|Cardinals seek eighth straight win in game vs. Nationals|
For the St. Louis Cardinals, it was another night of gaining ground in two races. For the Washington Nationals, it was another night where opportunity slipped away, much like their season.
St. Louis' 6-4 win over the Nationals Tuesday night gave the Cardinals a season-high seven-game winning streak, putting them 10 games over .500 for the first time all year at 65-55. Along with losses by the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies, the Cardinals pulled within four games of Chicago for first place in the National League Central and within a single game of the Phillies for the second wild-card spot.
St. Louis will try to keep its roll going Wednesday night when it tries to clinch its sixth straight series win in Busch Stadium against fading Washington.
At the time where they need to play their best baseball, the Nationals are playing closer to their worst baseball. Their sixth loss in eight games dropped them to 60-60. They trail first place Atlanta by eight games in the NL East and are six games out of the second wild-card spot with 42 games remaining.
The bullpen let Washington down mightily in walk-off defeats Sunday night and Monday night. Starter Gio Gonzalez took the blame off the bullpen Tuesday night by digging a 5-0 hole before recording the fourth inning's first out.
While the relief corps worked a credible four innings after Gonzalez departed, a wave of injuries and ineffectiveness has left manager Dave Martinez wondering what he's getting when he pulls the starter.
"It's tough when you have your closer, your setup guy, your seventh-inning guy all beat up," he said. "We just have to keep battling. These other guys, they all have to step up."
The best solution might be getting a long, quality outing from the starter. That means Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 3.54 ERA) will have pressure on him to provide length while keeping the hot Cardinals' offense off the board.
Hellickson's last outing Friday was unusual. He was working on a no-hitter when he was pulled after 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs, but still settled for a no-decision as he walked four and was charged with two runs in an eventual 3-2 loss.
Hellickson has not faced the Cardinals this season, but in five career starts against St. Louis, Hellickson is 2-2 with a 4.13 earned run average, allowing a whopping eight homers in 32 2/3 innings.
The Cardinals have been clearing the fences with regularity of late, clouting 16 homers during their winning streak. Even Tuesday night's starter, John Gant, mixed in a two-run shot in the second inning for his first major-league hit after 30 at-bats.
"Pleasantly surprised, obviously," St. Louis interim manager Mike Shildt said of Gant's blast. "He's a good athlete and he's taken some good BPs, but that's BP."
Rookie left-hander Austin Gomber (2-0, 3.45) gets the call for the Cardinals, fresh off a 7-0 win Friday night in Kansas City. Gomber pitched five innings in that game, allowing just four hits and a walk while fanning three in his third start. He will face the Nationals for the first time.