Smoltz Goes For Braves

The Washington Nationals need a win Saturday to avoid their worst skid since they were still the Montreal Expos.

They'll have to do it against a pitcher that dominated them plenty of times in Quebec.

The Nationals will look to snap an eight-game losing streak as they continue their home series with the Atlanta Braves, but they'll be facing right-hander John Smoltz, who has long shut down the Washington franchise.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Atlanta -167 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 9 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 81% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta –167 (View MLB Bet Percentages). Bet this game.

The Nationals began their season with a 3-2 walk-off win against the Braves, and the Nationals (3-8) won the next two to open 3-0 for the first time since 2003 - a promising development for a team that had opened the previous two seasons a combined 3-17.

But they've since lost eight straight - including Friday's 3-0 defeat to Atlanta (4-6) - and they're looking to avoid their first nine-game skid since the Expos closed 2000 on a nine-game skid. Washington lost each of the first three games in this streak by one run, but it has been outscored 30-14 in the last five defeats.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose walk-off home run beat the Braves on opening night, is hitless in his last 16 at-bats.

"The hits are going to start falling," left fielder Willie Harris said. "We have to keep clawing, and it will get better."

It didn't help that they drew the Braves' top trio of starters this weekend - a group that has allowed just six earned runs in 37 1-3 innings this year. Tim Hudson scattered three singles in eight innings Friday, and 300-game winner Tom Glavine will pitch Sunday.

Smoltz takes the mound for this game with an impressive career record against Washington. In 39 starts and 66 career appearances against the franchise, including when the team played in Montreal, Smoltz is 20-11 with a 2.60 ERA, and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last six starts against the Nationals.

In his first start of 2008, Smoltz (1-0, 0.00 ERA) tossed five shutout innings against the New York Mets, allowing just two hits and striking out six before he left the game with tightness behind his right shoulder.

"It's all right. I just didn't want to take a chance," the 40-year-old right-hander said. "This is my first test. I didn't fail it."

Smoltz, who beat Johan Santana in his first start, began the season on the disabled list because of his shoulder, but expects to work deeper into games as the season progresses.

"It kills me to not go back out there for the sixth and possibly the seventh but I'm proud that at least I was able to say it's getting stiff, and not make it worse," Smoltz said. "I'm a seven- and eight-inning guy and that's what it'll be this year, but for the first start, I'll take this."

Saturday, he'll face Washington's John Lannan (0-1, 2.70). The left-hander allowed only two runs in 6 2-3 innings last Sunday, but took the loss in his first start of 2008 as the Nationals lost 3-0 to St. Louis.

Despite the dominance at the front of the rotation, Atlanta has dealt with its own struggles. The Braves snapped a three-game losing streak with Friday's win, and they've still scored three or fewer runs in four of the last five games.

by: Dave Michaels - thespread.com – Email Us

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