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Nats score 6 in 8th to gain in home-field race

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- The Nationals took advantage of a struggling Braves' bullpen as they erupted for six runs in the eighth inning of a 7-3 victory on Wednesday at SunTrust Park. The Nationals are now within 3 1/2 games of the Dodgers for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"They lost command of the strike zone and helped us out there," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It is easy to be patient when they are not near the strike zone. We capitalized on it and usually you are going to get hits after that."

Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- The Nationals took advantage of a struggling Braves' bullpen as they erupted for six runs in the eighth inning of a 7-3 victory on Wednesday at SunTrust Park. The Nationals are now within 3 1/2 games of the Dodgers for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"They lost command of the strike zone and helped us out there," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It is easy to be patient when they are not near the strike zone. We capitalized on it and usually you are going to get hits after that."

Full Game Coverage

The Nationals patiently watched the Braves' bullpen implode as they worked four straight walks in the eighth inning. Adam Lind and Michael A. Taylor capped the frame with back-to-back RBI singles to secure starter Gio Gonzalez's 15th win of the season. Gonzalez allowed two runs over seven innings of work, striking out eight batters.

Video: WSH@ATL: Gonzalez fans eight over seven strong

"I think it was great to see [Wilmer Difo] get that inning started with that hit and right after that, [Trea Turner] came up with that big double," Gonzalez said. "It started a fire, after that, as guys were being patient and letting them go out there and attack the strike zone. As hitters, we were being very patient."

Jose Ramirez and Arodys Vizcaino combined to throw three strikes within a span of 22 pitches during the decisive eighth inning. Ramirez's night ended with a four-pitch walk to Jayson Werth and Vizcaino then promptly issued three consecutive bases-loaded walks, two of which were of the four-pitch variety.

Video: WSH@ATL: Zimmerman puts Nats ahead with a walk

"It wasn't like [the pitches] were just missing either," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "They were shanked and yanked and everything else."

The bullpen collapse dampened another solid start from rookie pitcher Lucas Sims. After giving up a leadoff home run to Turner, Sims settled in and sat down 14 of his last 18 batters faced.

The Braves' rookie was aided by a pair of home runs from Freddie Freeman and Kurt Suzuki. Freeman countered Turner's solo shot with a 439-foot blast off Gonzalez in the first inning. Later, Suzuki gave the Braves the lead with his career-high 16th home run.

Video: WSH@ATL: Suzuki swats a solo homer to left in the 5th

"It would have been nice if that [lead] would have held up, but it's definitely an accomplishment," Suzuki said.

• Easygoing Suzuki showing surprising pop

Jace Peterson brought the Braves closer by hitting his second home run of the season in the eighth, but it proved to be too little, too late as the Nationals' bullpen sealed the series victory with a scoreless ninth inning.

Video: WSH@ATL: Peterson mashes a solo homer in the 8th

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Turner's impact: The Nationals got on the board early when Turner blasted his 10th home run on the first pitch of the game. It was his fourth leadoff home run of the season. According to Statcast™, the home run went 368 feet and had an exit velocity of 94.1 mph.

• Dusty cites Rickey Henderson as model for Turner

Video: WSH@ATL: Turner starts the game with a leadoff homer

Sims dodges threat: Sims ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth inning as he loaded the bases following a walk to Gonzalez. Holding a 2-1 lead, he battled Turner and eventually got him to ground out to Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. Swanson would flip to second baseman Ozzie Albies as the Braves ended the threat to preserve an early lead.

Sims had completed two innings of relief on Sunday and had not totaled more than 42 pitches in any of the four appearances he'd made since being moved out of Atlanta's rotation after his Sept. 2 start at Wrigley Field.

"The young man threw a good game tonight against us," Baker said. "I was glad they took him out. I don't know if he was on a pitch count, but he has an electric arm."

Video: WSH@ATL: Sims rings up six across five solid innings

QUOTABLE
"I don't know if it's frustrating. I'm just wondering why baseball has to be like that. You've got two of our best relievers coming in. It's one of those nights when it happens and unfortunately, it was the wrong time." -- Suzuki, on the eighth inning

"I think for us, we are trying to get each win at a time. We aren't looking to that far ahead right now. We are just trying get our guys where they need to be and get the next guy on the mound tomorrow. We are going to see if we can finish strong against the Braves." -- Gonzalez, on the team's mentality down the stretch

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Before issuing a bases-loaded walk to the only three batters faced, Vizcaino had issued just one walk over 18 plate appearances with the bases loaded during his career.

WHAT'S NEXT
Nationals: Tanner Roark takes the mound against Atlanta at SunTrust Park as the series concludes Thursday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Roark has a 2.84 ERA in his last three starts. He also has struck out 23 batters over his last 19 innings of work.

Braves: R.A. Dickey will take the mound when Atlanta and Washington begin their series finale on Wednesday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Dickey has struggled to get a feel for his knuckleball as he's allowed at least five runs in each of his past three starts.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jaylon Thompson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta who covered the Nationals on Wednesday.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.