Nationals-White Sox Preview

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CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura understands the challenge awaiting his players as they returns to U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday to face the Washington Nationals.

At 34-23, the Nationals lead the National League East by two games ahead of the New York Mets. Meanwhile, the White Sox (29-28) have staggered in the opposite direction, losing 18 of their past 24.

"It is a tough stretch," Ventura said Sunday after the Detroit Tigers swept Chicago in three games. "But there's nowhere to go but up. I think right now, you take this blow, and you've got to push back. You get a day off, and you go ahead and regroup."

Right-hander Mat Latos (6-1, 4.02 ERA) will take the ball for the White Sox as the team opens a nine-game homestand. Latos has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his past six outings, but he has enjoyed success against the Nationals. In nine career starts against Washington, Latos is 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA, and he has compiled 48 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.

Latos needs a good start to solidify his role in Chicago's rotation. The White Sox acquired veteran right-hander James Shields from the San Diego Padres on Saturday, which bumped Latos to the role of fifth starter and moved fellow right-hander Miguel Gonzalez to the bullpen. If Latos' recent struggles continue, Ventura could opt to reinstate Gonzalez into the starting rotation.

Washington will counter with right-hander Joe Ross (5-4, 2.37 ERA). Ross has limited opponents to one earned run in seven innings in each of his past two starts. He never has faced the White Sox.

The Nationals scored 10 runs on Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep against the Cincinnati Reds. Despite dropping a pair of games at Cincinnati, the Nationals have won five of the past seven games.

One reason for Washington's sustained success is a reinvigorated offense led by Bryce Harper and supplemented by steady contributions from players such as Wilson Ramos, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon. In his past 30 games, Rendon is hitting .314 and has posted a remarkable OPS of .967.

"I feel like I've been hitting the ball hard, relatively hard throughout the whole season," Rendon told the Washington Post. "Balls are starting to go a little further in warmer weather and starting to find some holes in the outfield."

Interleague play has served the Nationals well. They are 7-2 against American League opponents this season, including a 3-0 mark against the Minnesota Twins and 2-1 marks against the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. In nine interleague games, the Nationals have outscored opponents 49-29.

The White Sox are 2-1 in interleague play after edging the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Left fielder Melky Cabrera is expected to rejoin the White Sox in time for Tuesday's series opener. Cabrera missed all three games against Detroit as he dealt with an undisclosed family emergency. The 31-year-old switch hitter is batting .275 this season with four home runs and 24 RBIs.