Anibal Sanchez stepped up big on Sunday, giving up no runs and just three hits in seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the first-place Atlanta Braves 7-0 to salvage the final contest of the three-game set.
Veteran first baseman Howie Kendrick had three hits and drove in three runs as the Nationals scored at least seven times for the 19th occasion in the last five weeks.
The Nationals had lost the first two games of the series by a combined 15-1 and watched their lead for the top spot in the wild-card race fall to 1½ games after a 10-1 loss Saturday.
But Sanchez, who helped Atlanta win the division in 2018, used his change-up effectively against a power-hitting team and improved to 3-0 this year against the Braves before a crowd of 29,350.
The 35-year-old right-hander from Venezuela reversed a trend, as he improved to 8-11 in his career against the Braves. He entered the game with a 6.28 ERA against the Braves when pitching at home.
The Nationals’ chances of making the playoffs were 93.4% before Sunday’s game, according to ESPN. The Braves still hold a 9½-game lead in the National League East standings.
Getting another start at catcher, Yan Gomes had a two-run single as the Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the second.
Top catcher Kurt Suzuki has missed the last week with right elbow inflammation.
Washington added three more in the third, as Kendrick had a two-run single and Victor Robles walked with the bases loaded to make it 5-0.
Kendrick, who upped his average to .336, hit a long solo homer to left in the fifth for a 6-0 bulge and the Nationals had a run in the sixth on a double-play grounder for a 7-0 lead.
Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (16-6) gave up five runs in just 2 1/3 innings in his shortest outing since May 7.
The Washington lineup again was missing slugger Matt Adams, who hurt his shoulder Thursday on the road against the Minnesota Twins. Washington manager Dave Martinez said Adams is day to day, as Kendrick got the start at first base over Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals bullpen had a 5.92 ERA before Sunday and had allowed 82 homers and gave up nine runs Saturday in the loss. Hunter Strickland took over for Sanchez in the eighth and pitched a scoreless frame and Sean Doolittle threw the ninth.
Washington begins a three-game series Monday in St. Louis against the first-place Cardinals, who will start right-hander Dakota Hudson (15-7, 3.38). The Nationals will counter with Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.49), who leads the National League in wins.