Nationals-Mets Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals have the best staff in baseball, and their recent winning streak is just further evidence.

Stephen Strasburg, however, hasn't been as reliable recently.

The ace goes for just his second win in six starts Wednesday when the NL East-leading Nationals try to sweep this three-game series from the fading New York Mets.

Washington (57-39) leads the majors with a 3.22 ERA, and its rotation's 3.14 ERA is also the best in baseball. The club's starters haven't finished a season with a better ERA since posting a franchise-record 3.05 as the Montreal Expos in 1988.

The Nationals are creeping closer to that mark after John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez combined for a 1.33 ERA to help spark a four-game winning streak.

Gonzalez tossed the latest gem, yielding an unearned run and two hits in seven innings of Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Mets (47-50), who have dropped 11 of 12 and provided little resistance with four runs and 11 hits in this series.

Strasburg (10-4, 2.83 ERA), the NL leader with a career-high 140 strikeouts, is 1-3 with a 4.10 ERA while fanning 30 in 26 1-3 innings over five starts after winning six in a row.

The right-hander's latest outing was one of his worst of the season and contributed to Friday's 11-10, 11-inning loss to Atlanta, which is 4 1/2 games back of the Nationals in the division chase. Strasburg was staked to a 9-0 lead after five innings on his 24th birthday, but he gave up four runs in the sixth and was pulled with one out before the bullpen surrendered the remaining seven runs.

"He felt like he was missing, but I felt like he just wasn't going after them; he was wasting a lot of pitches," manager Davey Johnson told the team's official website. "He really doesn't know who he is at times. He doesn't trust his stuff."

Strasburg hasn't had that problem against the Mets, going 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11 innings. He won his only game at Citi Field on April 11, striking out nine and allowing two hits in six innings of a 4-0 victory.

Ryan Zimmerman has four hits with two doubles and three RBIs in this series to remain red hot. The third baseman is hitting .393 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in the past 27 games, raising his average 59 points to .277.

He's batting .364 while the Nationals have won eight of 11 versus New York.

The Mets, who have dropped five straight, are desperate to end a potentially lethal tailspin that has severely damaged their playoff chances.

"This stretch is not going to define us over the course of the year," third baseman David Wright said.

Injuries to the rotation are taking a toll, as Johan Santana (ankle), Mike Pelfrey (recovery from Tommy John surgery) and Dillon Gee (recovery from surgery to remove blood clot) are out.

Jeremy Hefner (1-3, 5.85) - filling Santana's spot - is 1-2 with a 6.89 ERA in three starts this year. His most recent start ended in a 5-3 defeat at Washington on June 6, when the rookie right-hander allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings.

He struggled in his latest appearance Saturday, surrendering two runs in two innings of relief of an 8-5 defeat to Los Angeles, hours after being recalled from Triple-A Buffalo.

Jordany Valdespin is 13 for 29 with five homers and nine RBIs in 13 games after connecting for his fifth pinch-hit homer Tuesday, setting a Mets record.

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