Acuña homers twice, Braves beat Nationals 8-2 to tie for 1st

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a pair of solo home runs and the Atlanta Braves defeated the Washington Nationals 8-2 on Tuesday night for their fourth consecutive win, moving them into a first-place tie in the NL East with the New York Mets.

Orlando Arcia also homered and Michael Harris II had a two-run triple for the Braves, who caught the Mets when New York lost 6-4 at home to Miami. Both teams have seven games left, including a head-to-head three-game series starting Friday in Atlanta.

With the win, the defending World Series champion Braves (97-58) are guaranteed the No. 2 playoff seed in the National League if they finish ahead of the Mets.

“The hope is to win tomorrow and then the hope is to have a good series against New York this weekend,” Acuña said through a translator. “The division is on the line.”

Acuna is heating up down the stretch. He has hits in seven of his past nine games and is batting .294 (10 for 34) with four homers, eight runs and 10 RBI during that span.

Victor Robles homered and Luke Voit had two doubles for the last-place Nationals (53-101).

Kyle Muller, recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to start for the Braves, permitted two runs in 4 2/3 innings and was lifted after a two-out walk.

“He threw the ball really well,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I’d have loved to see Kyle get that last out in the fifth and get the decision but at that point in the game it’s about winning the game.”

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Collin McHugh (3-2) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win.

Paolo Espino (0-8) retired the first 10 Braves batters before giving up four runs and five hits.

Harris tied the score 2-all with a two-run triple in the fourth over the head of right fielder Lane Thomas, who paused momentarily before racing back to the wall.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen guys handcuff outfielders like (Harris) does,” Snitker said. “I’ve seen a lot of really good hitters but I’ve never seen anybody just … the explosion off the bat like that. Man, that’s something else.”

Espino would have been out of the inning unscathed had he been able to corral Matt Olson’s slow roller with two outs and one on.

“I think it was OK until that one play,” Espino said of his outing. “That one play, that would’ve been the third out, and I probably would’ve been out of there. And then the lineup would’ve been different coming into the fifth inning.”

With two outs in that fifth, Arcia’s fly ball just cleared the wall in left for his second homer in two matches. Acuña followed with a line drive down the left-field line to make it 4-2.

Harris started a two-out rally in the sixth with an infield single. He was initially called out at first base, but Atlanta challenged and it was overturned. William Contreras singled and Eddie Rosario smacked a two-run double off the wall in center.

Acuña’s second home run of the night and 15th of the season made it 7-2 in the seventh.

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