Braves-Nationals Preview

The slumping Atlanta Braves are headed in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

While manager Fredi Gonzalez's club hit Stephen Strasburg especially hard early last month, the right-hander hasn't lost since.

Atlanta tries to avoid a three-game road sweep against Strasburg and the NL East-leading Washington Nationals on Wednesday.

The Braves (74-71) have dropped three straight and seven of 10 following Tuesday's 6-4 defeat. Justin Upton hit a two-run homer but Atlanta couldn't overcome an early 5-0 deficit.

Upton has hit .171 over a 12-game stretch while going 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is 3 for 30 in eight games this month.

The Braves have fallen nine games behind Washington for the division lead and remain 1 1/2 in back of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot.

"You can't fully give up. We still have a chance," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Once we're fully eliminated from the division race, then we'll worry about the wild card."

While most struggling teams probably wouldn't be looking forward to facing Strasburg (11-10, 3.43 ERA), he's 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA over three starts in the series this year. Atlanta tagged him for a career worst-tying seven runs in a 7-6 home win Aug. 8 as Freeman, Tommy La Stella and the Upton brothers all took him deep, marking the first time he's allowed more than two homers.

However, Strasburg has been much sharper since. He's yielded one run in four of his last five starts, going 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA. He threw six innings of one-run ball and left in line for the win against Philadelphia on Friday but was left without a decision after Rafael Soriano blew the save.

The Nationals (82-61) are seeking a fourth consecutive victory after going 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position Tuesday. Adam LaRoche stayed hot with two more hits and two RBIs and Jordan Zimmermann threw six strong innings.

"It feels like we're just that much closer," said LaRoche," 9 for 19 with four homers and 12 RBIs over the last six games. ''Not to take anything for granted until this thing is sewn up, but these are big. This time of year, playing the team chasing you, to be able to win a couple."

Atlanta's Aaron Harang (10-10, 3.87) is looking to snap a season-worst three-start losing streak, during which he's posted a 7.98 ERA. The right-hander was tagged for six runs and 10 hits over 3 2-3 innings in Friday's 11-3 loss at Miami.

"You take your tough-luck losses and forget about it and move on to the next one," he told MLB's official website following his shortest outing of the year.

While opponents are hitting .350 against Harang in his last five outings, the Nationals haven't been able to get to him. He threw six innings of one-run ball to beat them 10-2 on April 13, then yielded one run over seven innings Aug. 9.

Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon are hitless in a combined 27 at-bats against Harang since 2012. However, Bryce Harper is 6 for 11 with two extra-base hits in their matchups.

Desmond's status remains unclear after exiting Tuesday due to tightness in his lower back. He's hit safely in six straight at home, going 8 for 24 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs.

Braves catcher Evan Gattis is expected to sit out again with a case of strep throat.

Atlanta had won 12 of 15 in Washington before scoring six runs during a four-game skid there. The Braves haven't been swept in the nation's capital since 2008.

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