Just off the pace in the NL East race, the struggling Washington Nationals begin a lengthy road trip that features matchups with two playoff contenders.
Gio Gonzalez will try to kick that off by earning a fifth consecutive win Monday night against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, who are returning home after getting swept.
Washington (57-53) has the majors' fifth-worst record since the All-Star break at 9-14, opening the second half by dropping two of three to Los Angeles from July 17-19. The Nationals' most damaging series was a three-game sweep at Citi Field that ended Aug. 2, and trail the first-place New York Mets by 1 1/2 games.
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Washington, which had a two-game lead at the break, trails by five in the wild card after alternating wins and losses in its last six contests. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice in a 6-4 loss to Colorado on Sunday.
Gonzalez (8-4, 3.75 ERA) takes the ball in the opener of a 10-game trek that also includes a stop in San Francisco. The Giants are three games back in the NL West and 3 1/2 behind in the wild-card race.
"This is a big trip. We have the Dodgers then four in San Francisco. That's a tough week," Zimmerman said. "We need to battle and do what we can."
Gonzalez is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in his last seven starts but hasn't recorded an out beyond the fifth inning in any of his last three. He gave up two runs in five-plus innings Wednesday in an 11-4 loss to Arizona.
Gonzalez is 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA in three career starts against the Dodgers, earning that win in his only matchup last season.
Gonzalez will face a team that's trying to avoid its longest skid since September 2013 following three consecutive defeats in Pittsburgh. The Dodgers (62-49), winners in six of seven before that series, gave up nine runs in the seventh inning in Sunday's 13-6 loss.
"We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves," manager Don Mattingly told MLB's official website. "Nothing happened here in Pittsburgh that changes our mind about our club. Basically, we had a chance to win every game in the series. We're lucky, really, where we're at. Nothing changes my mind that we can play with anybody."
Brett Anderson (6-6, 3.06) will try to help his club bounce back while building on his first win in five starts, a 4-3 victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday. He gave up one run in six innings.
It's unclear if a red-hot Howie Kendrick will be available to provide support in Anderson's first matchup with Washington. The second baseman exited Sunday after straining his left hamstring while beating out an infield single in the fifth inning.
Kendrick registered his fifth consecutive multihit game before leaving and is batting .396 with nine RBIs in his last 11. He's hitting .362 in 12 career matchups against Washington but is hitting .238 in 21 at-bats against Gonzalez.
Zimmerman has also been locked in at the plate, batting .429 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last seven games.
"I think I just have to keep doing my work, doing my routine and keep riding this streak and stay hot for a couple months," Zimmerman said.
Jayson Werth, who also homered Sunday, is hitting .389 with three homers in his last 10 games against Los Angeles.
The Dodgers' Carl Crawford is hitting .563 in his past eight contest versus Washington but is batting .174 in 13 games since returning from the disabled list July 21.