|Braves try to secure division title in homestand starting with Nationals|
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have built a 7 1/2-game lead in the National League East thanks to 42-21 record within the division and a 45-30 overall road record -- the best in the league.
Now the Braves (82-64) can wrap up the division title by turning SunTrust Park into a real home-field advantage during their final homestand beginning Friday night.
Atlanta, just 37-34 in its home ballpark, welcomes Washington and St. Louis for three games each, then Philadelphia for four games before playing the final week of the regular season on the road against the New York Mets and Phillies.
Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the NL East race might go right to the wire. But the Phillies (74-71) fell on hard times and the Nationals (74-73) didn't get things turned around quite fast enough.
"We've worked hard to get to this point," Braves manager Brian Snitker said Wednesday after his team completed a 6-1 road trip by allowing just three total runs in a three-game sweep at San Francisco. "We've grinded through things to get to this position. We can look to bigger things now."
The Braves' magic number for clinching the division title with 16 games to go is 10 versus the second-place Phillies and eight versus Washington, which fell 8 1/2 games behind with a 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday in a makeup game at home.
The Braves are 5-2 at home and 9-7 overall against the Nationals, who will pitch defending two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the series opener. He is 17-6 with a 2.31 ERA and leads the major leagues with 271 strikeouts.
Fellow right-hander Kevin Gausman will get the start for Atlanta, which lost at least 90 games each of the past three seasons before turning things around this season. He is 9-10 with a 3.89 ERA overall but 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA since being acquired by the Braves at the end of July.
Scherzer is coming into his fifth start of the season against Atlanta off his second complete game of the season. Gausman will face the Nationals for the first time with the Braves after his shortest outing for his new team.
Gausman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and allowed four runs in a loss at Arizona a day before Scherzer struck out 11 in nine innings in a home victory over the Chicago Cubs.
"I had plenty in the tank," Scherzer said after reaching double-figure strikeouts for the 16th time this season.
Scherzer is 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 27 innings against Atlanta this season, improving to 9-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 21 career games versus the Braves.
Gausman is 3-1 with a 4.34 ERA in five career outings against Washington, all while with Baltimore. He allowed four hits and two runs in six innings of a no-decision against the Nationals for the Orioles in June.
Braves third baseman Johan Camargo is nursing a slight groin strain, but fill-in Charlie Culberson has flourished against the Nationals this season, batting .350 (14-for-40) with five homers and eight RBIs. Culberson has four hits, including a homer, in 10 at-bats against Scherzer.