Not that there would be any shame in their win streak ending against Stephen Strasburg, on a night when Mike Minor wasn’t his sharpest and with the Nationals having much more to lose than the streaking Braves.
But the Braves won anyway.
Justin Upton homered for the fourth time in five games since August began, this time for the game-winner in the eighth inning of a 3-2 victory over the Nationals on Monday night.
The Braves extend their win streak to 11 games, their longest streak since they won 15 in a row from April 16 to May 2, 2000. They fattened their lead to a season-high 13 1/2 games on the Nationals in the NL East while they were at it, improving to a perfect 4-0 this season at Nationals Park.
“You want to step on their necks, especially when we’ve got this big of a lead,” said Freddie Freeman, who drove in two runs on RBI singles off Strasburg.
By taking the series opener, the Braves improved to 8-3 against the Nationals this season.
The Braves bullpen was short-handed with closer Craig Kimbrel saving three in a row in Philadelphia. But the team got five big outs and a win from set-up man David Carpenter and the first save of the season from Jordan Walden, who stranded the tying run at third base.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys in the back end of the game that you can mix and match,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Upton went 3-for-4 for his 11th three-hit game of the season and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He reached 20 home runs for the season at a great time. His solo shot to left field in the eighth was a no-doubter. He dropped the bat and took a few steps up the line as a 3-2 change-up from reliever Tyler Clippard disappeared into the left field seats.
“I just start seeing the ball a little bit better,” said Upton, who is hitting 17-for-42 (.405) with four homers and 10 RBIs over the 10-game hitting streak. “I’m recognizing pitches a little bit earlier and I’m able to make those adjustments within an at-bat.”
The Nationals applied steady offensive pressure throughout the game, putting the leadoff man aboard in six consecutive innings, starting in the second. But only once did one of those runners come around to score on Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly in the sixth to tie it 2-2.
Minor left Carpenter with the potential go-ahead run at second base to lead off the seventh inning but Carpenter stranded him there, striking out the pinch-hitter Jayson Werth, retiring Bryce Harper on a lineout and getting Ian Desmond to ground out in front of home plate.
Minor said it was the worst “stuff” he had all season.
“Anybody that was watching on the TV could tell - lot of balls right down the middle,” Minor said. “I was trying to manipulate stuff, get it to move. I didn’t have any strikeout stuff.”
Minor walked three batters in six innings after not walking any in 14 innings over his previous two starts, wins over the Cardinals and Rockies.
He gave up eight hits but only two runs thanks to a pair of double plays, a diving catch from Dan Uggla, and a great relay home from shortstop Andrelton Simmons to cut down Wilson Ramos at the plate.
The Nationals lost for the third time in four starts Strasburg has made against the Braves this season. He kept them off-balance Monday with a nasty curveball for strikes and didn’t offer many of his 97-98 mph fastballs to work with.
It took a couple of infield hits by Jason Heyward and Upton to get the Braves going in the third inning and Freeman cashed in with an RBI single to tie the game 1-1. Freeman and Upton teamed up again for another run in the fifth inning on a pair of two-out singles, after Upton stole his seventh base of the season.
“He’s locked in,” Freeman said of Upton. “He’s driving the ball to right center. And if they leave one out (over the plate) tonight like Clippard did offspeed, he was able to hit a home run to left. It’s exactly what he was doing in April. That’s going to be very tough to beat us if he’s doing that.”