BRAVES 3, NATIONALS 2
By HOWARD FENDRICH
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Justin Upton led off the eighth inning with a tiebreaking homer, and the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves extended their winning streak to a season-high 11 games by beating the fading Washington Nationals 3-2 Monday night.
Freddie Freeman drove in Atlanta’s first two runs with a pair of singles in the third and fifth. Reliever David Carpenter (3-0) earned the win by retiring all five batters he faced.
Upton’s 20th homer came on a 3-2 pitch from Tyler Clippard (6-2), who replaced Stephen Strasburg to begin the eighth.
The Nationals again failed to provide much run support for Strasburg, who struck out nine in seven innings, allowing two runs and five hits. The last five times he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer, Washington lost.
The Braves pushed their division lead to 13½ games over the second-place Nationals, who led the majors with 98 wins in 2012 but now are four games under .500. As it is, Atlanta’s 12½-game cushion entering the day was the largest margin through Aug. 4 in any division since 2005, when the Chicago White Sox led the AL Central by 14 games, according to STATS.
Washington’s biggest issue has been offense, and Monday was no different.
In every inning from the second through seventh, the Nationals put the leadoff batter on base against starter Mike Minor, but he was able to wiggle out of trouble for the most part. Washington scored on Adam LaRoche’s RBI double in the first, and again on rookie Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly in the sixth – but that was it.
In the first, Wilson Ramos tried to score from first on LaRoche’s hit. Right fielder Jason Heyward and the cutoff man, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, combined to throw out Ramos at home to end the inning.
Minor went six-plus innings, giving up eight hits and three walks, yet allowing only two runs. With Braves closer Craig Kimbrel getting a night off after pitching in the previous three games, Jordan Walden earned his first save of the season, but not without some difficulty.
Walden gave up a leadoff single to Rendon, who went to second on a sac bunt, then took third on Walden’s wild pitch. But Scott Hairston popped out to the catcher in foul territory, and pinch-hitter Chad Tracy flied out to left.
NOTES: Upton went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base. ... In Game 2 of the series today, LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.57) pitches for Washington, while RHP Julio Teheran (8-5, 3.02) starts for Atlanta. ... Gonzalez was cleared Monday by Major League Baseball after its investigation of players linked in media reports to a clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs. Gonzalez, third in NL Cy Young Award voting last year, said Monday he has “no lingering sense of animosity” over being connected to the case. ... Atlanta 2B Dan Uggla made a nice diving grab of Ian Desmond’s liner in the third. ... Braves LHP Paul Maholm threw a bullpen session Monday; he’s been on the 15-day DL since July 21. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Maholm was more than a week away from returning. ... Atlanta OF Jordan Schafer continued his minor league rehabilitation assignment on Monday at Triple-A Gwinnett. He has been on the DL since July 4 with a stress fracture in his right ankle. ... C Gerald Laird is still recovering from a procedure to remove a kidney stone. According to Gonzalez, Laird could begin a rehab assignment Wednesday be activated as soon as Saturday.