The Atlanta Braves' winning streak has reached eight. Giving the ball to Paul Maholm could the help them continue their best start in nearly two decades.
Atlanta goes for a sweep of its six-game trip and its first four-game winning streak visiting the Washington Nationals on Sunday.Sparked by rookie catcher Evan Gattis' two-run homer off Stephen Strasburg, the Braves ran their record to a major league-best 10-1 with Saturday's 3-1 victory."The guy's up there hacking," Strasburg said of Gattis, who has three homers in four games and four since his MLB debut on April 3. "I throw one up at his neck and he tomahawks it out."Gattis started at first base in Friday's 6-4, 10-inning victory, but he could be behind the plate again as Atlanta tries to extend its best start since opening 13-1 in 1994.Maholm (2-0, 0.00 ERA) could lead the Braves to their first nine-game win streak since May 26-June 3, 2010, if his early season success continues. The left-hander has thrown 12 2/3 scoreless innings in two starts, striking out 13 with four walks. It's a vast improvement from his first two starts of 2012, when Maholm gave up six runs each time in losses for the Chicago Cubs."Obviously I'm going to eventually give up runs," he told the Braves official website after allowing one hit -- a single -- in seven innings of Monday's 2-0 win at Miami. "But I'm going to try to ride this as long as possible. Every time out, I'm going to try to do the same thing. I'm going to try to be aggressive, get some quick outs, mix speeds and get some ground balls. Some days it's going to work, and some days it's not."It hasn't worked in 10 career starts versus Washington, with Maholm compiling a 1-6 record with a 5.52 ERA.While the Braves go for their first sweep in the nation's capital since Sept. 25-27, 2009, the Nationals (7-4) are looking to avoid their first winless series since dropping three in Atlanta from Sept. 14-16.Washington completes its six-game homestand with Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.82) on the hill. It will be his third home start after striking out seven, a season high, and permitting one run in Tuesday's 8-7 victory over the Chicago White.The left-hander, a 21-game winner in 2012, will likely be throwing to Kurt Suzuki after Wilson Ramos pulled his left hamstring on Saturday."It's a pretty deep pull," manager Davey Johnson said. "We'll see how he comes out of it tomorrow, but we'll probably have to get somebody in here."Whoever's back there, Gonzalez needs to work more efficiently. He's lasted just six and five innings, respectively, in his first two appearances with pitch counts of 91 and 99.Johnson told the team's official website on Saturday that he's been "real pleased" with his starters and that they'll "go deeper as the season goes on," but an abbreviated outing by Gonzalez could be problematic given the club's bullpen struggles.Washington's relievers have a 7.81 ERA in the last eight games after walking seven and yielding six runs in six innings this series.Atlanta's bullpen has a MLB-best 1.35 ERA after allowing one run in the last nine games -- a 25 1/3-inning stretch.Craig Kimbrel nailed down his MLB high-tying sixth save on Saturday when Atlanta recorded its sixth consecutive victory in this NL East matchup.