Opposite dugout: First-place Cardinals bring baseball's hottest pitching staff into D.C.

cardinals-logo.jpgManager: Mike Matheny, fourth year
Record: 8-3
Last 10 games: 7-3
Who to watch: 3B Matt Carpenter (.400/.449/.689, 7 doubles, 2 HR, 10 RBIs, 10 R); LF Matt Holliday (.361/.467/.389, 6 RBIs); RHP Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP); RHP Lance Lynn (1-1, 1.64 ERA, 0.909 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats (2014): 5-2, 25 runs scored, 12 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 21: RHP Lance Lynn vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN
April 22: RHP John Lackey vs. RHP Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN
April 23: RHP Michael Wacha vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 4 p.m., MASN

Series breakdown
The Cardinals arrive at Nationals Park tonight with plenty going right, having won five in a row to run out to an 8-3 start and the early lead in the National League Central.

It isn't difficult to figure out why.

St. Louis' offense hasn't been the reason, as it ranks in the bottom half of the league with 3.9 runs per game. So, look no further than baseball's hottest pitching staff, a group that leads the majors with a 1.91 team ERA - more than a half-run better than anyone else in the league.

Find a word beyond exceptional or outstanding and that might still not describe just how good the Cards pitching staff has been of late. St. Louis has permitted just six runs and allowed 50 baserunners in 45 innings (1.11 WHIP) during the club's five-game winning streak.

So, that's what the Nats will be up against the next three days as they continue working to get their offense on track.

The Cards lead the majors in starters' ERA (1.92) and rank second in bullpen ERA (1.88). The Nats won't have to face ace Adam Wainwright (2-1, 1.71 ERA), but will have to contend with the two pitchers with the lowest ERAs in the rotation - right-handers Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn.

Lynn, 27, goes first, pitching opposite lefty Gio Gonzalez tonight. Lynn is 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA through two starts. He has fanned 13 and walked just two in 11 innings pitched. In five career games (three starts) against Washington, Lynn is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA.

Veteran right-hander John Lackey faces righty Doug Fister in the middle contest. Lackey has the highest ERA in the rotation ... at 2.77. The 36-year-old had a so-so first start, allowing four runs in six innings, before rebounding last Thursday. He struck out eight and walked one in seven scoreless innings against the Brewers. Lackey is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two career starts against the Nats.

And the best comes last, as Wacha takes on right-hander Max Scherzer (1-1, 0.83 ERA) in Thursday's series finale. After being limited to 19 starts by injuries last season, Wacha has been the best starter on the staff through two starts, as he's 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA. The 23-year-old has allowed two runs in 13 1/3 innings, earning a pair of wins over the Reds. In two career starts against the Nats, Wacha is 1-1 with a 0.57 ERA.

As for the bullpen, closer Trevor Rosenthal has converted all four of his save opportunities and has pitched to a 1.59 ERA in five appearances while right-hander Jordan Walden has a 1.35 ERA in eight appearances. Relievers Kevin Siegrist, Matt Belisle and Carlos Villanueva have combined to toss 10 scoreless innings.

Offensively, the Cardinals have been more middle of the pack. They rank 22nd in the majors with 43 runs and 28th with six homers (albeit in a major league-low 11 games). However, St. Louis is fifth in the NL with a .253 average and eighth with a .683 OPS.

Third baseman Matt Carpenter leads the way, tying for sixth in the majors with a .400 average, ranking seventh with an 1.138 OPS and tying for second with seven doubles. He has added two homers, 10 RBIs and 10 runs scored.

Left fielder Matt Holliday is also off to a solid start, batting .361/.467/.389 with six RBIs. But he has just one extra-base hit, a double. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has contributed four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs while batting .301/.326/.465. Catcher Yadier Molina has a .708 OPS and seven RBIs. No one else has an OPS above right fielder Jason Heyward's .591.

With the Nats starting to play better ball, coming into the series having won four of five, this should make for a good start to the week with two of the NL's top contenders and two of the majors' top pitching staffs going head to head.

Yunel Escobar returns after groin injury (with lin...
Matt of Matt's Bats: Rafael Martin's long and wind...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/