ATLANTA -- Along with cementing their supremacy atop the National League East during this weekend’s series against the Nationals, the Braves have shown themselves to be legitimate World Series contenders.
This is a distinction they earned while producing MLB’s best record over their past 105 games. But if there were any lingering doubts about how the Braves might fare when pitted against another top team in a playoff environment, they have evaporated as the Nationals have dropped the first three games of this four-game set.
The Braves took another step toward claiming a second straight division title by claiming a 5-4 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at SunTrust Park. Julio Teheran’s six strong innings were supported by four home runs and preserved with a perfect ninth inning by Mark Melancon, who anchors what has become a reliable bullpen.
“I think this series just shows we’re a complete team,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “We can beat you in any phase of the game. We can beat you with speed. We can beat you with pitching. We can beat you with the long ball late in games.”
While recording their season-best ninth straight win and claiming a 13th consecutive home win for the first time since at least 1920, the Braves moved 10 games in front of the Nationals with just 19 games remaining. The magic number has been whittled down to 11.
“This was a big series coming in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We won it and now have a chance to do something even better. We knew they were going to be tough-fought games, and they have been.”
But the results of these games have been similar to most of those played between these two teams, dating back to June. Since losing the first three games of the season series, the Braves have won nine of the past 12 games played against the Nationals, who entered this series with MLB’s best record since May 24. This distinction is now owned by Atlanta, which has also produced the game’s best winning percentage dating back to May 10.
Teheran followed their act by allowing three hits and one run over six innings on Saturday. The rejuvenated veteran has an impressive 2.67 ERA over his past 23 starts, and he has allowed four runs over 18 1/3 innings against the Nationals this year.
More impressive is the fact that the Braves’ starters have posted a 2.32 ERA while the team has won 17 of 19 dating back to Aug. 17.
“They have been dealing,” McCann said. “Guys have been feeding off of each other from start to start.”
Still, the Braves’ most reliable asset throughout the season has been their power. They rank second in the NL with 225 home runs -- 10 shy of the franchise record set in 2003. Fueling this power surge has been Josh Donaldson, who is tied with Mike Trout and Eugenio Suárez for the most homers (27) dating back to June 14.
Ozzie Albies’ first-inning homer gave Teheran an early lead, and Donaldson extended the advantage to 2-0 when he drilled his 36th homer of the season off Nationals starter Austin Voth in the fourth. When McCann and Matt Joyce hit back-to-back homers off Hunter Strickland in the sixth, it marked the ninth time this year the Braves have homered four times in a game.
“I think we were playing really good baseball, and they were on a roll, too,” Joyce said. “I think we were all interested and excited to have this matchup to see where we’re at. We’ve played really good baseball, and we’re excited.”