"Here's a chance to get really, really close," Gonzalez said of the series, which begins on Friday night at Nationals Park. "We've still got a long way to go, still got some hurdles to jump."
Tommy Hanson, who's had an inconsistent season by his standards, will start for the Braves and is ready to help his team when it counts most.
In his first start after the All-Star break, last Saturday against the Mets, Hanson stumbled out of the gate, allowing six runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings for a no-decision.
Against the Nationals on June 3, however, Hanson tossed seven innings, surrendering two runs on six hits while striking out five to earn the win.
The Braves will need that type of performance with Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg set to take the hill.
The fireballing Strasburg is 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA against the Braves this season. In his last start against Atlanta, Strasburg went just three innings, allowing three runs on two hits to take the loss.
Strasburg won his start on Sunday against the Marlins, escaping jam after jam. The right-hander tossed six scoreless innings and struck out seven, holding Miami to just one hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"I thought he used his fastball better; his location was better," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said after the game. "That's the kind of Strasburg that I've grown to love. ... Even though he had two or three rough jams, he pitched out of them by basically making pitches with his fastball."
Braves: Chipper rests sore knee
Chipper Jones was out of the Braves' starting lineup on Thursday for the second time in as many days with a sore right knee.
Martin Prado replaced Jones, making his 17th start of the season at third base.
Jones pinch-hit in the seventh inning of Atlanta's 9-4 loss to the Giants in 11 innings on Wednesday night, but after the game, he said his oft-injured knees were "killing" him. Jones said at the time that he expected to need to rest during Thursday's game, a 3-2 Braves win.
"I would say so, just because when I had to back up on that ground ball [in the 11th inning], it was tough to plant my right leg and really be able to push off," Jones said. "It was kind of all arm over there, and that's why you saw it come up short. It didn't feel good when I got here today, and it progressively got worse."
Nationals: Storen activated; Ankiel designated
Right-handed reliever Drew Storen was activated from the disabled list before Thursday's series finale against the Mets -- a 9-5 Nationals loss -- and outfielder Rick Ankiel was designated for assignment.
Storen tossed one inning in Thursday's game, allowing no hits on just nine pitches.
"I feel confident out there, and I feel comfortable," Storen said after returning to the club on Wednesday. "I think that's kind of the main thing; that's what you try to get in Spring Training. I've been treating these rehab appearances like Spring Training, and I'm really happy with where I'm at."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the main reason behind the move was for the club to carry eight relievers through the weekend, which includes four games in three days against the Braves.
A home run in the second inning of Thursday's contest against the Giants put Freddie Freeman's hitting streak at 10 games. The Atlanta first baseman is 9-for-21 with three home runs since the All-Star break.
With Jhonatan Solano battling a strained left oblique, the Nationals recalled Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday to serve as their backup catcher. He went 1-for-3 in Thursday's game.