The Atlanta Braves have a chance to put a stronghold on the National League East, beginning with a four-game weekend series against the Washington Nationals at SunTrust Park.
The Braves (86-54) enter the series with a seven-game lead over the Nationals (78-60) and could do everything but clinch the division this weekend with a sweep.
Conversely, a sweep by Washington would bring the Nationals within three games and make it a real race, with the Braves spending the next two weeks alternating series with the NL East rivals.
Atlanta, which enters the series as winners of six straight and 14 of its last 16, has been powered by the hot bats of Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Tyler Flowers. Over the last week, Freeman has hit .406 with three homers and nine RBIs, Donaldson .316 with two homers and six RBIs and Flowers .416 with a homer and seven RBIs.
The trio have made up for the fact that Ronald Acuña Jr. has struggled of late, hitting .095 with only two hits in his last 21 at-bats.
The Nationals come into the series winners of 10 of their last 13, and with a three-game lead over the Chicago Cubs for the first NL wild card spot, but they dropped two out of three to the Mets in Washington.
Veteran third baseman Anthony Rendon has carried Washington recently, hitting .519 with five homers, 17 RBIs and 10 walks over his last 15 games. He has gotten help from 20-year-old left fielder Juan Soto, who has hit .383 with four homers and 15 RBIs over the same span.
Max Fried (15-4, 4.05 ERA) will open the series Thursday, coming off a win last Friday by pitching six innings, allowing four hits and three earned runs and struck out 11 against the Chicago White Sox.
Fried is expected to face Stephen Strasburg (16-5, 3.47), who was dominant in his last outing, throwing eight shutout innings of two-hit ball in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins.
Dallas Keuchel (6-5, 3.72) will get the ball Friday. Last Saturday, he pitched six innings, allowed nine hits and two runs in an 11-5 win over the White Sox.
The Nationals are likely to throw Patrick Corbin (11-6, 3.19), who beat the Marlins 9-3 by pitching six innings, allowing three hits and three runs and striking out eight.
Saturday is a scheduled matchup of Julio Teheran (9-8, 3.38) against Joe Ross (3-4, 6-17), while Sunday could be a matchup of staff aces when Mike Soroka (11-3, 3.53) takes on Max Scherzer (9-5, 2.60).
On Friday, BC Unlimited, an Atlanta-based group from Barranquilla, Colombia, that specializes in traditional Latin music, will perform as part of the Plaza Concert Series. The group will take the stage at the Georgia Power Pavilion stage from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
The Braves will also celebrate Día de Los Bravos (Braves Day) by wearing "Los Bravos" jerseys, and fans who buy a game ticket as part of a special package will receive a Día de Los Bravos bobblehead.
On Saturday, the Braves will present Childhood Cancer Awareness Night. The event is part of a league-wide initiative to honor those who are currently fighting or who have battled different types of childhood cancer.
The gates will open three hours before game time so fans can watch batting practice, and as part of the Plaza Concert Series, Vinyl Suns, a blues and Southern rock band, will take the Georgia Power Pavilion stage from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Alumni Sunday will offer fans the opportunity to get autographs from Eddie Perez, Dennis Martinez, Rico Carty and Rafael Furcal at the Georgia Power Pavilion from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. A game ticket is required.
The first 5,000 children age 14 and under through the gates will receive a Braves arm sleeve. Following the game, the children will also have a chance to run the bases.
ON THE AIR
Fox Sports Southeast will air Thursday's game at 7 p.m., while Fox Sports South will broadcast the remainder of the series. Friday's and Saturday's broadcasts will begin at 7 p.m., with Sunday's at 1 p.m. The games can also be heard on 680 AM The Fan and Rock 100.5 FM.