In 2008, the Nationals made their annual trip to St. Louis on the first road swing of the season, after losing two of three in Philadelphia against the defending National League East champion (and eventual world champion) Phillies. They went there in 2009 in the middle of a three-city road trip, after losing hot-hitting center fielder Nyjer Morgan to a season-ending broken wrist in Chicago. And in 2010, their trip to St. Louis came at the end of another three-city swing, ending with a five-game losing streak that sent the Nationals crashing back to .500 after a 20-15 start.
There's nothing inherent about that scheduling that caused the Nationals to lose eight times in a row in St. Louis; they were facing a team better than them each time. But they did catch the Cardinals in the middle of tough stretches. They lost two out of three to St. Louis this week, but Major League Baseball's schedule mavens tossed them a softer landing spot this time.
The Nationals begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh tonight, facing a Pirates team they beat five times in six meetings last year. The Nats come off getting two-hit by Kyle Lohse to matching up against right-hander Jeff Karstens, against whom they hit three homers last year. After a tough series in one of their most unfriendly destinations, the Nationals at least get a shot to ease the sting.
They'll also have a chance to stockpile a few wins with Ryan Zimmerman still out of the lineup (his abdominal strain will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, meaning he probably won't be back for at least a week to 10 days after that). After three games with the Pirates, they return home to face the Mets, who are 6-13 and have lost nine of 11, dating back to the Nationals' 11-inning win over them April 10.
The Nationals would be wise to take advantage of it, too, because after that, they start a stretch of 25 games in 26 days that includes three matchups against 2010 playoff teams (the Giants, Phillies and Braves) and two series with the Marlins, another team that's frequently tough for the Nationals to solve. After Monday's off-day, the Nationals only have two breaks until the end of May, and June's travel slate includes not one, but two, trips to the West Coast.
So if there's a chance for them to stow a few wins away, they'll want to grab it. That chance starts tonight in Pittsburgh.