ATLANTA - Max Scherzer didn't have his best stuff, but the Nationals ace gutted his way through seven strong innings, took advantage of some stellar defense behind him and rode his team's latest offensive outburst against the Braves to a 7-2 victory tonight at Turner Field.
Scherzer allowed two runs over seven innings, the 18th time he has done that or better this season, tops in the majors. He struck out eight, raising his major league-leading total to 259. And he improved to 17-7 with three expected starts remaining, keeping his hopes alive for a 20-win season.
With this victory, Scherzer also moved the Nationals one step closer to the National League East title. The Mets beat the Twins 3-0 at Citi Field, but the Nats did reduce their magic number to clinch the division title to six.
Scherzer had plenty of help tonight, especially in the field. Daniel Murphy made two highlight-reel plays at second base to thwart rallies and Ryan Zimmerman showed off quick reflexes to snag a line drive that was scorched to first base to end another inning.
At the plate, Murphy and Anthony Rendon each drove in two runs. Trea Turner, meanwhile, did it all once again, homering, racking up four hits, stealing two bases and scoring four runs, raising his batting average to .349 in the process. Turner became only the sixth player in Nats history with a four-run four-hit game.
The Nationals have feasted on Braves pitching this season - they entered tonight having scored 97 runs in 16 head-to-head matchups - and they wasted no time adding to the total in the opener of this series. Four of the game's first five batters reached base, with Rendon lacing a bases-loaded single to bring home two runs and give the visitors a quick lead.
They didn't let up in the top of the second. Turner launched a two-run homer to left-center off John Gant, the rookie's ninth in only 246 big league at-bats this season. That also was Turner's second hit of the game, the 30th time he has recorded multiple hits in only 55 starts.
Murphy's RBI double gave the Nationals a 5-0 lead and ended the night for Gant, who retired only four of the 13 batters he faced. Reliever Ryan Weber, though, did his job to stop the bleeding, churning out 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball to keep the game within striking distance for Atlanta.
Scherzer and the Nationals defense wouldn't let the Braves get close enough to make it interesting. After the ace departed following a 104-pitch start, Blake Treinen struck out three batters during a scoreless eighth and Shawn Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth to wrap up the victory.
The Nationals are now 15-2 against the Braves this season, with two games remaining this weekend.