Nationals-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

With the best road record in the majors, the Washington Nationals would seem to have a very good chance of ending their recent struggles in Houston.

The NL East-leading Nationals begin that quest Monday when they open a 10-game road trip against the lowly Astros.

Coming off back-to-back home wins over Miami, Washington (65-43) has won 12 of 17 overall. It's won six of seven during that stretch on the road, where its 33-21.

Washington, however, has dropped 10 of 14 at Houston since it last won a series there Aug. 20-23, 2007.

That trend could be reversed with Houston (36-73) owning the majors' worst overall record. The Astros are 25-27 at Minute Maid Park, where they snapped a seven-game skid with a 9-5 win over Pittsburgh on July 29.

Houston's 6-1 loss at Atlanta on Sunday was the club's 30th defeat in 34 games overall.

Washington took the first three versus Houston at home this season before scheduled starter Edwin Jackson (6-7, 3.57 ERA) allowed five runs in five innings of an 11-4 loss April 19 in the finale of the four-game set. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.71 ERA in five starts against the Astros.

In his last three starts overall, Jackson has allowed four runs - all on solo homers - and walked seven to go 1-2 with a 1.83 ERA. He gave up three of those home runs and walked four over 5 2-3 innings of a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday.

"I just got hurt on balls up in the zone,'' Jackson said. "I got behind on some counts. There were times I made pitches when I needed."

Stephen Strasburg allowed three hits over six scoreless innings and drove in two runs Sunday while Adam LaRoche also had two RBIs in Washington's 4-1 win over the Marlins. LaRoche has hit .442 (23 for 52) with seven homers and 16 RBIs during his last 14 games.

LaRoche and the Nationals will get their first look at Astros rookie Dallas Keuchel (1-4, 5.77), who tries to avoid a fifth consecutive losing start.

After going 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in the first three starts since making his major league debut June 17, Keuchel has gone 0-4 with a 10.42 ERA in the last four. The left-hander gave up seven runs and six walks in four innings of a 10-1 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Keuchel has issued 25 walks while striking out 14 in his seven major league starts.

"When he first got here he was right on top of everything and now since he's been back it just hasn't been quite as crisp," manager Brad Mills said. "We're going to work back and try to make sure we can get him back to where he has that comfort level of being crisp.''

Justin Maxwell had two hits and drove in Houston's lone run Sunday. Maxwell, who played parts of three major league seasons for the Nationals from 2007-2010, is batting .356 with 11 RBIs in his last 13 games.

He's 6 for 8 in the last two.

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