The two teams, whose seasons have taken opposite turns since the All-Star break, open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
Washington (46-56) entered the break 14 games below .500 but has won eight of 12 since then, including its season-high sixth straight with a 6-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday. The Nationals pulled within 10 games of the break-even mark for the first time since June 21.
Los Angeles is 1-13 since the midseason break while being outscored 81-29, and has dropped eight consecutive games. The Dodgers’ 10-3 loss to the NL West-leading San Diego Padres on Wednesday dropped them a season-worst 7 1/2 games out of first place in the division. They have not lost nine in a row since a 10-game skid from June 10-21, 1992.
“It’s both mental and physical—it’s frustrating for everyone, the coaches, the players and the fans,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “We have to keep working to try and make it better.”
Washington took two of three games from Los Angeles (47-55) May 26-28 and may be poised to do it again. Alfonso Soriano, who has been the focus of trade talks as the July 31 deadline approaches, hit his sixth leadoff homer of the season on Thursday, tying the major league lead.
“I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but I’m still here,” said Soriano, who is batting .422 with five homers, seven RBIs and 14 runs in 12 games since the All-Star break.
“It’s a very good feeling, especially if it’s my last game— I hit a leadoff homer for my fans here in D.C.,” he added. “I’m going to be very sad if I have to leave.”
The Nationals begin a nine-game road trip after completing the franchise’s first undefeated homestand of at least six games since the Montreal Expos went 6-0 from Sept. 6-12, 1993.
Tony Armas (7-5, 4.35 ERA) tries to follow up one of his best starts of the season when he takes the mound for Washington. The right-hander allowed one run, three hits and no walks over seven innings of a 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. He threw 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes and retired the side in order in five innings.
“It was a very good outing for him. He didn’t look like he was laboring out there,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “(Throwing strikes) makes a big difference and getting the hitters in a swinging mode and getting some outs. The main thing was that he wasn’t behind on a lot of hitters.”
Armas is 2-1 against with a 3.71 ERA in five career starts against the Dodgers. He will be opposed by Chad Billingsley (1-3, 4.26), who makes his first career start against the Nationals.
The rookie right-hander struggled in his last outing, allowing six runs, six hits and five walks in five innings of a 6-1 loss to St. Louis on Sunday. That effort was dramatically different from his previous two, when he pitched seven scoreless innings in a 5-2 win at Arizona on July 18 and five shutout frames against the Cardinals on July 13.