The Washington Nationals still have something to play for over the final 11 contests of the regular season and look to complete a three-game sweep of the host Atlanta Braves on Thursday. The National League East champions have crept within 3 ½ games of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the NL with three straight victories and could be getting back slugger Bryce Harper soon.
Harper, who has been out since Aug. 12 with a knee injury, played a simulated game Tuesday and took batting practice the following day before the Nationals knocked off the Braves 7-3 as he hopes to return to the lineup in time to prepare for the playoffs. Trea Turner recorded a double and a solo homer on Wednesday to help Washington clinch the season series (10-8) against Atlanta as the club sends Tanner Roark to the mound in the finale against R.A. Dickey. The Braves, who gave up six runs in the eighth inning of the setback, have dropped four in a row and five of six after going on a promising 6-1 run. Freddie Freeman belted his 28th homer in the loss and needs two more blasts to become the first Brave to hit at least 30 in back-to-back seasons since Andruw Jones (2005-06).
TV: 7:35 p.m. ET, MASN2 (Washington), FSN Southeast (Atlanta)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals RH Tanner Roark (13-9, 4.43 ERA) vs. Braves RH R.A. Dickey (9-10, 4.41)
Roark has strung together four consecutive quality starts and has posted four wins in his last five outings, striking out 39 during that stretch. The 30-year-old Illinois product, who is 7-3 since July 1 after going 1-4 in June, owns a 3.84 ERA on the road as opposed to a 4.90 mark at home. Nick Markakis is 6-for-22 and has homered three times against Roark, who is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three appearances (two starts) versus the Braves this season.
Dickey is winless in his last three starts, allowing 17 runs - 16 earned - and 22 hits with eight walks over 14 1/3 innings in that span. The 42-year-old knuckleballer, who has a 119-118 lifetime record, needs one triumph to reach double digits in victories for the sixth straight season and seventh overall. Jayson Werth (13-for-29, two homers) and Ryan Zimmerman (15-for-42, four) have caused trouble for Dickey, who is 4-9 against Washington in his career.
1. Braves CF Ender Inciarte, who is third in the majors with 190 hits, missed Wednesday’s game with a thumb injury and is considered day-to-day.
2. Werth went 0-for-3 with two walks, an RBI and a run scored in Wednesday’s victory and is just 4-for-41 this month.
3. Atlanta OF Matt Kemp (hamstring) pinch-hit on Wednesday after missing three games while C Tyler Flowers (hand) may return to the lineup Thursday.
PREDICTION: Nationals 6, Braves 3