By many measures -- wins and losses chief among them -- the Braves and Nationals are the top two teams in the National League East. You just might not know it by watching them play each other.
The Braves are 20-8 in their last 28 games overall against Washington, including a 7-2 mark this season. Atlanta is 31-34 against everybody else in 2014. The Braves will try to improve further upon that mark Sunday in the conclusion of a four-game set, the first two games of which the Braves won before dropping a 3-0 decision on Saturday night.
When it comes to why the Braves are dominant against the Nats and so-so against everybody else, well, they don't really know.
"Somehow, we always put [up] good at-bats against the Nationals," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "I don't know why. But we get locked in a little bit. Hopefully, we keep doing it whenever we play division teams."
Added Atlanta lefty Mike Minor: "It's always close, but we seem to come out ahead every time. I think it's two good teams going at it. We just happen to be better those days."
Sunday, Ervin Santana is tasked with continuing that magic -- but it might not be so easy for him. After starting off with a 1.99 ERA and .221 opponents' batting average in his first six starts, Santana has struggled to the tune of a 6.17 ERA and .315 OBA in his last seven.
"I know I'm close to getting out of this," Santana insisted after his last start, a six-inning, four-run effort against the Phillies. "I just need to make good pitches."
Santana owns a 3.67 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in four career starts against Washington.
Right-hander Tanner Roark (2.85 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) will start for the Nationals. After making his Major League debut against the Braves with two scoreless innings of relief last August, then shutting them out for seven innings in September, Roark was touched up by Atlanta for five runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings on April 11.
His last start was not sharp. Roark limited the Astros to one run on Tuesday, but he struggled with his command and lasted only five innings.
"He labored through and got us five and did his job," Washington manager Matt Williams said after that game, a 6-5 Nationals win. "But it was a labor."
Braves: Gattis on a tear
With a sixth-inning single to center to extend his hitting streak to 20 games, Evan Gattis sent out another signal that, yes, he is worthy of the All-Star attention he has been attracting. His hitting streak is the longest for an Atlanta batter since Dan Uggla's 33-gamer in July-August 2011.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the hitting streak is also the longest by a player who was the starting catcher for every game of the streak since Jason Kendall put together a 20-game stretch for the 2004 Pirates.
Should Gattis indeed earn an All-Star bid, it will be a first for the man who broke into the Majors as a 26-year-old last season. He's hitting .298 with a .922 OPS in 2014, with those numbers jumping up to .391 and 1.136 this month. His 16 homers lead all Major League catchers.
Nationals: Freeman crushing Nats pitching, but not Roark
When it comes to cooling down Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman -- a career .314 (72-for-229) hitter against Washington, including .486 (18-for-37) this season -- the Nationals might have the answer on the mound Sunday.
It is a small sample size, but Freeman is 1-for-6 with a double and two strikeouts against Roark. Still, though, don't be surprised if Nationals pitchers are a little wary of the Atlanta slugger.
"It's been for a while now, and it's been with everybody," Williams said of Freeman's offensive prowess. "He's a big guy that has a really short swing. So he can get to fastballs. He's got a really good eye at the plate, and recognizes pitches. And he uses the whole diamond. So all encompassed, that's what makes him a good hitter.
"Certainly [Freeman has] been tough on us, we know that. But he's been tough on everybody. That's why he hits .300. That's really hard to do over the course of a season."
• Nationals center fielder Denard Span has hit .333 (8-for-24) with a double and a homer vs. Santana.
• After missing three games with dizziness, left fielder Justin Upton made his return to the Atlanta lineup Saturday. He went 0-for-4 and left three runners on base.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.