WASHINGTON -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny encourages healthy competition between his starting pitchers, so he couldn't have been more pleased with the trio of can-you-top-this? starts he received during this trip to the nation's capital.
Jaime Garcia followed in the footsteps of Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright with a dominating pitching performance, combining with three relievers to shut down the Nationals in a 4-2 victory on Wednesday to gain a three-game sweep.
"Jaime just kept the momentum going," Matheny said. "It was another good outing. He really did a nice job of keeping focused and really simplifying. He was just going pitch by pitch, it looked like."
Garcia (2-1) was on cruise control for much of the game against a struggling Washington offense, allowing a bunt single in the second inning and a double in the fourth before running out of gas in the sixth.
"They have a lot of really good hitters over there so you don't look at what they've done in the past," he said. "You look at what they are capable of doing."
He allowed an RBI groundout by Bryce Harper in his 5 2/3 innings, giving up four hits while striking out three. Joe Kelly got the final out of the sixth and worked the seventh before Trevor Rosenthal pitched the eighth, allowing a home run to Jayson Werth.
Edward Mujica closed out the win for his fourth save of the year.
Strasburg (1-4) got off to a slow start, allowing three first-inning runs, before settling down to retire 17 of the last 19 batters he faced. But with the Nationals scoring just four runs in their last 36 innings, a three-run deficit was too big of a hill to climb.
"We've been pressing," Werth said. "We're just going through it. But it's not as bad as it seems."
Yadier Molina had two RBI as St. Louis completed its three-city, nine-game road trip with a 6-3 record, lifting the Cardinals into first place in the National League Central.
"Looking back and reviewing the road trip, it was a tough trip overall," Matheny said. "The guys played extremely well. They played hard."
Washington, meanwhile, has lost six straight home games and is 1-8 against teams with winning records to fall below .500 (10-11) for the first time since the close of the 2011 season, when the Nationals finished 80-81.
"We're all frustrated," Strasburg said. "We all want to go out there and win every single game and, you know, it seems like the ball is not really dropping in our favor. It seems like we hit it to where they are at all the time and that's not going to happen for the entire year. We just have to keep grinding and stick together."
The crowd was still filing into the stadium when Strasburg ran into trouble in the first inning, although the Cardinals didn't exactly rough up the Washington ace.
Matt Carpenter led off the game with a flare to left that just dropped in fair territory. Carpenter pushed for the extra base, and while Harper's throw got to second in time, the ball squirted out of Danny Espinosa's glove for a double. Matt Holliday then singled and Carlos Beltran walked to load the bases.
Molina lofted a single just inside the right-field line to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Strasburg appeared to induce a double play ground ball from David Descalso, but third baseman Anthony Rendon's throw pulled Espinosa off the bag, allowing Beltran to score and make it 3-0.
"You saw it. Weak contact in the first -- what can you do?" Strasburg said. "They hit it where we weren't."
NOTES: Nationals manager Davey Johnson promised lineup changes before Wednesday's game, but they were relatively minor, with Tyler Moore replacing slumping Adam LaRoche at first base and catcher Jhonatan Solano starting in place of Kurt Suzuki. ... St. Louis swept a three-game road series from the the Nationals' franchise for the first time since beating the Expos on Sept. 26-28, 1969, in Montreal. ... Rendon's error was the Nationals' MLB-leading 19th. ... The Cardinals lead baseball with a .352 average with runners in scoring position and in hitting with runners in scoring position and two outs at .380. They were 3 for 10 on Wednesday.