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Braves vs. Nationals Preview: Atlanta Looks To Get Make Headway In NL East

Randall Delgado takes the mound in game one.

ATLANTA - AUGUST 16: Randall Delgado #40 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field on August 16, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - AUGUST 16: Randall Delgado #40 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field on August 16, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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The Atlanta Braves open up a key three-game series this weekend against the Washington Nationals, who currently lead the National League East. The club has battled injuries for most of the season, but they've somehow managed to keep their head above water thanks to a strong pitching staff. This will be their final meeting before the All-Star Game, and you can bet Atlanta will want to make a statement in the division.

The Nats are coming off a series victory over the Rockies, although they lost a tough game in 11 innings on Thursday. With warm temperatures expected all weekend at Turner Field, fatigue may be an issue for Washington.

Player to watch: Bryce Harper has been struggling a bit in recent days, but he's still having a fine season at the ripe old age of 19. He's currently hitting .282/.357/.493 and has been a catalyst for the lineup. When Harper is going right, the Nationals are a very tough team to beat most nights.

Pitching matchups and start times:
Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET - Randall Delgado vs Ross Detwiler
Saturday, 4:05 p.m. - Mike Minor vs Stephen Strasburg
Sunday, 1:35 p.m. - Tim Hudson vs Gio Gonzalez

Final thoughts: this is technically just another series at the end of June, but this weekend is going to be a big one for the Braves. This club has not played well against the NL East thus far in 2012, and a series loss could drop Atlanta to 5+ games back in the standings. They'll be at a pitching disadvantage in each game, but the offense has shown signs of life in recent days. Hopefully that's enough to at least two victories at home.

For more on the Braves be sure to check out Talking Chop. For more on the Nationals visit Federal Baseball.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.