Cardinals-Nationals Preview

Gio Gonzalez and the rest of the rotation have been vital to the

Washington Nationals’ lead in the NL East.

Adam Wainwright’s recent success may be even more important to

the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wainwright looks to extend the longest winning streak of his

career when he starts opposite Gonzalez on Friday night in the

nation’s capital.

Gonzalez (16-7, 3.28 ERA) is among the contenders for the NL Cy

Young Award, ranking among the league leaders in wins and

strikeouts (168) while yielding just eight homers.

The left-hander, who has already matched his career high in

victories from last year with Oakland, is part of a Nationals

rotation that leads the NL with a 3.27 ERA and a .236 opponents’

average.

Edwin Jackson built on that success in the opener of this

four-game series Thursday, allowing an unearned run and four hits

with 10 strikeouts in eight innings as the Nationals (79-51)

cruised to an 8-1 victory.

Washington’s lead atop the East is 5 1/2 games over second-place

Atlanta.

Wainwright (13-10, 3.63) is having an impact in the wild-card

race for the Cardinals (71-60), whose lead for the second spot is

down to a half-game over Pittsburgh.

The right-hander will try to continue his recent dominance to

provide some breathing room. He’s 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last

seven starts, emerging victorious in each of his last five.

He allowed two runs in 5 2-3 innings Sunday in an 8-2 win at

Cincinnati. That performance came five days after he matched his

carer high with 12 strikeouts in a five-hit shutout of Houston.

“I wanted to take my team further in the game than that, but I

get it,” Wainwright said Sunday. “I had a couple of games in a row

that I threw a lot of pitches.”

He’s 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight games – six starts – against

the Nationals, but hasn’t faced them since a loss at Washington on

Aug. 29, 2010.

St. Louis may need another strong performance from Wainwright

since the team has been outscored 22-1 while hitting .149 during a

three-game losing streak.

“Nothing we can put our finger on,” manager Mike Matheny said.

“No explanation at this point.”

To make matters, St. Louis might be without its starting

shortstop for the rest of the season. Rafael Furcal suffered a

strained right elbow while making a pair of throws in the sixth

inning Thursday, and he’ll undergo an MRI on Friday.

Furcal described hearing a “pop” in the elbow, and the team

fears he might have damaged his ulnar collateral ligament.

“It’s very concerning,” outfielder Matt Holliday told the team’s

official website. “He’s one of the best shortstops defensively in

the league. Even when he doesn’t swing the bat well, he brings a

lot to the team.”

With the offense struggling, the Cardinals really use some

production from Holliday and Allen Craig, who are a combined 1 for

23 during the skid.

Holliday is batting .424 over his last nine meetings with

Washington, but Craig has fanned five times while going hitless in

nine at-bats in four career matchups.

They’ll get their first look at Gonzalez, who is trying to

rebound from Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Philadelphia. He allowed three

runs – two in the first – with seven strikeouts in six innings

after winning each of his previous three outings with a 2.53

ERA.

Three of Bryce Harper’s four hits in the past two games have

gone for homers. The rookie has a .314 average with four homers and

nine RBIs in his past nine home games.