Braves miss sweep as Nationals end nine-game losing streak

AP photo by Nick Wass / Atlanta Braves starter Spencer Strider pitches during Sunday's loss to the host Washington Nationals, who avoided being swept in the four-game series by ending a nine-game losing streak.

WASHINGTON - The lone Washington Nationals player selected for Tuesday night's MLB All-Star Game helped make sure his team went into the midseason break on at least a bit of an upswing.

The Atlanta Braves missed out on the sweep in a four-game series that was a mismatch of National League East foes, but they'll be able to rest - at least those of them not headed to Los Angeles for the Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium - knowing they are well in the running for a fifth straight division title as they also bid to repeat as World Series champions.

Juan Soto and Victor Robles homered as the Nationals beat the Braves 7-3 Sunday to snap a nine-game losing streak. Soto, Washington's lone All-Star who could be traded by the end of the month, hit a solo shot in the eighth inning to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 26 games.

"It had been a long time, but finally we did it," the 23-year-old outfielder said. "It feels great."

The Nationals haven't dropped 10 in a row since an 11-game skid that spanned the 2008 and 2009 seasons. At 31-63, they have the worst record in the majors at the All-Star break.

Washington hadn't scored five runs in a game since an 8-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 29, which started the Nationals' 1-15 slide entering Sunday.

"There's still a lot of things that we need to clean up to really get better and compete every day and play consistent," Washington manager Dave Martinez said. "We're going to work on those things a lot this next half, as we've been doing. I'm happy to go into the break with a big win."

The Nationals did much of their damage against Atlanta rookie starter Spencer Strider (4-3) in the second inning. Ehire Adrianza lined a two-run single to center, and Robles followed with his second homer of the season, a fly to left that just sailed into the visitors' bullpen.

Adrianza added an RBI groundout in the fourth against Strider, who allowed five runs in four innings while striking out four batters. Maikel Franco's RBI single in the sixth made it 6-3.

Washington's Steve Cishek (1-2) was the winning pitcher after working 1 2/3 scoreless innings, stranding the potential trying run at second in the fourth.

After a doubleheader Wednesday snarled its rotation, Washington opted for a bullpen game in the series finale. Erasmo Ramirez started and worked three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out two batters.

"He really picked us up," Martinez said. "We never expected him to go three innings, and he gave us three strong innings. When he came in after the (third) inning and he looked at me and joked around and said, 'I think I have two more,' and I said, 'You do for real?' and he goes, 'No.'"

photo AP photo by Nick Wass / Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto and manager Dave Martinez pose with their MLB All-Star jerseys before Sunday's home game against the Atlanta Braves. Martinez will be a member of the NL coaching staff led by Braves manager Brian Snitker for Tuesday night's game in Los Angeles.

Jordan Weems entered in the fourth and allowed four hits in a span of five batters, including RBI doubles by Matt Olson and Adam Duvall, before yielding to Cishek.

"Those bullpen games are rough where they keep cycling guys in," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "It's not a sustainable thing, but when you have to do it, sometimes it's hard when you're getting different looks at guys. They did a good job."

Atlanta is 56-38 and second in the NL East, 2 1/2 games behind the New York Mets, who took two of three from the host Braves this past week.

Snitker will manage the NL All-Stars in Tuesday's game because the Braves won the pennant last year. His son, Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, will be on the AL staff headed by Dusty Baker, whose Astros lost the World Series to the Braves in six games.

"It's one of these things just like the World Series was: You're never guaranteed to do that again," the Braves manager said, addding that he and his son will "enjoy everything about it. It's a great experience for my family to do something like that as a family. Not a lot of people get to do that."

The Nationals' Martinez will be part of Snitker's All-Star coaching staff. Martinez led Washington to the 2019 World Series title but didn't get to manage in the All-Star Game the following year because the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic delaying and shortening MLB's regular season to 60 games.

Six players on Atlanta's roster wound up being selected as All-Stars this year, including third baseman Austin Riley on Saturday as a late replacement for the St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado. Riley joined the previous Atlanta selections: starting pitcher Max Fried, catchers Travis d'Arnaud and William Contreras - the latter will start as the designated hitter due to the Phillies' Bryce Harper being injured - shortstop Dansby Swanson and outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.

However, MLB announced Sunday that Fried is among the pitchers who will not be available in Los Angeles, with the Atlanta ace having gone seven innings Saturday to post his 50th career win. About one-sixth of the rosters have changed since the original 33-man teams were announced on July 6 and 8.

When the regular season resumes, the Braves will be at home to begin a three-game series Friday against the Los Angeles Angels in the first meeting between those teams since 2017.

Washington begins a three-game road series Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.