After suffering a home sweep at the hands of the struggling Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves are left searching for answers heading into the huge weekend at Nationals Park.
Washington, losers of four of their last five, haven't exactly been on fire themselves. However, they have done just enough to take advantage of Atlanta and Miami's recent struggles - leading the Braves and Marlins by a single game in the standings.
Home: Washington Nationals (36-33, 20-15 home)
Away: Atlanta Braves (36-35, 16-17 away)
The Braves have given up five runs or more in seven of their last nine games - going 3-6 in span while falling off their perch at the top of the division.
So, what exactly happened against Philadelphia?
After taking two of three from a streaking Angels team at Turner Field this past weekend, having a moribund Phillies team in for three might have seemed like a walk in the park for the then-division leading Braves.
However, Atlanta was throttled by the visiting Phillies - outscored 21-8 as Philadelphia swept the Braves right out of first place with a combination of timely hitting and quality pitching.
Can a reeling Braves team regroup in time for a pivotal four-game set in D.C.? They'll have to if they want to leave the weekend back atop the NL East.
The Washington Nationals have been struck with the injury bug all season long - which makes their current ascent to the top of the standings even more impressive.
Now, with starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (left shoulder inflammation) activated off the disabled list on Wednesday and reports indicating that Bryce Harper (thumb) could report for a rehab assignment as soon as ten days from now, the Nationals could be *gasp* healthy for a big-time playoff push after the All-Star break.
According to ManGamesLost.com, the Nationals had lost 253 man games due to injury as of May 15th (2nd highest total in MLB). That number has only increased over the past month, which will make it that much sweeter for Washington having two of their key pieces back on the field sooner rather than later.
What to Watch For:
It's the biggest series of the season so far for these two rivals, with just a single game separating the division-leading Nats and the defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves.
The biggest difference in this series could very well be pitching. While both the Nationals (2nd) and Braves (7th) sport staff ERAs which rank them near the top of the Majors in 2014, the month of June hasn't been kind to Atlanta on the bump.
After leading baseball with a 2.60 ERA in June, and finishing fifth in May at 3.35, Atlanta's arms have struggled mightily in June - posting a 4.52 ERA in 15 contests (25th in MLB).
What They're Saying About the Braves:
La Stella to stay atop Braves' batting order (Yahoo! Sports)
Why is Dan Uggla still an Atlanta Brave? (Over the Monster)
What They're Saying About the Nationals:
Nationals activate Gio Gonzalez from disabled list (Yahoo! Sports)
Matt Williams remembers Tony Gwynn (NatsInsider)Back to the Atlanta Braves Newsfeed