Having ended a five-game losing streak, the Washington Nationals now try to rebuild momentum against a tough opponent in the St. Louis Cardinals. The defending World Series champs visit Nationals Park for four games, giving the Nats an up-close look at the success they hope to emulate.
The rare losing skid began to raise concerns about the upstart Nats, and they no longer hold the best record in the National League. They'll need to up their level of play against the Cardinals, who may have lost their manager and superstar following last season, but are playing good baseball and are in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Thursday, August 30, 7:05 p.m. EDT
Edwin Jackson (7-9, 3.72) vs. Jaime Garcia (3-5, 4.15)
Friday, August 31, 7:05 p.m. EDT
Gio Gonzalez (16-7, 3.28) vs. Adam Wainwright (13-10, 3.63)
Saturday, September 1, 4:05 p.m. EDT
Sunday, September 2, 1:35 p.m. EDT
Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 3.05) vs. Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.94)
Season Series: This is the first meeting of the year between the two teams. The Nats and Cards also meet September 28-30 in St. Louis.
A five-game losing streak took some of the shine off the Nationals, but they still hold a five-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and have buried the rest of the NL East. The Nats snapped the losing skid on Wednesday with a win in Miami following a brief team meeting. Nagging injuries to Ian Desmond and Michael Morse contributed to the slide, but the line-up is otherwise near full-strength. A two-HR game from Bryce Harper on Wednesday also provides hope that the 19-year-old might break out of his second-half slump. As always, the team can rely on the pitching staff, which leads the NL with a 3.28 ERA.
The Cardinals arrive without Albert Pujols or Tony LaRussa, but they're 71-59 and would hold a wildcard spot in the playoffs if the season ended today. St. Louis brings one of the best-hitting line-ups to D.C., including Carlos Beltran (28 HRs) and Matt Holliday (90 RBIs). The Cards may be without C Yadier Molina and his .325 average, following a violent home-plate collision on Tuesday night. The team's pitching has been ordinary this season, outside of a breakthrough year from starter Kyle Lohse.
The Nationals return home and have an excellent opportunity to measure themselves against the defending champs. There's no reason to panic over the Nats' recent slump, but the team could use a good showing against a top opponent as they head into the season's final month. The Nats have to gear up to hold off the Braves, while the Cardinals are in the heat of a tight race for the two wildcard spots.
The pitching matchups look to provide intriguing games each day of the four-game series. Friday's starters have combined for 29 wins, and Saturday features two of baseball's lowest ERAs in Zimmermann and Lohse. All eyes will be on Stephen Strasburg on Sunday, who's coming off a rare, terrible outing as he approaches his controversial innings limit. It all adds up to a promising series -- it may be too early to think about playoff previews, but we should see playoff-caliber baseball.
KW Rosenfeld is a lifelong baseball fan who visited every major league ballpark in the summer of 1991. A longtime resident of Northern Virginia, he's still thankful that baseball has returned to D.C.