WASHINGTON (AP) — The Atlanta Braves have run far ahead of their NL East foes this season. Now they're stumbling to the finish.
The Washington Nationals broke open a one-run game with three a three-run eighth off reliever Jordan Walden and defeated the Braves 4-0 Tuesday night for a sweep of the day-night doubleheader.
In the makeup of a series opener postponed by a shooting rampage a day earlier at the nearby Navy Yard, the Nationals scored three time off Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth for a 6-5 win in the first game.
"We need to start playing a little better baseball and start swinging the bats," said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose hitters collected just five singles in the nightcap. "I like where we are, our position, but there's still baseball games to be played, and we've just got to get back on a roll again."
Atlanta has lost nine of 13 and the magic number remained at four for clinching the NL East for the first time since the Braves' streak of 11 consecutive division titles from 1995-05. A sweep of the day-night doubleheader would have sealed the division, now Atlanta's lead over Washington is eight games, the smallest it's been since July 25th.
Washington's Tanner Roark (7-0) allowed just two hits in seven innings, struck out six and retired the final 13 batters he faced. Roark has yet to allow a run in 13 innings against the Braves.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (1-2), making his second start for Atlanta, allowed a run on seven hits.
"He threw the ball real well," catcher Gerald Laird said. "I remember facing him a lot with Detroit, when he was with the White Sox, and he's one of those guys who keeps you off balance and doesn't make mistakes in the middle of the plate."
After allowing Steve Lombardozzi's RBI-single in the second, he worked out of trouble in the third and fourth, and retired the last eight men he faced.
Washington, which began the game 4 ½ games behind Cincinnati for the NL's second wild-card berth, added three runs, including a Ryan Zimmerman homer, off Walden in the eighth.
"You want to keep it a one-run ballgame and you bring the guy in you want in that situation and it just didn't happen tonight for us," Gonzalez said.
The Braves wasted a two-run, ninth-inning lead in an opening 6-5 loss.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons' error on Denard Span's grounder ended Kimbrel's first blown save since May 7.