With NL East lead shrinking, Braves host Nationals

MLB

With NL East lead shrinking, Braves host Nationals

The Atlanta Braves return home for an important nine-game homestand that begins Tuesday with a three-game set against the Washington Nationals.

Atlanta went 2-5 on the recently completed trip to face the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies and saw its lead in the National League East shrink from 5 1/2 to 1 1/2 games over the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Braves host three second-division teams — Washington, the Miami Marlins and Colorado — on the homestand.

Atlanta played five one-run games on the trip, losing four, until finally breaking out Sunday in a 9-2 win at Denver.

“We had, what, five or six one- or two-run games in a row?” Atlanta catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “So, to score nine was huge with momentum going back home. We’re all excited to get back home and keep this winning thing going.”

Washington beat the visiting New York Mets 4-3 on Monday by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth inning, the winning run coming on Carter Kieboom’s first career walk-off hit. The Nationals were 2-3 in that series and have lost eight of 10.

“They come back, they play hard, they play for 27 outs,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said of his players. “Finally, we got a bounce that went our way.”

The Braves lead the season series 12-4 against Washington and swept the Nationals to start the nine-game winning streak that propelled them into first place last month.

Atlanta will send left-hander Max Fried (11-7, 3.51 ERA) to the mound to face Washington’s Paolo Espino (4-4, 4.08) in the series opener.

Fried has produced 14 quality starts in 23 starts and has benefitted from the most run support of any of the club’s starters (4.3 runs per game). In his latest outing, Wednesday against the Dodgers, Fried worked six innings and allowed two runs but did not receive a decision.

In five starts against Washington this season, Fried is 3-1 with a 4.76 ERA. He beat the Nationals 12-2 on Aug. 14 when he allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings. In 11 career appearances, 10 starts, against Washington, he is 4-3 with a 4.93 ERA.

Espino’s last start came on Thursday against Philadelphia, and he received a no-decision after pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing two runs. He has struck out 12 batters and allowed only one walk in his past two starts, allowing just three runs in 10 1/3 innings over that stretch.

Espino has made five appearances against Atlanta this year, one of them a start, and is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA. He started against the Braves on Aug. 15 and took a loss after allowing five runs in four-plus innings.

Washington’s Juan Soto always enjoys competing against the Braves, even though Ronald Acuna Jr., his main rival, is out for the year with a knee injury. Over his past nine games overall, Soto is hitting .345 (10-for-29) with a double, three home runs, nine RBIs, 11 walks and six runs.

The Braves announced Monday that veteran Charlie Morton, who signed a one-year deal as a free agent in 2021, has agreed to a one-year extension worth $20 million. Morton, 37, is 13-5 with a 3.47 ERA through 28 starts.

–Field Level Media

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