WASHINGTON — The Atlanta Braves came into Washington hopeful that they would be able to put a dent in the first-place Nationals' lead in the NL East. They will leave town after Wednesday night's game hoping the deficit isn't unmanageable.
Stephen Strasburg struck out 10 and allowed one run in six innings for his 15th win in one of his final starts of the season as Washington beat Atlanta 4-1 on Tuesday night.
The loss puts Atlanta seven games back in the division.
"It's not the end of the world. We've got 40 games left or whatever it is," Atlanta starter Paul Maholm said.
"We've got to take care of our business and come in tomorrow and expect to win. As long as we play well, we win series from here on out, I think the last couple weeks will be fun."
Facing Strasburg wasn't fun. He gave up just four hits in six innings, walking one, and he weathered a 51-minute rain delay. It didn't faze him.
"I thought he got better," Braves catcher Brian McCann said.
"He had his stuff going tonight. He had all three of his pitches going, his location was on."
Washington manager Davey Johnson thinks the seven-game lead isn't big enough.
"Eight would be better," Johnson said.
He noticed the Braves' demeanor.
"After yesterday, they were very dejected. After today, they were very dejected. They got a pretty good lead in the wild card, but they don't want the wild card," Johnson said.
"It's not a comfortable feeling."
The Braves, who have lost four straight, began Tuesday with a three-game lead in the NL wild-card race.
Maholm, who gave up a three-run home run to Jesus Flores and a solo shot to Ian Desmond, has been impressed in his three weeks with Atlanta.
"They've gone on huge runs. They'll lose a few, then go on a 10-game winning streak," Maholm said.
For weeks, the impending shutdown of Strasburg has been the talk of baseball and though the Nationals haven't said exactly what their limit for the star right-hander is, it's thought to be between 160 and 180 innings. After this start, his fourth straight win, when he allowed four hits and walked one, he has thrown 145 1-3 innings.
Talk of his innings limit overshadowed discussion of the NL East race. The Braves have lost four straight.
Strasburg struck out Michael Bourn to begin the game and struck out two in the second. After he struck out Maholm and Bourn flied to left, the rain came. When the game resumed, Strasburg (15-5) caught Prado looking to end the third inning.
Strasburg struck out two more in the fourth, and in the fifth, fanned Juan Francisco, Paul Janish and Maholm to give him 10.
It was the fifth time this season Strasburg had struck out 10 or more. His career high is 14, which came in his debut on June 8, 2010.
In the sixth, Bourn grounded out. Prado doubled and Jason Heyward singled. Prado scored on Freddie Freeman's sacrifice fly to center. After Heyward was tagged for the third out trying to advance when a pitch got away from Flores, Johnson shook Strasburg's hand when he reached the dugout.
Drew Storen, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard each threw a scoreless inning. Clippard pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 32 opportunities.
Desmond hit a two-out homer in the second off Maholm (11-8). It was his 19th of the season — and second in two nights.
Flores hit a three-run home run in the fifth for a 4-0 lead.
Maholm threw seven innings, allowing four runs and seven hits, walking one and striking out six.
NOTES: Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones was rested after he told manager Fredi Gonzalez his knees were sore following Monday's 13-inning game. ... Heyward had three hits. ... Atlanta RHP Kris Medlen (4-1, 2.03) pitches on Wednesday against Washington LHP Ross Detwiler (7-5, 3.25).