Going for the sweep

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Before we get going, you might be interested to check out this item on Tim Lemke’s SportsBiz blog. Forbes magazine has come out with its annual MLB franchise value rankings, and the Nats’ total worth is down to $406 million (remember, they bought the team for $450 million three years ago).

OK, meanwhile on the field…

Who would have thought two days ago the Nats would have a chance to sweep a three-game series from a division rival? Well, that’s the scenario facing them tonight. Another win over the Braves would cap a remarkable turn of events since a disastrous weekend that saw Washington blow three straight ninth-inning leads to the Marlins.

Actually, another win tonight would be big because it would allow the Nats to gain another game back on Florida in the NL East. The Marlins just got swept by the suddenly surging Pirates, so in the course of three days Washington could go from 9 1/2 games out to 6 1/2 out. Still a mountain to climb, to be sure, but smaller than it was when the week began.

In order for the Nats to pull that off, though, they’re probably going to need another solid effort from their starting pitcher. John Lannan takes the mound tonight hoping to duplicate what his rotation mates have done for the last week. Over the last six games, Washington starters have combined to go 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA. There have been five quality starts, and the only one that wasn’t (by Daniel Cabrera) nearly was. Cabrera allowed two runs over five innings.

A couple of things to keep an eye on tonight:

— Both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn have streaks on the line. Zimmerman has hit in 11 straight games. Dunn has reached base in all 13 games this season.

— New-look middle infield, with Alex Cintron at shortstop and Ronnie Belliard at second. Manny Acta said he wanted to make sure both guys got a shot to start for a change and to give Alberto Gonzalez (who has struggled in the field) a night off.

OK, here are tonight’s lineups…

NATIONALS

SS Alex Cintron

1B Nick Johnson

3B Ryan Zimmerman

RF Adam Dunn

CF Elijah Dukes

LF Josh Willingham

2B Ronnie Belliard

C Jesus Flores

P John Lannan

BRAVES

2B Kelly Johnson

SS Yunel Escobar

3B Chipper Jones

C Brian McCann

RF Jeff Francoeur

LF Matt Diaz

1B Casey Kotchman

CF Jordan Schafer

P Jair Jurrjens

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Mark Zuckerman

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