WASHINGTON (AP) — Jayson Werth and the surging Washington Nationals are looking forward to a visit from the New York Mets.
Werth hit a three-run homer, Bryce Harper connected for the third straight day, and the Nationals beat the lowly Atlanta Braves 8-4 on Sunday to pull within four games of NL East-leading New York heading into a big series against the Mets.
Yunel Escobar had three hits and scored two runs, helping the Nationals to their fifth straight win and seventh in nine games overall.
Washington sends ace Max Scherzer to the mound for the opener of their three-game set against New York on Monday. Jonathon Niese goes for the Mets.
The Nationals also have Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg lined up to pitch against the Mets, who counter with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom.
"We got a big series coming up," Werth said. "We're just going to keep grinding 'em out. I've been saying all along at some point we're going to make to make a run. Hopefully this is it. We've got our (top) guys going. We're definitely going to need to score some runs and do the little things."
Werth was batting in the eighth when he noticed on the scoreboard that Miami had the bases loaded in the ninth against New York. After he flied out, he went into the clubhouse to see the Marlins win against ex-teammate Tyler Clippard.
"We're going to need stuff like that," said Werth, who won a World Series with Philadelphia. "We're going to need other teams to help us out. In the end, it's going to come down to us, but to win, you gotta be good and you gotta get lucky."
Nick Markakis had two hits for Atlanta, and Nick Swisher drove in two runs. But Manny Banuelos (1-4) was knocked out in the third inning, and the Braves went on to their 12th straight loss for the first time since 1988.
"Never seen anything like this," said veteran Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski, shaking his head in disgust. "Just keep battling, come tomorrow and try and win."
Swisher singled in Markakis in the first, but the Nationals responded with five runs in the second and two more in the third.
Michael Taylor put Washington ahead to stay with a two-run double in the second. Rookie pitcher Joe Ross was hit by Banuelos with two out, and Werth followed with a drive to left for his seventh homer.
Werth is hitting .329 (23 for 70) with four homers and 10 RBIs since moving into the leadoff spot 17 games ago.
"He's comfortable there," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "It gives him an opportunity to get into at-bats. He understands how to hit."
Harper opened the third with a drive to center on an 0-2 pitch for his 34th homer of the season. The All-Star slugger was 7 for 11 and scored nine times in the four-game set against Atlanta.
Michael Bourn singled in Swisher in the fourth, but Anthony Rendon homered in the bottom half for the Nationals.
Five Washington relievers combined for 4 2-3 innings of two-hit ball, with Felipe Rivero (2-1) picking up the win.
Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, who is batting .439 with six homers and 18 RBIs during his 10-game hitting streak, rested his sore foot but is expected to start on Monday. Tyler Moore filled in at first base.
AN ATLANTA RARITY
The Braves will finish below .500 for a second straight season for the first time since 1989 and 1990.
Braves: 3B Hector Olivera was scratched with a bruised left foot. Adonis Garcia was inserted into the lineup.
Nationals: Strasburg threw a bullpen session and will return to the rotation, barring unexpected pain on Monday, after missing his last start with a back injury.
Braves: RHP Williams Perez (4-6, 5.65 ERA) opens a three-game series in Philadelphia against Phillies RHP Aaron Harang (5-14, 4.89 ERA). Atlanta has lost all eight of Perez's starts since June 20.
Nationals: Scherzer (11-11, 2.89 ERA) is 0-3 with a 5.82 ERA in his last six starts.