A disappointing start to the season seems considerably less of an issue for the Washington Nationals following wins in four of their last five games.
That momentum, however, could certainly be derailed during their upcoming series with the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, whose sterling run of quality pitching has them atop the NL Central.
No team has been suffocated by St. Louis' rotation quite as thoroughly over the past two years as Washington (6-7). The Cardinals have won 11 of 13 meetings while posting a 1.24 ERA, including 0.89 from their starters. The Nationals have not scored more than three runs in any of those games as two-through-five hitters Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman combined to hit .119.
St. Louis' next-best ERA versus an NL opponent in that span is 2.55 against Atlanta.
Comparable performances have the Cardinals (8-3) currently enjoying a five-game winning streak, with their starters allowing four runs while helping lower the team's ERA to a league-best 1.91.
Lance Lynn (1-1, 1.64 ERA) began that stretch by allowing one run in five innings of Wednesday's 4-2 win over Milwaukee. The right-hander has a 2.06 ERA in his last 18 starts dating to July 4, and that doesn't include wins in both matchups with Washington last season as he yielded one run in 13 2-3 innings.
The Nationals similarly struggled through seven games this season, managing only 17 runs while hitting .194, but seem to have found the right approach in their last six with 6.0 runs per game.
Desmond has keyed that stretch by going 13 for 25 with one home run, six runs and four RBIs, trying to atone for his major league-worst eight errors on the season.
"He's swinging at strikes and he's disciplined up there," manager Matt Williams said. "He's hit some balls to his pull side, which is important for him to aggressive. I don't think he's changed anything, I just think he's recognizing well and laying the bat on it."
Zimmerman also has been productive, driving in eight runs over his last five contests. He went 2 for 4 with two RBIs in Sunday's 4-1 win over Philadelphia.
Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.11) hasn't been as effective. He surrendered five runs in six innings of Wednesday's 10-5 win at Boston after opening the season with a loss to Philadelphia, where he issued four walks and hit one batter.
Still, Gonzalez has been excellent in three career starts against St. Louis, touting a 1.17 ERA with 21 strikeouts and four walks through 23 innings.
St. Louis' Matt Carpenter has tallied two hits in seven straight games, batting .467 with eight runs and nine RBIs. He opened Sunday's 2-1 victory over Cincinnati with a home run to deep center - the fifth leadoff homer of his career.
"He's just taken the challenge and he's not just going to be a guy that goes up there to take a lot of pitches," manager Mike Matheny said of Carpenter, who led the NL with 4.37 pitches per plate appearance in 2014. "He works into deep counts all the time ... He's got the kind of power where he can let it go early in the count, and if he gets a good pitch to drive, he shouldn't be letting it go in the advantage counts."
Matt Holliday has also been a tough out in the Cardinals' lineup, hitting safely in all 11 games. However, he's 0 for 6 against Gonzalez.