WASHINGTON (AP) – Ronald Acuña Jr. ignited a four-run rally with the go-ahead, two-run double, as the NL East leading Atlanta Braves clinched a playoff berth with a 10-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Acuña Jr.’s double down the left-field line off of Nationals reliever Fernando Rodney added fuel to a dramatic seventh inning for the Braves (93-57), who reduced their magic number to four to clinch their 19th division title.
Earlier in the seventh, Charlie Culberson was struck directly on the right cheekbone by a 91 mph fastball on Rodney’s first pitch of the game.
Culberson, who was pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, remained on his back for several minutes as trainers pressed a towel to his face. He was eventually helped to his feet and onto the back of a cart, clutching the towel to his face.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was enraged that Culberson was charged with a swinging strike on the play and was thrown out for the 13th time, including four this season.
The Braves hardly missed a beat, though, as Acuña Jr. and Albies immediately followed with back-to-back doubles that drove in runs. Albies was trying to stop his swing, but Rodney’s pitch glanced off his bat and floated into shallow left, allowing Acuña Jr. to score.
Nick Markakis had four hits and drove in pair of runs in his second game back after missing 44 games with a fractured left wrist.
The Braves have won the last 11 games started by Foltynewicz (7-5), who pitched six solid innings to earn the win.
He allowed a leadoff walk to Trea Turner and then an RBI double to Anthony Rendon off the video board in right-center in the first. But Foltynewicz quickly settled down, allowing just the earned run on four hits and striking out five.
Rodney (0-6) was charged with the loss in the latest bullpen meltdown for the Nationals, who saw their lead in the NL wildcard race shrink to 1 1/2 games over the Chicago Cubs.
Following a solid start by Austin Voth over 5 2/3 innings, the Nationals bullpen gave up nine runs over the final four innings
Rodney was charged with two before Eric Fedde came in and surrendered five over two innings.
Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman (right elbow soreness) was back in the lineup after leaving Friday’s game in the fourth inning for precautionary reasons. He was hitless in four at-bats with a strikeout and an intentional walk. Freeman said he knew he was good to go when he raised his arm in the shower to wash his hair.
Nationals: C Kurt Suzuki (right elbow inflammation) ran sprints and emulated blocking pitches in the bullpen prior to Saturday’s game after taking swings in the batting cage Friday. He has not played since Sept. 7 and is still not throwing a baseball.
“The biggest thing is getting the inflammation out of his elbow,” manager Dave Martinez said.
Rookie Raudy Read caught Saturday’s game. Yan Gomes received a day off after catching seven consecutive games.
Braves: LHP Max Fried (16-5, 4.02) looks to bounce back after suffering his first loss since July 6 earlier in the week against the Phillies. He is 1-1 against the Nationals this season.
Nationals: RHP Anîbal Sanchez (8-8, 4.04) seeks his third win of the season over the Braves, as he tries to snap a personal two-game slide.