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Nationals-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

A series against the team with the worst record in the majors gives the Washington Nationals a golden opportunity to pad their lead in the NL East.

They'd like to make things a bit easier on themselves, however.

A night after a pair of errors led to an extra-inning victory, the Nationals look to continue their impressive success on the road against the woeful Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

Washington (66-43) leads the East by three games over Atlanta and seems to be in position to widen that gap against Houston (36-74), which has dropped a staggering 27 of 31.

The Nationals got some help in maintaining that advantage on the Braves by beating the Astros 5-4 in 11 innings to open this four-game set Monday. Kurt Suzuki's bunt single produced throwing errors to first and home, allowing Roger Bernadina to score the decisive run from first.

"Everything conceivable that could go wrong went wrong," manager Davey Johnson said. "They gave us one by airmailing it over first base then airmailed it over the catcher."

Washington has won 13 of 18 on the road, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been a key figure in that success. He's hitting .367 with six homers and 21 RBIs during that stretch after getting two hits and knocking in two runs Monday.

Zimmerman is 8 for 20 with seven RBIs to spark Washington's 4-1 record against Houston this year. He's also 3 for 5 with a homer versus Jordan Lyles, the Astros' scheduled starter for Tuesday.

He'll be opposed by Ross Detwiler (6-4, 3.02 ERA), a pleasant surprise since replacing an ineffective Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation. The left-hander is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA in seven starts since, and turned in perhaps his best performance yet in Thursday's 3-0 win over Philadelphia. He yielded three hits in seven innings to outpitch Cole Hamels.

"He started the game amped up," Johnson told the team's official website. "Then, he started getting confidence - not overthrow, hit his spots and made it look easy. ... You could see he had great movement on his fastball."

Despite his recent success, Detwiler hasn't won on the road since beating the New York Mets in his season debut on April 10. He's 0-3 with a 4.23 ERA in nine games - six starts - since.

Houston has lost 10 of 12 at home, committing 11 errors and hitting .167 with runners in scoring position.

"Somewhere, we're stowing up some hits," manager Brad Mills said. "We get runners on and we're getting a lot of opportunities, but we're just not bringing them in."

Lyles (2-8, 5.95) is 0-4 with an 8.02 ERA in six starts since beating San Diego on June 26. Opponents are batting .349 and have hit 10 homers off the right-hander in that span.

He was hit hard again Wednesday, giving up a career-high nine runs and nine hits in five innings of a 13-4 loss at Milwaukee.

He's 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA in two games versus the Nationals, losing his only start against them on July 18, 2011.

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