(SportsNetwork.com) - The red-hot St. Louis Cardinals step outside of their division on Tuesday night to kick off a three-game series in the nation's capitol against the Washington Nationals.
This will be the Cardinals' first game this season against a non-National League Central opponent. They have won five straight and seven of their last eight games overall against division foes Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
The pitching has been a big reason for that success, as only twice during that span did St. Louis allow more than two runs in a game. The Cardinals currently top the majors with a 1.91 staff ERA.
The offense managed only four hits in Sunday's series finale with the Reds, although that was enough to pull out a 2-1 victory and complete the three-game sweep thanks to Adam Wainwright, who went eight innings and gave up only one run. Matt Carpenter led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo home run, and the Cards did not score again until the eighth following a leadoff double by Jon Jay. In between, Reds starter Mike Leake retired 20 of 22 St. Louis hitters.
"Overall, you don't know how a game like that is going to turn out, knowing that this team is trying to keep us from sweeping," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Fortunately, guys kept going about it the right way. It was a great finish to a very good homestand."
Despite the slow day offensively on Sunday, Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday will enter the series riding an 11-game hitting streak, while Carpenter has at least one extra-base hit in seven straight games.
Washington has also enjoyed some solid pitching to this point with a 2.97 team ERA, which ranked third in the NL entering Monday's off day. However, the Nationals did not register their first series win until this weekend, as they took three of four from the Phillies to climb to within one game of .500.
Stephen Strasburg was in cruise control throughout Sunday's 4-1 victory, fanning seven batters in 7 1/3 innings while yielding only one run on five hits.
"That may be as good as I've seen him," manager Matt Williams said. "He pitched at 92, 93 (mph) and was able to reach back when he needed it for 95- plus. For me, that makes his changeup even more effective. He threw for strikes when he wanted to, went out of the zone when he needed to. I don't know if I've seen him better than that."
Ryan Zimmerman drove in a pair of runs and Denard Span singled and scored in his season debut for the Nats. Span spent the past several weeks recovering from a core muscle injury he suffered in spring training.
Toeing the rubber for Washington in Tuesday's opener will be Gio Gonzalez. The southpaw got the win at Boston on Wednesday despite giving up five runs (four earned) in six innings, although he did notch six strikeouts. He'll look to rebound with a more consistent outing this time around in front of the home crowd for the first time this season.
Lance Lynn gets the nod for St. Louis in what marks his 100th career start. The right-hander owns a 1.64 ERA through his first two turns and has struck out 13 batters in 11 innings. This is the second straight start that Lynn will be making on a full week's rest thanks to a couple of timely off days in the schedule.
St. Louis won five of seven meetings against Washington last season.