Nationals-Cardinals Preview

Thanks to an untimely offensive slump, the Washington Nationals’ stay alone atop the NL East didn’t last long.

If his last start is any indication, Jaime Garcia could keep Washington stifled.

Garcia tries to extend the St. Louis Cardinals’ mastery of the Nationals at Busch Stadium on Sunday.

Washington (35-32) was a season-best six games above .500 with a one-game edge over Atlanta following Wednesday’s 6-2 victory at San Francisco. Though the Nationals maintained that advantage despite Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Giants, they’ve since fallen into a tie with the Braves, unable to take advantage of Atlanta’s 1-3 stretch.

They’ve tallied two runs and 13 hits – just one for extra bases – in the three-game losing streak. RBI leader Ian Desmond is 1 for 11 with six strikeouts in that span.

Jayson Werth’s first-inning double produced their only run in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at St. Louis.

"What can you say?" said catcher Jose Lobaton, who had one of Washington’s four hits. "They’ve been throwing good and today was just one of those days."

A fourth straight loss would match their worst skid of the season from May 21-24.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (36-32) have followed a 2-8 stretch with five wins in six games, allowing a total of one run in those victories. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 meetings with Washington and 29 of 36 at home, dating back to when the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.

Garcia (2-0, 4.26 ERA) is coming off his best outing since shoulder surgery ended his 2013 campaign after just nine starts. The left-hander yielded three hits over seven innings in last Sunday’s 5-0 victory at Toronto, bouncing back after giving up a season-worst six runs and eight hits in five innings of an 8-7 loss to Kansas City.

"It was like he was ahead of us the whole game, moving in and out. But he’s pretty good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told the team’s official website. "It looks like he’s healthy again."

Garcia, who is 3-1 with a 3.29 ERA in five starts versus Washington, hadn’t walked a single batter in 24 2-3 innings this year before walking three against the Blue Jays. Desmond is 5 for 12 against him.

For Washington, Doug Fister (5-1, 2.68) has won five straight starts for the first time in his career. He also recorded victories in five straight appearances from Sept. 5-26, 2011, though one was as a reliever.

Fister owns a 1.83 ERA in six outings since being tagged for nine hits – including three homers – and five earned runs in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-0 loss to Oakland in his season debut on May 9. He’s since surrendered as many home runs in 39 1-3 innings.

The right-hander is still looking to be even better, however.

"Overall, again, there are some positive things and some things I need to work on," he told the team’s official website after his last start. "It was a constant battle tonight."

Fister has never faced St. Louis, though Peter Bourjos is 4 for 8 against him.

He will have to contend with the bat of Matt Adams, who has homered for the Cardinals in each of his first two games since returning from the disabled list. St. Louis is 31-23 when Adams plays and 5-9 without him.

Fister and Garcia rank Nos. 1 and 2 among NL pitchers with at least five starts in walks per nine innings at 0.62 and 0.85, respectively.

St. Louis’ only three-game sweep this season came against Arizona from May 20-22.