Nationals-Brewers preview

MILWAUKEE -- A day off and a cross-country flight might be just what the Washington Nationals need.

The NL East leaders extended their losing streak to five games Wednesday night, losing in heart-breaking fashion -- a walk-off single and a three-base, two-run error for Yasiel Puig -- but will try and turn things around Friday when they open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

Washington remains firmly atop its division, but the Nationals' lead over the second-place Mets has shrunk to 3 1/2 games. Taking care of business against Milwaukee, which went 2-8 on its recent West Coast road swing, could go a long way in making that cushion a little more comfortable.

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Max Scherzer will try and right the ship. His last trip to Miller Park was a memorable one; he was perfect though six innings and carried a no-hitter into the seventh then finished with 16 strikeouts in a 4-0 victory over the Brewers last June.

Scherzer has been every bit an ace in his last three outings, going 0-2 with a microscopic 0.90 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 20 innings of work.

He took a no-decision his last time out, striking out 10 through six innings as the Nationals blew a late lead for a 7-3 loss at San Diego.

"They had a good game plan against me," Scherzer said. "They were able to go out there and grind some (at-bats) out and really play the foul ball game. They really seemed to have a number on what I was doing and lay off some pitches and foul other pitches off. I tip my hat to how they approached me. That was a tough game for me to go out there and continue to make pitches."

In four career appearances -- three starts -- against the Brewers, Scherzer is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, will turn to its hottest starter, rookie right-hander Zach Davies. Since starting the season 0-3 with an 8.78 ERA, Davies has been lights-out ever since, going 5-0 with a 2.40 ERA.

He's been fantastic in June, allowing just three earned runs in 28 innings of work over four starts, including seven innings of one-run ball in his last outing, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Manager Craig Counsell attributes much of Davies' success to his growing relationship with catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, which has given him a better grasp of his four-pitch arsenal, as well as the ability to lean from his mistakes and put those lessons to use his next time out.

"It's just learning how hitters react to his stuff," Counsell said. "He has to get feedback to that. That's part of being out there, getting feedback. It's the same for the catchers. He's different from our other guys.

"A young guy, a new guy, a guy who has the ability to locate the baseball; he's using all of his weapons right now. He's locked in on executing pitches."

The Nationals have won four of the last five meetings with the Brewers, six of the last 10 at Miller Park and four straight season series.