Braves outfielders Reed Johnson, left, and B.J. Upton celebrate Sunday’s 6-3 win against the Nationals. Upton smacked his fifth homer of the year, while his brother, Justin Upton, was 3-for-4 at the plate.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are in first place by 6 1/2 games, and both of the Upton brothers are finally hitting. That’s bad news for defending National League East champion Washington and the rest of the division.
Justin Upton had three hits and B.J. Upton homered as the Braves beat the Nationals for the seventh time in 10 games, winning 6-3 on Sunday to take two of the three games in the weekend series at Turner Field.
“It was a big game for the brothers,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Justin, acquired in a trade with Arizona, started the season hot for the Braves, setting a team record with 12 homers in April. But older brother B.J. was in a two-month slump until delivering a game-winning single in the 10th inning on Saturday night.
The center fielder followed up that two-hit game with a second-inning homer in the series finale, and Justin reached base his first four times up on three singles and an intentional walk as the Braves improved to 34-22.
“It was a big game for the team, not just the Uptons,” B.J. said. “That’s a tough team and you want to win every game you can against them.”
The loss dropped Washington under .500 at 28-29, and the Nationals, who had to put Bryce Harper on the disabled list Saturday, have won just three of their past nine games. But they should get fellow outfielder Jayson Werth back from the disabled list before their next game.
“It’s just a matter of time until we get our pieces back and get going,” Ian Desmond said. “This is by no means a sprint. We’re here for the long haul. I will get better.”
Paul Maholm (7-4) got the victory for Atlanta, allowing five hits and two earned runs in six innings while recording his third quality start against the Nationals in as many games this season. He struck out four and hit a batter, throwing 92 pitches.
Anthony Varvaro and Luis Avilan each pitched a perfect inning in relief of Maholm, and closer Craig Kimbrel did the same in the ninth while recording his 17th save.
The Braves led 2-0 after two batters against Nathan Karns, who was making his second major league start.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman threw away Andrelton Simmons’ leadoff grounder, and Ramiro Pena deposited a first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats for his third homer of the season and second against the Nationals.
Pena, in the lineup at third base, came in 6-for-14 against Washington this season and was 9-for-19 in his past five starts dating to the middle of May.
The Nationals tied it the second, with one of their runs being unearned as well. Adam LaRoche doubled leading off, and Desmond followed with a bunt single. Tyler Moore drove in a run with a single, and a second run scored when Maholm dropped a throw at first base on what should have been the third out.
But B.J. Upton made sure the game would be tied only briefly. With one out in the bottom of the second, he picked on a 1-0 fastball from Karns and sent a no-doubter into the left-field seats. It was just his second homer since April 23 and fifth of the season.
Karns (0-1) also allowed two solo homers in his major league debut against Baltimore on Tuesday. But those were the only runs the right-hander allowed in 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles.
“I felt more comfortable, but I wanted to get a ‘W’ for these guys,” Karns said. “These are good hitters. They’re making it difficult for me. I want to make it difficult for them.”
Karns was pulled after 4 2/3 innings this time, and left-hander Zach Duke gave up a run-scoring single to Brian McCann, the first batter he faced. Karns gave up seven hits, struck out six and walked one.
The Nationals got the run back in the sixth as Desmond pounced on a 2-2 pitch and lined his seventh homer of the season into the left-field stands. The blow extended Washington’s streak to 75 consecutive series with at least one home run.
But the Braves padded their lead in the sixth. Duke walked two, one intentionally, and Freddie Freeman delivered a two-run double that just missed being a grand slam. The umpires went to video review, but replays confirmed that the ball hit the top of the left-field fence and bounced back into play.
“Hopefully the next time we play them we have a bigger lead,” said Freeman, who went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .314.
NOTES: Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg has a mild strain of the lat muscle, not his oblique as first thought, and the team will wait to see if a trip to the disabled list is needed. He had to leave Friday’s game after two innings. … Braves RF Jason Heyward, hitless in his past 19 at-bats, was out of the lineup Sunday for the second time in four games. He struck out all three times up on Saturday and is batting .142. … The Braves conclude their eight-game homestand with three games against the Pirates beginning Monday night. RHP Kris Medlen (1-6, 3.48) will start for the Braves against RHP A.J. Burnett (3-5, 2.72 ERA). Medlen was hit by a liner on his upper left calf Wednesday and had to leave his start against the Blue Jays after two innings. … The Nationals are off Monday before beginning a three-game home series with the Mets on Tuesday night.