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Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: Nats catch no breaks with surging Cards

After dropping two of three to the Cubs in disappointing fashion, can the Nats recover quickly enough to hold their own against the red-hot Cardinals?

Chicago White Sox v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Nationals (60-58) vs. Cardinals (63-55) series info:

Game 1: Monday, Aug. 13 at 8:10 p.m. EDT (MASN/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 8:15 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7)

Game 3: Wednesday, Aug. 15 at 8:15 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7)

Game 4: Thursday, Aug. 16 at 7:15 p.m. EDT (MASN/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Monday: Tommy Milone (1-1, 5.50 ERA) vs. Miles Mikolas (12-3, 2.74)

Tuesday: Gio Gonzalez (7-8, 3.89) vs. John Gant (4-4, 3.89)

Wednesday: Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 3.54) vs. Austin Gomber (2-0, 3.45)

Thursday: Tanner Roark (7-12, 4.12) vs. Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22)

What to watch for:

Zim swings a hot bat

Fresh off a series in Chicago during which he clubbed two homers and drove in eight runs, Ryan Zimmerman was handed NL Player of the Week honors on Monday for the fifth time in his career. He’s hitting .354 in 15 games since returning from the disabled list July 20 — including a ridiculous .729 slugging percentage.

Zimmerman has mostly found playing time on days when left-handers take the mound, but manager Davey Martinez may have to start his veteran first baseman more often if he can keep up his torrid pace. With Zim in Matt Adams’ playing time has been limited, and he is currently mired in a 2-for-23 slump.

Bullpen has become a problem

Between the trade of Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley’s sudden release, the Nationals hoped to clean house in the bullpen in hopes of removing damaging aspects of their clubhouse culture. The Nats have still hung around the .500 mark, but their relief corps has struggled mightily.

The Nationals’ bullpen owns a 5.06 ERA since the start of August — the fourth-worst mark in the National League. Sean Doolittle’s continued absence has proven to be a major issue. Kelvin Herrera struggled with the ninth-inning role before heading to the DL himself and Ryan Madson became an unfortunate part of one of the Cubs’ season highlights when he blew a save opportunity Sunday night.

Cards are doing just fine without Matheny

Since firing former manager Mike Matheny right before the All-Star Break, the Cardinals have gone on a 16-9 run that his propelled them to just two and a half games back of the second NL Wild Card spot. Entering their series with Washington, the Cards find themselves winners of five straight and nine of their last 11.

Although interim manager Mike Shildt and the Cardinals are still five and a half games back in the NL Central, strong recent performances from Matt Carpenter (1.247 OPS since the All-Star Break) and Jack Flaherty (2.70 ERA since the break) have given the team plenty of reasons to stay optimistic.

Series history:

The Cardinals lead the all-time series (2005-present) 48-35, including a mark of 28-11 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This is the first time these two teams are playing each other this season.