The Nationals begin a three-game series in St. Louis tonight against the Cardinals, with John Lannan facing Jake Westbrook at 8:15 p.m. They'll face a team that's been on a similar path to theirs early this season, winning four of its last five to get back to .500 after a 2-5 start. But the matchup is more formidable than that for another reason: The Nationals just can't win in Busch Stadium.
When was the last time they posted a victory in St. Louis? You'd have to go all the way back to May 27, 2007, when the Nationals beat the Cardinals 7-2 to take two out of three from the defending world champions. Matt Chico started the game for Washington. pitching just four innings and getting pulled despite the fact he had a shutout going (remember, this was the year the Nationals set a major league record for the lowest number of innings pitched by their top three starters). And Felipe Lopez and Ronnie Belliard combined for seven hits at the top of the lineup.
Since then? It's been eight losses in eight games for the Nationals in St. Louis. They got swept in a two-game series there last year, losing the second one when Tyler Clippard gave up a solo homer to Ryan Ludwick in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Nationals fell back to .500 in that game, losing their fifth in a row after peaking at 20-15.
They'll head in tonight with Lannan, who's pitched well against the Cardinals. He has worked at least six innings in each of his last three starts there, allowing two runs in each of them. Lannan has especially good numbers against Albert Pujols, holding him to a paltry .432 OPS. That's good for the Nationals, because tomorrow's starter, Jordan Zimmermann, has been beaten up by the Cardinals like no other team in his short career.
Part of the reason the Nationals haven't won in St. Louis, of course, is because they've faced good teams. Pujols and a streaking Lance Berkman (who just won NL Player of the Week honors and has a 1.101 OPS against Lannan) make this lineup tough, and the Cardinals typically have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to throw at the Nationals. But this time through, the Nationals won't have to face either pitcher; Wainwright is out for the season, and Carpenter just pitched Sunday.
If Lannan, Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny continue to pitch well, the Nationals have a chance to win the series in St. Louis. And in doing so, they'd be able to put some bad history behind them.