Winners of three straight, Washington has become accustomed to playing with one of baseball's top records. The Nats swept the Mets in three games this week, putting their magic number for clinching the division at 11 with 19 games to go.
"Oh, I look at them," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "It's time to be looking at magic numbers. And I've been looking at them for a while now."
After sending out left-hander John Lannan -- the de facto replacement for Stephen Strasburg -- in the series finale with the Mets on Wednesday night, the Nats will trot out left-hander Ross Detwiler on Friday, followed by right-hander Edwin Jackson on Saturday and left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Sunday. Both Gonzalez and Detwiler have shined in their first two starts this month, with the former boasting a 0.69 ERA in September and the latter carrying a 2.25 mark. Jackson, after he was shelled by the Marlins on Sept. 9, has an 8.71 ERA this month.
The real story in Washington, though, has been an offense that has produced the second-most runs in baseball since the All-Star break. The Nats have plated 299 runners in the season's second half, significantly compensating for their pre-All-Star total of 348 runs that ranked 20th in baseball. In September alone, the Nats lead MLB with 70 runs scored and a .303 batting average.
"Now that we're in it, it's just going to make it even more fun," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "This is what it's all about. This is why you work out for three months in the winter and go to Spring Training early every day to play. Losing sucks. I really enjoy winning."
The Braves, meanwhile, come in after having been swept in a three-game series in Milwaukee.
Given their deficit in the NL East and slim standing in the NL Wild Card race, the Braves haven't kept an extra eye on the scoreboard like this weekend's opponents, even despite an 8-4 record in September.
"I'm not talking about the Nationals," Atlanta center fielder Michael Bourn said on Wednesday. "We play the Brewers today. I'm not one of those players that likes to get ahead."
Nationals: Morse's status up in the air
Outfielder Michael Morse has a bone bruise and slight tear in the sheath encasing his left wrist, clouding his availability for this weekend's series against the Braves.
After sitting out Wednesday's series finale with the Mets, Morse will rest on Thursday's off-day before re-evaluating the wrist in Atlanta on Friday. Morse said he injured his right hand when he was jammed during an at-bat in San Francisco last month, and then overcompensated and caused the current injury to his left wrist.
"His left hand is his dominant hand when he's hitting," Johnson said. "It's been bothering him about a month, and he's been trying to play through it.
"Obviously it's been bothering him. His bat's been slow. He's had to cheat to get through it."
Morse missed the first two months of the season with a strained right lat muscle, but has anchored the heart of the Nats' lineup in batting .285/.315/.444 with 13 homers and 49 RBI in 88 games.
Braves: Medlen taking mound for opener with Nats
Kris Medlen has been juxtaposed with Strasburg for the way in which the Braves have him eased him along in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. While Strasburg began the year with a regular workload and was just recently shut down after reaching a predetermined innings limit, Medlen started in the bullpen before joining Atlanta's starting rotation in late July.
The 26-year-old right-hander is 7-0 as a starter, with a 0.81 ERA, and he will face the Nationals for the third time on Friday. Against Washington this year, Medlen is 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA over 12 2/3 innings.
After a five-game winning streak, the Braves entered this past week only 5 1/2 games behind the Nats in the NL East. That was the lowest margin Atlanta's enjoyed this month, but after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers, the Braves' 8 1/2-game deficit marks the furthest they've been out of the division lead all year.
The Nationals are a season-high 35 games above .500 (89-54) after their sweep-clinching win against the Mets on Wednesday.
The Braves will be on the road for six of their next nine games, as well as nine of their last 18 of the season.