Wire Taps: Nationals talk Braves after sweeping Astros; 4-game set with Atlanta starts tonight

Rob Carr

The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves go at it again this weekend in a four-game set that starts tonight with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound for the Nats against ATL right-hander Gavin Floyd. Four with the Braves?

In the past two seasons, the Atlanta Braves are 18-7 against the Washington Nationals, having won 13 of 19 games last season and five of six so far in 2014.

Since August 21st 2012, as Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Mark Bradley noted this morning, the Braves have won 22 of 29 games against their NL East division rivals from the nation's capital.

The Braves limp into this weekend's series, having dropped six of the last 10, however.

The Nationals are on a bit of a roll, having won six of the last 10 to give themselves a 1.5 game lead over both the Braves and Miami Marlins in the NL East. But standings? In June?

"This is the best team in the division over the last year or so and I think if we want to win the division it definitely goes through them..." -QOTD: Jayson Werth on series with the Braves

"Standings, for me, until you're ten games up going into September, they really don't matter," Jayson Werth said last night. "Anything can happen."

And even if you do have a 10-game lead going into September, anything can happen, just ask the 2011 Braves, who held a 9 ½ game lead in the Wild Card race on August 26th that season and blew it by going 10-19 over the final 29 games that year.

#sickburn

"With that said," Werth continued, "we've been playing good ball and I think coming into this series we've got some momentum and kind of build on it. But these guys -- this is the best team in the division over the last year or so and I think if we want to win the division it definitely goes through them, so all these games are meaningful and we know what's at stake and what they mean, even in the middle of June."

"It's still early," Nats' lefty Gio Gonzalez said. "Our job is to play these games one game at a time, try not to overlook each one of these games and take it for what it is. We've got one of our best on the mound tomorrow and we're excited to get him going and start it from there."

Jordan Zimmermann starts for the Nationals tonight.

In Zimmermann's last three starts, he's allowed just one run in 25 IP (0.36 ERA). The Nationals are in a good position, but they'll have to continue what they've done recently against a Braves team that's "had their number" in the last two years.

"I think we feel good being where we're at," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said last night. "We face a really difficult team over the next four games, and I think it was really important to win this one tonight, and we need to look to tomorrow now and be prepared for that. Beyond that, we can't look. You can't peek around the corner. It's about when you open the door tomorrow what's tomorrow. And we'll deal with that. Let the days following that deal with themselves, but we need to come ready to play tomorrow."

7:05 pm EDT. Nationals vs Braves. Until then, links and lots of them, starting... RIGHT NOW!!!:

• THE BIG STORY!!!:

• "But Williams now said Zimmerman will move between left field, first base and third base; Harper could see starts at all three outfield positions; and Rendon will play both third base and second base." - "Matt Williams changes course on plan once Bryce Harper returns" - Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post

• NATS BEAT:

• "Williams suggested Wednesday that the answer to this dilemma will be to have several regulars move among multiple positions." - "Several Nationals regulars will bounce around when Harper returns" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider

• "Williams said the key for Gonzalez tonight is whether or not the veteran is finishing his pitches and making sure the fastball doesn't rise in the zone too much." - "Williams on Gonzalez's return and Harper's progress" - Byron Kerr, MASNSports.com

• "Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (torn thumb ligament) is slowly but surely approaching his return to the field." - "Harper's upcoming return to bring lineup decisions" - Bill Ladson and Daniel Popper, nationals.com: News

• "Though several Nationals prefer Washington’s summer humidity and 90-degree temperatures to colder climates, all are being encouraged to make adjustments." - "Nats cope with the heat of a D.C. summer" - Isabelle Khurshudyan, The Washington Post


• "On a sweltering night on South Capitol Street, the Nationals made everyone sweat a little more with their play on the field." - "Nationals rally late to beat Astros and move 1 1/2 games up in NL East" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider

• "Jordan Zimmermann has put together one of the most dominant stretches of his career." - "Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann tries to keep rolling after dominant start to June" - Jason Butt, The Washington Post

• "Coming into this two-game series with the Astros, the Nationals were 9-1 against Houston since the start of the 2012 season." - "Nationals Pastime: Williams meets with the media after Nats' 6-5 win over Astros" - Dan Kolko, MASNSports.com

• "Almost a month to the day since he last started a major league game, Gio Gonzalez was back on a big league team Wednesday night." - "Gio Gonzalez shakes off rust in return from the DL" - James Wagner, Washington Post

• "Gonzalez said his shoulder problems are behind him and he hopes to be a contributor the rest of the year." - "Gio returns from DL with five-inning outing" - Bill Ladson and Daniel Popper, nationals.com: News

• "In the second inning Wednesday night, sprinting from first base and trying to steal second, Jayson Werth knew he would be out." - "Nationals rally with three in the seventh to overcome Astros, 6-5" - Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post

• "From the day he took over as Nationals manager, Matt Williams preached aggression on the bases." - "Aggressive baserunning pays off in Nationals’ win over Astros" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider

•"Werth said he knew he was going to be out as he went into his slide, so he switched into self-preservation mode. Somehow, it worked." - "Nationals Pastime: In come the Braves" - Dan Kolko, MASNSports.com

• "Werth led off the inning with a walk and, with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Werth attempted to steal second base." - "Werth manages to elude tag for stolen base" - Bill Ladson and Daniel Popper, nationals.com: News

• "Barrett has pitched more innings with runners in scoring position (11 2/3) than any other reliever on the active roster." - "Barrett is the Nats’ choice with runners in scoring position" - Isabelle Khurshudyan, The Washington Post

• "If you’ve followed the Nationals even casually over the last season-plus, you know there is no greater hurdle standing between this team and October baseball than the Braves." - "Nationals face Braves in key NL East showdown" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider

• "The Nationals' advance scouting saw that Astros starter Scott Feldman was slow to the plate. They felt they could run on Astros catcher Jason Castro." - "Gonzalez and Span speak after sweep of Astros" - Byron Kerr, MASNSports.com

• "It's a good thing, then, that the Braves are 15-12 against NL East opponents, including a 5-1 mark against the Nationals." - "Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals - June 19, 2014" - Tim Healey, MLB.com Preview

• "Gonzalez had missed more than a month of action because of shoulder inflammation. Gonzalez got off to a good start and had a 2-0 lead after three innings." - "Houston Astros at Washington Nationals - June 18, 2014" - Bill Ladson, MLB.com WSH Recap

• Your Daily Message from the Dalai Lama on Twitter (@DalaiLama):

• NATIONAL(S) BEAT:

• "The relief corps couldn't protect a two-run lead for starter Scott Feldman and allowed the Nationals to push across three runs in the seventh inning." - "Houston Astros at Washington Nationals - June 18, 2014" - Brian McTaggart, MLB.com HOU Recap

• "'Anthony Rendon is a good player and he continues to swing a hot bat against us,' Bo Porter said." - "Rendon shows no mercy upon hometown team" - Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Ultimate Astros

• "Throwback Thursday is back after taking a week off for Dabo's camp, and we catch up with former Tiger and current Washington Nationals bullpen coach Matthew LeCroy." - "Throwback Thursday: Matthew LeCroy" - David Hood, Clemson Baseball News - TigerNet

• "The current average price for tickets on the Nationals schedule are the lowest in the entire league with an average at $54.97. Like the Royals, the Nationals have historically been a bad franchise before recently." - "Now In First Place, Royals Tickets Still Among League's Least Expensive" - Jesse Lawrence, Forbes

• "Norris catcher Jakson Reetz has agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus with the Washington Nationals, according to Big Ten baseball reporter Chris Webb." - "Nationals sign NU recruit, Norris catcher Reetz to $800,000 deal" - Mike Patterson, Omaha.com: Big Red Today - Huskers

• "Despite a gritty start by Scott Feldman, the Astros lost their second-straight 6-5 game against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday." - "Nationals 6, Astros 5: Houston gets swept as 'pen blows late lead" - Edward S. Garza, The Crawfish Boxes

• "Jayson Werth really should have been out." - "Jayson Werth’s Ninja Slide Pays Off In Steal Of Second Base (Video)" - Zack Cox, NESN.com

• "The young Astros hope to eventually mirror the Nationals’ ascension from the worst record in baseball to playoff contention, but their recent visit to Nationals Park was a reminder of how far they have to go." - "Bullpen falters as Nationals sweep two-game series" - Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Ultimate Astros

• NATS MINORS:

Class-A Auburn: "Doubledays RHP Jefry Rodriguez didn't have his best stuff tonight. But with this 6'5" righthander, you don't need your best stuff to dominate." - "Strong pitching gets Doubledays off schneid" - Evan Weston, Auburn Doubledays News

• "Thursday’s News & Notes" - Luke Erickson, NationalsProspects.com

High-A Potomac: "The Potomac Nationals baseball team will honor servicemembers in the Washington, D.C., metro area with free admission to the game during Military Appreciation Night, Sunday at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Va." - "Potomac Nationals host Military Appreciation Night" - Rick Musselman, Belvoir Eagle: Sports

Double-A Harrisburg: "Bryan Harper's handlebar mustache is a personal signature that conjures memories of Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers." - "Bryan Harper, brother of Bryce Harper, takes another step up with Harrisburg Senators" - Tim Leone, PennLive.com

Triple-A Syracuse: "In this instance the Tatusko and the Nationals were open to discussion and they reached a financial agreement with the Korean team to let it have Tatusko's rights." - "Washington Nationals deal Syracuse Chiefs pitcher Ryan Tatusko to Korean team" - Lindsay Kramer, syracuse.com

Triple-A Syracuse: "The Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, used seven shutout innings from Aaron Laffey in a 3-0 blanking of the Norfolk Tides on Wednesday night from Harbor Park." - "Laffey leads Chiefs in shutout of Tides" - Syracuse Chiefs News

• NATSTOWN:

• "The song is ‘The Bear Song’ by Green Jelly and was featured in ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ which happens to be Barrett’s favorite movie." - "Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett’s new entrance music is a song from ‘Dumb and Dumber’" - Scott Allen, The Washington Post

• "After spending time on the DL, Gonzalez then headed for Potomac for rehab starts on June 6 and June 12. In those two starts, it became clear that stamina and fatigue were more of a concern than the state of his injured shoulder." - "Washington Nationals: It's a Matter of Stamia For Gio Gonzalez" - Brian Skinnell, District Sports Page

• "The Washington Nationals (37-33) have had their share of trouble against the Atlanta Braves (36-35) in the last two seasons, and they’ve won just one of six meetings against their chief rivals this year." - "Nationals Hope To Change Luck Against Struggling Braves" - Joe Drugan, The Nats Blog

• "What the next month will be about could start here" - Harper, Nationals Baseball

• "The Nationals tweeted a photo of the Denard Span bobblehead that will be given out to the first 25,000 fans at the July 20 game against the Brewers. It is awesome." - "Denard Span’s Nationals bobblehead will make you leap for joy" - Scott Allen, The Washington Post

• "After sweeping the Astros, the Nationals now welcome division rival Atlanta Braves to Nationals Park." - "Washington Nationals: Series Preview vs Atlanta Braves" - Brian Skinnell, District Sports Page

• "Strasburg-Cole matchup and a history of #1 vs #1 picks" - Todd Boss, Nationals Arm Race

• "Wednesday was Army Night at Nationals Park, and during the fourth inning presidents race, the racing presidents stopped in the outfield to hold an impromptu tug-of-war competition." - "Video: Teddy takes over first place after tug-of-war victory in the outfield" - Presidents Race Fan, Let Teddy Win!

• "The Nats clearly saw something from Astros starter Scott Feldman early, because they were extremely aggressive on the base paths." - "Nationals Extend Division Lead With Series Sweep" - Joe Drugan, The Nats Blog

• "Video of Jayson Werth's incredible 'Old Whoop-Dee-Do' stop-slide stolen base" - Nats Enquirer

• NL EAST UPDATES:

Mets: "There are still six weeks until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. And the Mets' season can take any number of directions in that period." - "Why Mets may stand pat at trade deadline" - Adam Rubin, Mets Blog - ESPN New York

Phillies: "Bad news for that 'definitely trade Chase Utley' section of the Phillies fan base, as small and rat-like as they are. An "exec" told ESPN's Jayson Stark that the team has no interest in trading its handsomest second baseman." - "Phillies not ready to talk about a Chase Utley trade" - JKlugh, The Good Phight

Marlins: "The Marlins have called up their top prospect, Andrew Heaney. He will debut tonight against the Mets and Zack Wheeler." - "Prospect Watch: Heaney, Pino and Parker Debut" - JD Sussman, FanGraphs Baseball

Braves: "Since Aug. 21, 2012, the Braves are 22-7 against the Nationals. If a team played at that rate against every opponent over 162 games, it would win 123 games, which would be a record." - "You tell me: How will the Braves fare in D.C.?" - Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

• MLB:

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