Nats hope to be California dreamin' by Sunday

The Nationals have six games remaining before the All-Star break against the N.L. West's first-place San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants.

The Padres roll into town with the best ERA in the National League (3.05) and yet do not have a single pitcher on the N.L. roster for the All-Star game in Anaheim.

They also lead the league in shutouts (12), innings pitched (750.1) and are a close second to San Francisco in strikeouts (655 to 650). The Nationals, by contrast, have just 496 strikeouts as a team through 83 games.

They also bring in a 49-33 record, the same record as the Red Sox had at the start of play Monday, good enough for the top spot in the National League. They are 22-14 on the road this season, also the best on the senior circuit.

With the day off, the Nats have given Livan Hernandez the start tonight and he will also start the first-half finale Sunday against the Giants.

Game One: LHP Clayton Richard (6-4, 2.74 ERA) vs. RHP Hernandez (6-4, 2.98)
Game Two: RHP Jon Garland (8-5, 3.24) vs. RHP J.D. Martin (0-4, 3.38)
Game Three: RHP Mat Latos (9-4, 2.62) vs. RHP Luis Atilano (6-5, 4.72)

San Diego fans watching this week will not get to see their native son, Stephen Strasburg, pitch against the Padres. He is slated to pitch the first game of the Giants series Friday night.

San Diego took two of three from the Nats earlier at Petco Park. John Lannan beat Richard in the opener, and then the Nats lost close 4-2 and 3-2 (11) decisions in the other two games.

There are some interesting All-Star potential connections to this return matchup in D.C. between the Nats and the Friars. Matt Capps is in the All-Star game and yet Heath Bell is hoping to get voted in. Bell leads Capps by one save, 23 to 22.

Bell is one of five candidates attempting to get voted in by the fans against another National in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Nats hitting coach Rick Eckstein taking on his brother, Padres second baseman David Eckstein (.280, 22 RBI). David told me last year he had to be moved away from Rick while playing on the same team on defense because they would always be getting on each other about where to play in the infield during games.

The Nats still have a chance to get something going before Anaheim. They are 2-2 so far on this 10-game homestand. They want to get rolling before the break for several reasons. One major reason is the 10-game road trip which awaits them after the break. Another may be the potential trades that might take place if they fall farther behind the leaders in the East before the end of July.

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