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Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Washington Nationals + Nats' lineup

Washington dropped two of three to the New York Mets this week, and now they face the St. Louis Cardinals they swept in a three-game set in Busch Stadium earlier this season. Here's a look at what lies ahead in this four-game set in D.C.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

All superhero fans know this for a fact: When one villain leaves, another arrives. The statement also applies to baseball, and specifically, the Washington Nationals.

After losing the series 2-1 to the New York Mets, another hated rival will come into town - and in this case, the worst of the worst. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to D.C.

Although the Cardinals are coming out of a rough series against the Chicago Cubs, it's never remotely safe to assume they're on the downswing, even though their 24-23 record may suggest otherwise.

Since 2013, the Cardinals have won seven out of the ten played at Nationals Park.

However, it may be safer than ever to assume the Redbirds aren't doing as well as usual - starting with their pitching.

On Thursday night, St. Louis will start the four game set with Mike Leake, who has been good, but not great. In May, he's only allowed seven runs, but the Nationals pushed five across the plate against him in April.

The next day, it'll be Jaime Garcia, who has been enjoying a good season until facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving up five runs in 2.1 innings, a similar total to the Nationals' four runs against him on April 30th.

The Nationals will then see the struggling Adam Wainwright for the first time this season. Wainwright has given up thirty-eight runs in his first ten starts of the season, a troubling statistic from a once-dominant pitcher.

To close out the series on Sunday, Michael Wacha, another struggling ace, will face the Nationals for the first time this year. Wacha has a 5.04 ERA thus far.

For the Nationals, Joe Ross will look to rebound after an undeserved loss versus the Miami Marlins last week, in which Ross went 5.2 innings and only allowed three runs, but still added one in the loss column, mainly due to Jose Fernandez's spectacular outing against the Nats.

"[Ross's] total outing was outstanding," Manager Dusty Baker said, as quoted by Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. "He was matching [Fernandez] other than the strikeouts."

Ross will look to use the Cardinals as a springboard, as he pitched well against St. Louis this April, a start in which he lasted six innings and only allowed two runs.

On Friday, it'll be Max Scherzer, who is coming off of a spectacular eight-inning start. In those eight innings, Scherzer only allowed eight hits and two runs.

Scherzer, after a rough patch in late April and early May, seems to have settled in.

"His location has settled in, and that's the whole thing," Baker noted. "That was hurting him before. Or he was having high pitch count innings the first couple of innings, which I had to go get him in the sixth. Whenever he can get into the middle part of the ballgame, that's when he gets especially tough."

Scherzer went seven scoreless innings against St. Louis on May 1st.

Gio Gonzalez will go on Saturday, and Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.

Against the Mets, only one part of the 1-2 punch had much punch, and it came from Stephen Strasburg, who allowed two runs in 6.2 innings against New York.

Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand, struggled out of the gate on the way to his second loss of the season, as the Mets posted seven runs in just five innings against him.

Many questioned if the issues stemmed from Wilson Ramos catching him instead of Jose Lobaton, who usually catches Gonzalez.

"This game is a game of adjustments, and [the Mets] adjusted quite well to Gio today," Dusty Baker told the press after the Nationals' loss.

On offense, nearly all the focus is on the slumping Bryce Harper, who is hitting .245 currently.

Since the Cubs employed their "walks, walks and more walks" strategy, Harper has had trouble hitting.

On Wednesday, Harper got a "mental day off".

"It was tough to sit Bryce, but you've got to sit him sometime," Dusty Baker said. "You're hoping the one game will pay dividends for the next 10-15 games."

But, Harper's day off might just be the tip of the iceberg - apparently, Baker plans to sit a few regulars.

"There's a couple guys I'm sitting during the St. Louis series because you've got to sit them at some time," Baker noted. "There's a couple guys I think need days off to keep them strong during the whole course of the year."

It's unclear who will sit, but some of the regulars may not be present in the starting lineup. (And no, this probably does not mean anyone's getting called up for the series.)

The teams always play exciting series, even if they are sometimes one-sided. In this case, the Nationals' three-game sweep of St. Louis earlier this year could provide them with some of the energy and confidence they need heading in after a tough month of May.

"We knew this was going to be one of our tougher stretches.... we've still got a few games left this month to get to my magic number 15 [wins] a month," Baker told the press after losing to the Mets, regarding his monthly goal of fifteen wins (putting the Nationals on a 90-win pace).

"We have five games left this month, so we've just got to take it out on the Cardinals."

Here's the lineup Dusty Baker is sending out for the series opener with St. Louis: