ATLANTA — A strong and healthy Stephen Strasburg has the Washington Nationals feeling optimistic about their postseason chances.
Strasburg pitched seven scoreless innings to end a long run of frustration against Atlanta, and the Nationals beat the struggling Braves 4-2 on Monday night to move to the verge of the NL East title.
The Nationals can clinch the division by beating the defending champion Braves on Tuesday night.
Strasburg said his team's focus is on the much bigger picture.
"It's not just one win (Tuesday)," Strasburg said. "It might be to go to the playoffs, but that's not our ultimate goal. We've got to keep playing good baseball."
Strasburg (12-11) reached 200 innings for the first time. He had seven strikeouts and allowing only five hits.
"He was in control," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He had a little bit of a tight neck tonight from sleeping, but he battled through that. So he wasn't on his 'A' game but he sure pitched like it."
The Nationals led 4-0 before the Braves scored two runs in the ninth inning.
Rafael Soriano gave up Justin Upton's run-scoring double in the ninth. After Soriano walked Chris Johnson, Drew Storen yielded Christian Bethancourt's single up the middle to drive in Upton.
Storen's wild pitch left runners on second and third, but B.J. Upton grounded out to end the game. Storen earned his sixth save.
Ervin Santana (14-9) allowed two runs and only three hits, including Wilson Ramos' homer, in six innings.
The Braves (75-75) have lost four straight to fall to .500 for the first time since they were 1-1. They trail Pittsburgh by 4 1-2 games for the second NL wild-card spot.
The frustration for the sagging Braves showed when Freddie Freeman was ejected for arguing following his strikeout to end the sixth. Freeman slammed his bat to the ground before leaving the field.
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez took over the argument, kicked Freeman's broken bat, and was tossed by home-plate umpire Tim Timmons.
"I was just trying to get out there and keep him in the game," Gonzalez said of Freeman.
Gonzalez acknowledged the Braves are "running out of games."
"We're all collectively — and I'm talking about our coaches to our front office staff to our players, to our fans — we want to win," Gonzalez said. "Anything short of us getting in some kind of playoff game or play-in game, it's not acceptable."
Washington's Nate Schierholtz, who pinch-hit for Bryce Harper in the fourth, had a run-scoring single off Gus Schlosser in the eighth.
Harper left the game after feeling light-headed. Williams said Harper might have an illness that has gone through the team.
Strasburg ended a streak of eight winless starts against Atlanta. His last win over the Braves came on Aug. 21, 2012. He had been 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA against the Braves this season, including a 6-2 loss at Washington last Wednesday.
Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman (right hamstring) is beginning a rehab schedule at the team's complex in Viera, Florida. He is expected to play three innings at first base in a simulated game on Tuesday, followed by five innings on Wednesday, a game as the DH, and then progressing to seven and nine innings. He will play different positions as he progresses.
Braves: C Evan Gattis met with team doctors on Monday to determine why his strep throat symptoms have lasted longer than expected. He has missed seven games since his last start on Sept. 7.
Nationals: Tanner Roark, who ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New York Mets on Thursday, will try for his 14th win when he faces the Braves on Tuesday.
Braves: Aaron Harang will attempt to continue his 2014 success against Washington. He is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Nationals this season.
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