The Atlanta Braves are steamrolling toward the National League East title, and they can take a big step toward winning it outright this weekend when they head to Washington to play the Nationals.
Heading into Thursday night's games, the Braves (91-56) held a 9½-game lead over the Nationals (80-64), and Atlanta's magic number to win the division was down to eight. Depending on the results of Thursday's games, the Braves could clinch at least a share of the division Sunday if they were to sweep the series in Washington.
Atlanta came into Thursday with a 21-6 mark since Aug. 11, winning eight of its last 10 games, largely because of the long ball.
Over the last week, the Braves had hit 13 home runs. Josh Donaldson had hit three to raise his total for the season to 37, while Ronald Acuña Jr. (38), Ozzie Albies (21) and Matt Joyce (7) had each hit two. The four had also combined to drive in 14 runs.
The Braves were even poised to bring back one of their veteran leaders, with right fielder Nick Markakis' return from a broken wrist believed to be imminent. The Woodstock native has been out since July 26, when he was hit by a pitch from Philadelphia Phillies reliever Cole Irvin.
The Nationals were in possession of the No. 1 wild card spot in the NL, holding a three-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Washington had gone 4-6 over its last 10 going into Thursday, though it had won two of three against the Twins in Minnesota.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon has continued to lead the team, taking a .333 average with 32 homers and 114 RBIs into Thursday. Not far behind was 20-year-old left fielder Juan Soto, who was hitting .295 with 33 homers and 102 RBIs.
After the completion of the series against the Nationals, the Braves will return to SunTrust Park for their final homestand of the regular season, hosting the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants for three games apiece.
The series will begin Friday with a matchup of aces as the Braves' Mike Soroka (11-4, 2.67 ERA) faces off with the Nationals' Max Scherzer (10-5, 2.56).
Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, outdueled 22-year-old All-Star Soroka when the teams faced one another last week. Scherzer threw six innings, allowing two hits, one run and striking out nine. Soroka pitched six innings, giving up seven hits, four runs and striking out seven.
Washington scored four runs in the first three innings, but Soroka gave up only one hit in his final three innings.
On Saturday, Mike Foltynewicz (6-5, 5.00) will look for his sixth straight win after pitching seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball in a 7-2 win over Philadelphia on Monday. He is expected to face Joe Ross (3-4, 6.17), who is coming off a rough outing against the New York Mets in which he pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs on eight hits.
Max Fried (16-4, 4.02) will close the series Sunday against former Braves teammate Anibal Sanchez (8-8, 4.04).
ON THE AIR
Fox Sports South will air all three games of the series. Friday's game will being at 7 p.m, with Saturday's at 4 p.m. and Sunday's at 1:30 p.m. The games can also be heard on 680 AM The Fan and Rock 100.5 FM.