Stephen Strasburg faces reeling Braves tonight

In his short career, Stephen Strasburg hasn’t pitched in many games of circumstance with the Nationals. Those were hard to come by when he was pitching last summer for a 69-win team, and his first three starts this September have been against the Dodgers, Astros and Marlins.

But tonight, Strasburg will make his final home start of the year, weather permitting, and he’ll finally pitch in a game where there’s something on the line.

The Atlanta Braves come to town, having seen their lead in the National League wild card race shrink from 8 1/2 games on Sept. 1 to 1 1/2 games at the beginning of yesterday’s action. The only reason it’s at two games now is because the Cardinals blew a 6-1 lead and lost 8-6 to the Mets, but regardless, the Braves come to Nationals Park needing wins against a team that’s played them tough the last few years.

They’ll put Tim Hudson on the mound, but they’ll also have to contend with Strasburg, who allowed one run in six innings his last time out and looked as sharp as he’d been since having Tommy John surgery last September. The Nationals have been using the September spoiler role as a rallying cry for far too long, but we haven’t seen Strasburg in a spot where he’s had a chance to inflict some serious damage on another team’s season. He’ll get that chance tonight.

In his one game against the Braves last year, Strasburg allowed four runs, three of them earned, in 6 1/3 innings in Atlanta, getting tagged for all of his runs in the seventh inning after manager Jim Riggleman left him in after six shutout innings. He’s struggled in his only appearances against Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla homered off Strasburg in his second game against him with the Marlins last year.