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Braves Vs: Nationals: Stephen Strasburg Starts Crucial Series Opener

A crucial four-game series over the weekend will go a long ways to determine which team has the edge in the NL East standings as August rapidly approaches.

ATLANTA - JUNE 28:  Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning to Martin Prado #14 of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - JUNE 28: Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning to Martin Prado #14 of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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While the Washington Nationals still hold the National League's best record, the gap between them and the Atlanta Braves has closed some during the time since the end of the All-Star Break. A seven-game winning streak for the Braves was snapped by the Giants on Tuesday, but it was still enough for Atlanta to cut the Nationals' lead in the NL East down to 3.5 games entering Friday.

A crucial four-game series over the weekend will go a long ways to determine which team has the edge in the standings as August rapidly approaches. But for the Braves to continue to cut away at the Nationals lead they'll first have to beat Stephen Strasburg on Friday.

Strasburg won his last outing when he held the Marlins scoreless through six innings and struck out seven Miami batters. The seven strikeouts brought his total for the year to 135, the best mark in the NL. To win a second consecutive game, though, Strasburg will have to best Tommy Hanson.

Hanson matches Strasburg in wins at 10, but has struggled recently as his last four starts ballooned his ERA from 3.32 to 4.02. In his last start, Hanson allowed six earned runs before being yanked with one out in the sixth inning.

The first pitch on Friday's game is scheduled to be thrown at 7:05 at Nationals Park and will be televised on MLB Network, MASN and Peachtree TV.