The Washington Nationals aren’t contending for a postseason spot, but they are enjoying the longest current winning streak in the majors.
The Nationals try to extend their season-high run to six games when they meet the St. Louis Cardinals in the finale of their weekend series on Sunday.
Washington (50-60) is last in the NL East, but has outscored opponents 35-11 and hit .359 during its streak. The Nationals beat the Cardinals 12-1 on Saturday for their most lopsided win this year.
“I finally had a day off from managing,” said Nationals rookie manager Manny Acta, whose team will conclude a six-game homestand before facing Barry Bonds in San Francisco starting Tuesday night. “It was the first time I could just lay back and wait for 27 outs. It was nice for my brain cells.”
Ryan Zimmerman hit two home runs for the first multihomer game of his three-year career on Saturday, and improved to 11-for-22 with 10 RBIs during Washington’s winning streak.
“I’m just being a little more patient,” said Zimmerman, who has hit safely in nine straight at RFK Stadium. “I’m getting pitches that I can handle and not trying to do too much. I’m laying off pitches early in the count. When you’re in command, you can look for the pitches you want.”
Zimmerman’s play has helped the Nationals win seven straight at home to improve to .500 - 29-29 - there for the first time this season.
Washington will hand the ball to Matt Chico (5-6, 4.73 ERA), who is 5-1 in 12 home starts with the Nationals going 9-3 in those games. He beat Cincinnati there on Tuesday, allowing two runs and nine hits over five innings of a 6-3 win.
The rookie left-hander pitched four scoreless innings and scattered four hits in his only start versus the Cardinals (50-57) on May 27, but didn’t factor in the 7-2 win. He opposed Adam Wainwright (10-8, 4.38), who starts for the Cardinals on Sunday.
Wainwright allowed two runs over seven innings in the loss, and is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA in three career games versus the Nationals. The right-hander allowed two runs and eight hits over six innings in a 6-4 win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday and is 4-1 with a 3.09 ERA over his last five starts.
The defending World Series champions have lost four straight on their current road swing, getting outscored 35-8 and posting a 7.71 ERA.
In an effort to shake up the lineup, manager Tony La Russa batted second baseman Adam Kennedy ninth and starting pitcher Joel Pineiro eighth on Saturday. Kennedy hit a home run in the third, but that was all the Cardinals could muster.
When it was evident their pitching staff was struggling, LaRussa asked pitching coach Dave Duncan to suggest another reliever and he offered 5-foot-8 utility infielder Aaron Miles - who retired the side in the eighth.
“I didn’t know who to pitch, and Duncan said: ‘Who’s our shortest reliever?’ That’s pretty obvious, it’s Miles,” said La Russa, whose team has lost four of five meetings with Washington this season. “I applaud him for his sense of humor when we’re getting our butt beat like that.”
The Cardinals now are trying to avoid losing a season-high tying fifth straight game. They are expected to have Albert Pujols back after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a sore right elbow.
Pujols leads the Cardinals with 24 homers and 72 RBIs.