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Pirates-Nationals Preview

AP - Sports

Even if Gio Gonzalez can continue his outstanding pitching, the Washington Nationals' slumping offense hasn't shown it can provide enough runs to end the team's lengthy slide.

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope to take advantage of those troubles and complete their first four-game road sweep of the Washington/Montreal franchise in 25 years Thursday.

Washington (48-53), the defending NL East champion, had its late rally fall short against a Pittsburgh team playing without injured All-Star closer Jason Grilli (forearm) in Wednesday's 4-2 loss.

The struggling Nationals had only two hits over the first eight innings before managing three in the ninth, including Jayson Werth's two-run home run, but still lost their season-worst sixth straight contest.

While Werth is 5 for 12 with five homers and eight RBIs in his last four games, Washington has gone 2 for 35 (.057) with runners in scoring position and totaled 13 runs during its skid.

Star left fielder Bryce Harper (knee) and shortstop Ian Desmond (hand blister) missed Wednesday's contest, but could be back as the Nationals look to avoid their longest losing streak since an eight-game slide from Aug. 28 - Sept. 5, 2009.

"We need to win some games,'' Wednesday's losing pitcher Stephen Strasburg said. "It's getting to the point where our back's against the wall.''

Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89 ERA) seems poised to keep them close since he's 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last nine starts.

The left-hander matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and yielded four hits over six shutout innings, but was given only one run of support in Washington's eventual 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.

He'll try to build on his 2-0 record with a 2.84 ERA in his fourth career start against the Pirates (60-39) after surrendering two runs and five hits over six innings in a 6-2 victory at Pittsburgh on May 5.

Starling Marte took Gonzalez deep in that meeting, though he enters this meeting 1 for 21 in his last five games.

Following his own 1-for-21 stretch, teammate Pedro Alvarez may be heating up after going 3 for 7 with two home runs in the last two games of this series.

He'll try to help the Pirates win their fifth straight and claim their first four-game road sweep in this rivalry since June 23-26, 1988.

A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.05) has gone 1-5 with a 3.39 ERA over his last 10 starts thanks in part to a Pittsburgh offense that has given him just 19 runs of support over that span. That's been a common theme for Burnett - his 3.07 run-support average ranks among the lowest in the major leagues.

The right-hander allowed four runs in the first inning but settled down and struck out eight in a 5-4 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday. He yielded five runs - two earned - and a season-high 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings.

Only two of his 15 career starts versus Washington/Montreal have come within the past two seasons. Burnett has struck out 19 while going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA over 15 innings in those outings - both Pittsburgh victories.

While Burnett has made things tough on Ryan Zimmerman (0 for 9) and Desmond (0 for 7), Adam LaRoche is 3 for 6 with a home run since 2010.

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