GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Thursday night's series opener was a blowout. Friday night's game was a nailbiting, extra-inning thriller. Now came another blowout for the Nationals against a Braves ballclub in complete disarray.
The Nationals' bats broke out once again, this time against Shelby Miller, whose hard-luck season reached a new low when he allowed seven earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings, even though six of those could be directly attributed to shaky defense behind him. Bryce Harper launched another home run, then added two doubles for good measure. Ian Desmond had three hits. Ryan Zimmerman drove in another two runs to continue his torrid RBI streak.
Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, was the sharpest he's been in weeks, tossing six scoreless innings and allowing only two hits while striking out 10 before handing things over to the Nationals bullpen, which closed this one out with ease, sending the Braves to their 11th straight loss and 18th in their last 19 games.
The Nats, on the other hand, have now won 12 of their last 18 games, keeping pressure on the Mets, who also won in a rout tonight in Miami. The deficit in the NL East remains 5 games heading into Sunday's series finale, the final precursor to next week's showdown at Nationals Park.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It feels like Harper is coming up with new ways every night to impress you at the plate. He had the 4-walk, 4-run, 0-swing game on Thursday. Then he hit the longest homer of his career Friday night. Now he put together another impressive performance in Game 3 of the weekend series. Harper went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a homer that capped what might've been the best at-bat of his career. Harper was down 0-2 to Miller, then fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then somehow managed to launch a 95-mph cutter at his knees into the Red Porch seats for his 33rd homer of the season. Later in the game, he fumed at plate umpire Jerry Meals over borderline strike calls on 3-0 and 3-1 pitches. So how did he respond? By roping a double on the 3-2 pitch.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It's been an erratic summer for Gonzalez, who entered this one having won only once in his last seven starts. There were still some erratic moments tonight, in the form of four walks, but there was a lot more good than bad. Gonzalez tossed six innings of scoreless ball, carrying a no-hitter into the top of the sixth. He also struck out 10, using his fastball particularly well this time. For the Nationals to make a real run down the stretch, they're going to need all five of their starters performing up to capability. This was an encouraging sign Gonzalez could still have that in him.
KEY STAT: From Aug. 22, 2012-June 20, 2014, the Nationals went 7-24 against the Braves. Since then, they've gone 19-7, including 12-3 this season.
UP NEXT: The Nationals will got for the 4-game sweep at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, with Joe Ross (5-5, 3.50) facing Braves lefty Manny Bañelos (1-3, 3.33).