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Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 1

Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 1

Game in a nutshell: With a chance to pull off a rousing series sweep and extend their lead over the Braves to a commanding eight games, the Nationals were silenced by the unheralded Kris Medlen. The right-hander, who has pitched brilliantly since moving into the rotation, tossed seven scoreless innings, out-dueling Ross Detwiler, who faded quickly after a strong start to his evening. Ultimately, a lack of clutch hitting and some very shaky defense -- Bryce Harper took a bad route on a two-run double, and Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki each committed errors during an ugly top of the ninth -- did in the Nationals. They didn't sweep the series, but they still took two of three and still hold a six-game advantage on the only team still challenging them in the NL East.

Hitting lowlight: How bad is Harper struggling at the plate? Really bad. After wearing a Golden Sombrero Tuesday night, he looked silly again in his first three plate appearances tonight. How you can tell Harper is lost at the plate: He's taking first-pitch fastballs for strikes, then swinging at breaking balls out of the zone. The rookie did redeem himself in the eighth, knocking Eric O'Flaherty's pitch into left field and then hustling into second base. But the way he's going right now, especially against left-handers, you have to wonder if Harper might be looking at some more bench time moving forward.

Pitching highlight: They say there's no better pitch in baseball than a well-placed fastball, and Detwiler proved that theory correct through the first three innings of this start. Relying almost 100 percent on his heater, the lefty retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced and looked ready to cruise through the start. But a two-out, four-pitch walk of the opposing pitcher seemed to unnerve Detwiler; he wasn't the same after that. Martin Prado drilled a two-run double to deep center (after Harper took a bad jump) to put the Braves ahead. A couple more hits surrendered in the sixth ended Detwiler's night much sooner than anyone would have expected only a few innings earlier.

Key stat: On June 3, all five teams in the NL East were separated by only 3 12 games. When play began today, the Mets, Phillies and Marlins were all 20 games back, with the Braves seven games back.

Up next: After a day off, the Nationals head north to Philadelphia for a weekend series with the fading Phillies. Edwin Jackson takes on Kyle Kendrick in Friday's 7:05 p.m. opener at Citizens Bank Park.

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

Ryan Madson is the latest Washington National headed to the DL, turning the team's relief pitching rotation upside down even more than it already is. 

According to MASN's Dan Kolko, the 37-year-old is nursing a "lumbar nerve root irritation" injury and will sit out for 10 days. 

In response, the team has named Koda Glover as the closer, who was promoted from Triple-A Syracuse Wednesday. 

Glover gave up a game-ending solo blast to the Cardinals' Kevin DeJong Monday night. 

The night before, Madson was on the other end of David Bote's walk-off grand slam in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Cubs. 

As for Tuesday night, Glover's status remains unknown.

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