounced a single into right field for Arizona's third win in four games.

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Nationals six-game winning streak comes to an end in Los Angeles

Nationals six-game winning streak comes to an end in Los Angeles

The book on Alex Meyer was pretty clear: big stuff, bigger control problems.

Not so much Wednesday night for the 6-foot-9 right-hander.

Meyer executed nearly to perfection while allowing a hit and a walk over seven innings and leading the Los Angeles Angels to a 7-0 victory that ended the Washington Nationals' six-game winning streak.

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"We really didn't have much of a chance," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "Our reports were he didn't have very good command, but he did tonight."

Meyer (4-5) had a perfect game until he walked Anthony Rendon with two outs in the fifth. He lost his no-hitter with two outs in the sixth when Brian Goodwin doubled down the right-field line.

Meyer, Rendon and Goodwin were all first-round draft picks by the Nationals in 2011.

"I went to breakfast with (Goodwin) this morning and paid for it," Meyer said. "I'll have to talk to him about that."

Meyer had been plagued by walks this season (41 in 60 1/3 innings) but had just the one free pass in a career-high seven innings. He struck out seven.

David Hernandez and Jose Alvarez each threw a scoreless, hitless inning to complete the one-hitter. It was only the second time this season the Nationals have been shut out.

"To make outs the way he did says a lot about his upside and potential," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Mike Trout and C.J. Cron each hit two-run homers to support Meyer. For Trout, it was his 18th of the season.

Gio Gonzalez (8-5) started for the Nationals but gave up a pair of first-inning runs on Albert Pujols' single and Andrelton Simmons' sacrifice fly, and it was all the runs Los Angeles would need.

Washington outfielder Bryce Harper did not play in the nationally televised game. It was a scheduled day off.