Manager: Mike Matheny, third year
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 3B Matt Carpenter (.294/.385/.385, 19 XBH, 24 RBIs); LF Matt Holliday (.265/.380/.378, 19 XBH, 30 RBIs); RHP Shelby Miller (7-5, 3.59 ERA); RHP Lance Lynn (6-4, 3.49 ERA)
Season series vs. Nats: 2-2, 15 runs scored, 9 runs allowed
The Nationals go from facing one top pitching staff to another to another these days, with the latest (and final) stop on their three-city, 10-game road swing being in St. Louis.
The Cardinals challenge the Nats with the fifth-best pitching staff in the majors (3.33 team ERA) and the second-best rotation in all of baseball (3.17 ERA).
The Nats have already gone through the Padres (eighth in ERA) and Giants (third in ERA) on this trip, so seeing quality pitching could be old hat at this point.
The Cardinals won’t have their top two starters pitching in the weekend series, as Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha started the last two days. But they’re not the only reason St. Louis’ starting five ranks so highly.
Right-handers Lance Lynn (3.49 ERA) and Shelby Miller (3.59 ERA) round out a deep top four for the Cards, who also will send left-hander Jaime Garcia to the mound in the three-game set. Garcia is still finding his form with a 4.26 ERA in five starts, but he is 2-0.
The first two games of the series provide intriguing matchups with Lynn facing Jordan Zimmermann and Miller going head-to-head with Stephen Strasburg.
That rotation put together an impressive run before Wednesday’s loss at Tampa Bay - a streak of three straight road shutouts against the Blue Jays and Rays. Miller started the run with a complete-game shutout Sunday and Garcia followed with seven scoreless innings Monday.
The Cardinals’ bullpen and offense haven’t matched that performance, which is a big reason St. Louis sits second in the National League Central and 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers.
The Cards bullpen ranks 10th in the NL with a 3.67 bullpen ERA, while the offense ranks toward the middle and bottom of the NL in most categories.
St. Louis is tied for eighth in the NL with a .250 average, ranks 11th with 247 runs and last with 36 homers. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is the only player on the club with more than six homers, as he’s hit a team-high 10.
Third baseman Matt Carpenter leads the team’s active players with a .770 OPS, while right fielder Allen Craig leads the club with 33 RBIs. The Cardinals could get a boost today with the return of first baseman Matt Adams (calf) from the disabled list. He is tops on the team with an .811 OPS.
The focus of the weekend will be whether the Nats can go through yet another outstanding pitching staff. They do have an opening, however, with Wainwright and Wacha sitting this one out.