Nats pounce on Braves to trim magic number

Nats pounce on Braves to trim magic number

ATLANTA -- The Nationals continue to inch closer to the National League East title.

With an early flurry, some sparkling defense and an astonishing four-hit, four-run effort from Trea Turner, the Nats defeated the Braves, 7-2, at Turner Field on Friday night. With the victory, Washington's magic number to clinch the National League East crown dwindled to six games after the second-place Mets blanked the Twins, 3-0, at Citi Field.

The Nationals scored five runs over the first two innings against Braves rookie starter John Gant. Anthony Rendon drove in the first two runs with a single in the first. In the following inning, Turner belted a two-run homer, his fifth career dinger against Atlanta, before Daniel Murphy added an RBI double for his first of two RBIs.

Murphy's RBI double

Gant lasted 1 2/3 innings, becoming the seventh Braves starter to last fewer than five innings within the past 10 games, but Ryan Weber nearly shut down Washington for 4 2/3 innings of relief, allowing one run and fanning five -- with all five strikeouts coming during a five-batter stretch from the third into the fifth innings.

"We had opportunities to score runs, and we just didn't do it tonight," Braves left fielder Matt Kemp said.

Kemp's diving catch

Max Scherzer won his 17th game of the season by pitching seven solid innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out eight. It marked the third time in his career he's won that many games in a season, including 21 in 2013 and 18 in '14.

"He was great. He ran out of gas a little bit. He gave us all he had in the seventh," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He gave us all we needed. That was big. He won his 17th. That's huge." 

Winning his 17th game wasn't the first thing on Scherzer's mind. He looked at the total team victory. 

"Trea has his fingers all over it again," Scherzer said. "Big hits out of everybody. Rendon in the first. The defense tonight. Murphy made two great diving plays to get guys out at first. Those balls could have snuck up there. … When you have your defense going for you like that, it makes it easy to pitch like that."

Rendon's two-run single

The table-setter: Turner's homer had an exit velocity of 104 mph and traveled a projected 408 feet from home plate, according to Statcast™. He also stole second and third base in the seventh inning to set up Murphy's sacrifice fly. The rookie has produced at least three hits in five of the 11 games played against the Braves this season.  

"I couldn't tell you [why I have success against the Braves]," Turner said. "I don't know, luck on my part. I had some bad games before when I faced them, and I figured out the adjustment I needed to make."  More >

Turner's four-hit performance

Early threats subdued: The Braves recorded three extra-base hits through the first four innings, but the only one that led to a run was Kemp's leadoff double in the second inning. The two-bagger was the 1,500th career hit for Kemp, who also singled ahead of Tyler Flowers' sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.

Kemp's 1,500th career hit

"[Scherzer] is one of those guys who knows what he is doing," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You see when he gets in trouble, that velocity spikes and it's tough. You kind of want to stay even against a guy like that and give yourself a chance. But when he gets a lead like that, he's really good." 

Murphy shines at plate, in field: In addition to his pair of hits, Murphy made two outstanding defensive plays, each saving a run. In the fourth inning, the second baseman made a nice diving play to throw out Blake Lalli after Dansby Swanson doubled, ending the inning.

Murphy's impressive play

Two innings later, Murphy made a lunging, backhanded snag of Swanson's grounder and threw him out at first to end the inning with a runner on second. More >

Murphy's backhanded snag

Stopping the bleeding: After Gant retired just four of the 13 batters he faced, Weber proceeded to retire 13 of 16 and keep the Braves within striking distance. The right-handed reliever struck out five consecutive batters, including each of Washington's first four batters, and was not charged with a run until Turner singled and stole his two bases before scoring on Murphy's sacrifice fly off Ian Krol in the seventh. Flowers has thrown out just one of 57 opponents who have attempted to steal against him this year.

Weber strikes out the side

"Weber did a great job of covering the innings in that game," Snitker said. "He got kind of locked in there, banging with strikes and hitting everything. That was good. We had a day off [on Thursday], but that's the kind of game you can blow your bullpen up for the next three or four days down the road. So, that was huge what he did."

• This is the 18th time this season Scherzer has thrown seven or more innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer, leading the Major Leagues by a wide margin. Entering Friday, Chris Sale was second in MLB with 15 such starts.

• The Braves have influenced the structure of the NL East standings. They have gone 2-15 against the Nationals and 7-9 against the Mets.

Zimmerman's foul ball hits him in the head

Nationals: Gio Gonzalez looks to win his 12th game of the season as the Nats continue their three-game series vs. the Braves on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. In 11 of Gonzalez's last 13 starts, the left-hander has allowed three earned runs or fewer, posting a 7-2 record in that span.

Braves: Josh Collmenter will make his Braves debut Saturday. Collmenter was acquired in exchange for cash from the Cubs earlier this week. The Braves are trying to find a temporary fix in their rotation while Mike Foltynewicz recovers from a bruised left calf.

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Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.