The red-hot Diamondbacks look to increase their NL West lead on Friday night when they begin a three-game series against the improving Nationals.
Less than one month ago, the Diamondbacks (65-51) were two games over .500 and tied for third in the West. They then proceeded to win eight straight, and have shown no signs of slowing down, winning 15 of 18 to open a season-high three-game lead over San Diego in the West.
The Diamondbacks moved 15 games over .500 for the first time since finishing the 2002 season atop the West with a 98-64 record. They have won six consecutive series - three shy of the franchise record - for the first time since April 25-May 14, 2000.
“I think that’s our focus all along is (winning) series,” manager Bob Melvin told the Diamondbacks’ official Web site. “That’s kind of our long-term goal. Our short term and mid-terms are kind of that particular game and expecting to win and going at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. That’s as simple as we want to keep it around here.”
Although it’s been four months, Arizona easily handled Washington earlier this season, sweeping a four-game series at RFK Stadium from April 5-8 by a combined score of 21-6. The Diamondbacks have won five straight against the Nationals after losing 15 of the previous 17 meetings.
Orlando Hudson capped an excellent series with two hits Thursday, including the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning. He was 7-for-12 with two RBIs, three runs scored and two steals in the series.
It was the eighth win in 10 games for Washington (53-62), which is no longer in sole possession of last place in the East. While that may not sound impressive, the Nationals were picked by many to lose 100 games this season.
Strong pitching has been the biggest key for Washington, which is 17-10 since the All-Star break.
In the last 37 games, dating to June 29, the Nationals have a major league-best 3.67 ERA.
Arizona’s Livan Hernandez (7-7, 4.83 ERA) faces his former team for the second time this season. Hernandez, who pitched for the Washington-Montreal franchise from 2003-06, was acquired from the Nationals on Aug. 7, 2006 for Matt Chico and pitcher Garrett Mock.
The right-hander allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings at Washington on April 8 in a 3-1 victory in his third appearance against his former team since the trade.
Hernandez allowed two runs - one earned - and five hits in six innings of an 8-7 road win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday to even his record. It was the first time in his last 13 starts that he did not allow a home run.
Chico (5-6, 4.76) seeks his first career road victory for the Nationals as he faces the pitcher he was traded for. The rookie left-hander is 0-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 10 road starts with Washington posting a 3-7 record in those games. He is 1-0 with a 5.66 ERA in his last four starts overall, pitching past the fifth inning only once during that span.
Chico gave up three runs and six hits in five innings Sunday against St. Louis, leaving without a decision in Washington’s 6-3 victory.
This will be his first appearance against the Diamondbacks.