Jun 13, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals’ just-completed week out west wound up as successful as anyone could have realistically imagined beforehand. In taking 2 of 3 from the Padres, then taking 3 of 4 from the Giants, the Nats catapulted themselves into first place in the NL East and for the first time in 2014 looked very much like the team everyone thought they could be all along.
The longest road trip of the season’s first half, though, doesn’t end yet. The Nationals now head to St. Louis for a weekend series that may prove even more-significant than their stop in San Francisco over the last four days.
Do you know the last time the Nats won at Busch Stadium? It was Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS. Think about how much has transpired since that afternoon, and think about how the Cardinals have held the upper hand in this matchup since the painful conclusion of that playoff series.
Beginning with Game 5 and extending all the way to this April, St. Louis won eight consecutive games against the Nationals, who finally broke through to split a four-game series on South Capitol Street earlier this season. Those wins, of course, came at home, so the Nats still seek a win in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, where last September they officially were eliminated from playoff contention and then came within one out of being no-hit by Michael Wacha.
If the Braves remain the Nationals’ tallest mental hurdle, the Cardinals remain a close second. So that adds some intrigue and significance to this weekend’s series.
The Nats, though, have a few things on their side right now. They’re playing great baseball, having won 10 of their last 13 games, the only losses during that stretch coming via dominating pitching performances by Yu Darvish and Tim Hudson and Rafael Soriano’s blown save with two outs in the ninth in San Diego last weekend. And they’ve got favorable pitching matchups this weekend in St. Louis.
It’s Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister taking the mound for Matt Williams’ squad, which won’t have to face the two Cardinals right-handers who have tortured them in the past: Wacha and Adam Wainwright.
Wacha just pitched on Wednesday and thus won’t see his turn in the rotation come up again until next week. Wainwright, meanwhile, is having an MRI taken of his elbow Monday, as all of St. Louis holds its collective breath hoping the ace’s injury is nothing serious.
Favorable matchups on paper, of course, don’t necessarily translate into favorable encounters on the field. But the Nationals have to like where things stand as they prepare to open this series. They’re getting dominant starting pitching, production from up and down their lineup and quality defensive across the board for the first time in awhile.
Whether all that produces another winning series to wrap up this road trip remains to be seen. But for the first time in a long time, the Nats enter a big series on the road against a formidable foe feeling really good about themselves.
NL EAST STANDINGS
FRI: Nats at Mariners, 10:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Mariners, 9:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Mariners, 4:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Dodgers, 8:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Dodgers, 4:10 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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