ATLANTA -- Nick Markakis drove in two runs and helped the Braves defeat the Nationals, 7-3, at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon. Washington's magic number to clinch the National League East crown remains at six games. The second-place Mets host the Twins on Saturday night.
Washington got off to a good start when Trea Turner led off the game with a homer, but it went downhill after that. By the fifth inning, Atlanta had a 6-2 lead against left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Markakis highlighted the scoring with an RBI single with the bases loaded.
"He didn't have his best stuff today," Braves catcher Anthony Recker -- who added two RBI singles -- said about Gonzalez. "I think he would tell you that. He made a lot of mistakes over the plate, and we were just able to capitalize."
Braves right-hander Josh Collmenter stepped up in a spot start and was the winning pitcher. He went five innings, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out eight batters. The Nationals had him on the ropes in the second inning, as they loaded the bases with one out, but Gonzalez and Turner struck out to end the threat. Turner did add another solo shot in the fifth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED A triumphant return: Making his first Major League start since June 7, 2015, while pitching for the D-backs, Collmenter excelled in his Braves debut. After giving up Turner's leadoff homer, the right-hander didn't allow another run to score until Turner's second blast in the fifth inning. The Nationals threatened to tack on more runs in innings 2-4, but Collmenter stranded all five runners that reached base in that span, including two at third base. The 30-year-old finished with eight strikeouts, matching his career high for the third time.
"Any time you're out there, you obviously want to do well," said Collmenter, who was acquired from the Cubs on Wednesday in exchange for cash considerations. "But playing with a new team and getting out there for the first time in a while and being able to pitch out of some big situations [was nice]. The guys hit today, so any time you get a lead, you want to protect that. Aside from the two balls that left the yard, I felt pretty good on most of my stuff." More >
Trea continues to shine: Turner drove in two of the three runs, both coming on solo homers. It marked the second multi-homer game of his career and second this season. Turner's four home runs at Turner Field this season ties the franchise record (Nationals/Expos) in one season at the ballpark.
"There's a little bit of luck and some hard work," Turner said. "I just learned a lot in the last two, three months. I feel like I've become a more consistent player. I put the ball in play, but you still have to get lucky and find some holes, and I've done that."
Table setter: The Braves tallied six total runs in innings 1, 3 and 5, all of which Ender Inciarte led off. The outfielder tied the game at 1 in the first after doubling in his first at-bat and scoring on an RBI single by Markakis. Two innings later, Inciarte hit a leadoff single and tallied the first run in Atlanta's two-run third, when he scored on Freddie Freeman's RBI single. The 25-year-old crossed the plate in the fifth when he singled up the middle and scored on another RBI single by Markakis. After going 3-for-4 and scoring three times on Saturday, Inciarte is batting .347 (60-for-173) with 34 runs scored in 39 starts since moving into the leadoff spot on Aug. 5.
"You're coming to expect it, quite honestly," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Every time he comes up, you expect him to get a hit, and then he's doing something good on the bases. He's just always doing something and is your prototypical leadoff guy. He's on the base all of the time, and for the big guys who can knock runs in."
An outing to forget for Gio: Gonzalez had only one clean inning, and that came when he faced the bottom of the order in the fourth. He didn't walk a batter, but he allowed six runs on nine hits. Gonzalez saw his ERA jump from 4.27 to 4.48.
"I just left some of those pitches up," Gonzalez said. "They just got enough of that ball to find the hole when they needed it. ... You have to take it for what it is. I got beat by a lot of singles."
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Inciarte went 3-for-4 on Saturday, giving him 87 hits, which is the most in baseball since the All-Star break.
Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy reached a milestone in his career year, tying the club record for base hits in a single season with 184. His third-inning double put him side by side with former Nats outfielder Denard Span. More >
It looked as if Braves pinch-runner Mallex Smith stole third base in the eighth inning, but Anthony Rendon kept the tag on as Smith overslid the bag and Nationals manager Dusty Baker challenged the call. After a review, the call was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: The Nats have decided that right-hander Joe Ross will make the start at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon against the Braves at 1:35 ET. It will be Ross' first big league start since July 2 against the Reds, as he has missed more than two months because of right shoulder inflammation.
Braves: Atlanta will turn to Matt Wisler for the final game of this three-game series. The right-hander will be making his second start since returning from a left oblique injury on Tuesday, when he allowed six runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings vs. the Marlins. This will be his second start of the season against the Nationals, against whom he surrendered three runs on April 13.