Washington (58-53) at Houston (60-51)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 81° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Tue Aug 9, 2005
Preview | Box Score | Recap

As pivotal as this series may seem for the Washington Nationals, it shouldn’t make or break their season.

This road trip might.

In desperate need of a lift, the Nationals take on the team they’re chasing in the wild card race when they meet the Houston Astros for the first of 13 road games in as many days.

Washington, 6-17 since the All-Star break, has seen its 5 1/2 -game lead in the NL East become a 5 1/2 -game deficit behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. The Nationals, who have scored an average of just 2.9 runs per game over the past month, are two games behind the Astros for the wild card.

“I think it’s a big series for this ballclub to figure out what kind of club it’s going to be,” Washington’s Brad Wilkerson said. “Is it going to be a club that’s going to toughen up and rise to the challenge? Or are you going to be a club that’s going to collapse?”

A closed-door clubhouse meeting before Saturday’s game against San Diego and a lineup shake-up Sunday failed to get things turned around as the Nationals lost 3-2 and 2-0, respectively.

“We’re losing ballgames that we should be winning,” manager Frank Robinson said, “and pretty soon it will be too late.”

Maybe getting away from home and not reading the negative headlines in Washington will benefit the team. This 13-game trip also includes series against Colorado, Philadelphia and the New York Mets. The Nationals won’t play at home again until Aug. 23.

“Right now, it doesn’t seem like (we are in) very good spirits. I think this road trip is going to tell a lot about this team,” Wilkerson said.

Houston, meanwhile, opens a 13-game homestand with four teams within three games of its wild-card lead.

The Astros had been one of baseball’s hottest teams before losing three straight last week, but ended that skid with an 8-1 victory Sunday over San Francisco.

Roger Clemens won his fourth straight start with another dominant effort on the road, and Jason Lane’s three-run homer capped Houston’s eighth-inning rally.

“Teams were playing us tough anyway, but maybe more so after we got back in the race,” Clemens said. “The guys persevered, and this makes that trip back home a whole lot easier.”

Houston’s lineup broke out for seven runs in the final two innings Sunday, and looks to keep it going against John Patterson.

A bright spot in an otherwise dismal second half for Washington, Patterson has given up two runs or fewer in eight straight starts. He’s only 2-1 in that span because the Nationals have scored a total of just 19 runs.

More than a third of that support came Thursday, when he struck out a career-high 13 and notched his first big-league shutout in a 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Patterson Tex vs. E. Astacio ChC
9-7 Record 3-6
3.13 ERA 5.67
185 K 66
65 BB 25
1.19 WHIP 1.54