The Washington Nationals are in first place in the National League East and will get to know some of their division foes even better over the next few weeks with 14 straight games.

The Nationals will begin the NL East stretch tonight with the first of four in a row against the Miami Marlins in south Florida. They lost two of three to Colorado at home following a four-game winning streak and headed to the All- Star break following a 4-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday. Jordan Zimmermann, who will start tonight, did not figure into the decision that day with seven innings of one-run ball.

Tyler Clippard was dealt the loss for allowing the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

"I feel real bad on that one for [Zimmermann]," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "His record's not indicative of what kind of first half he's had. He's been outstanding."

Ian Desmond homered and Steve Lombardozzi drove in a run for the Nationals, who are four games ahead of Atlanta and 4 1/2 games in front of New York in the division standings.

Washington has been a big surprise this season and hopes Zimmermann can get back into the win column tonight. Zimmermann is 2-0 in his previous three starts and will try to reach the .500 mark. He has made 17 starts this season, going 5-6 with a 2.61 earned run average, and lost at Miami on May 28 this season. In six career starts against the Marlins, the right-handed Zimmermann is 0-3 with a 4.81 ERA.

Miami was supposed to compete for NL East supremacy this season, but is nine games behind Washington.

The Marlins closed out the first half of the season by going 3-4 on a seven- game road trip that culminated with Sunday's 5-4 loss at St. Louis. A three- run bottom of the ninth inning propelled the Cardinals to victory, while Miami first-year closer Heath Bell gave up all three runs to absorb the loss.

"I've let the whole organization down ... I had the worst first half I've ever had and I think all my teammates can definitely blame me," said Bell, who suffered his sixth blown save of the season.

Austin Kearns hit a three-run homer and Omar Infante finished 3-for-4 with a run scored in the loss. Anibal Sanchez started for the Marlins and did not record a decision after he threw six innings of two-run ball.

Josh Johnson will try to pitch the Marlins out of their funk when he takes the hill Friday night. Johnson is 1-0 in his past three starts and did not receive a decision in a 7-6 win at Milwaukee on July 4, when he was tagged for five runs and six hits in five innings. The big right-hander is still 5-5 in 17 starts with a 4.06 ERA.

Johnson defeated Washington back on May 30 and is an impressive 8-0 in 16 games (15 starts) in this series.

Miami has won three of five matchups with the Nationals this season and swept a three-game series at Marlins Park from May 28-30.