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News » Cardinals-Nationals Preview 2009-04-30


Cardinals-Nationals Preview 2009-04-30


Cardinals-Nationals Preview 2009-04-30
The Washington Nationals have played better since their disastrous start, but they're still entrenched in the NL East cellar. The St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, are enjoying the view atop the NL Central.

The NL-best Cardinals have a chance to pad their early division lead when they visit the nation's capital Thursday night to open a four-game set with the league-worst Nationals.

Even after another postseason flameout last season, it appeared the NL Central was Chicago's to lose heading into 2009.

It's been St. Louis (15-7), though, that's had the early look of a division favorite. The Cardinals have lost only one of their first seven series, and they've won their past three while racing to a 3 1/2-game lead - the largest margin in any of baseball's six divisions.

St. Louis wasn't at its best offensively in Atlanta this week, totaling four runs while splitting its first two games with the Braves. As usual, though, Albert Pujols was at the center of a big inning in Wednesday's series finale. The majors' RBI leader had one of the Cardinals' four run-scoring singles in the fifth inning as St. Louis rallied to win 5-3.

"Sometimes you have to win like that," left fielder Chris Duncan told the Cardinals' official Web site. "You can't always rely on home runs."

St. Louis has 23 home runs but didn't hit one in three games against Atlanta. The Cardinals are 7-3 when they don't homer.

The Nationals (5-15) got used to seeing the ball fly into the seats this week at Philadelphia, where they allowed seven homers in their three-game series. Only one of those came on Wednesday, though, and second baseman Anderson Hernandez provided enough offense for Washington, collecting three hits and driving in two in a 4-1 victory.

The Nationals are 4-5 since a 1-10 start.

Hernandez, who was hitting .176 (6-for-34) in his first eight games, is 8-for-12 in his last three contests in the No. 8 spot.

"He's gotten a lot better lately," manager Manny Acta said. "He's getting quality at-bats and is very confident. That's why we like him back in the lineup."

The hitter St. Louis will be worrying the most about, though, is Ryan Zimmerman. The third baseman has hit safely in 18 straight games - the longest streak in the five years the franchise has spent in Washington - and he's done even better in recent years against the Cardinals, compiling six straight multihit games.

Zimmerman has never faced Mitchell Boggs (1-0, 1.17 ERA), who looked good in his first start of the season Saturday against Chicago. The right-hander gave up six hits and one unearned run over 5 2-3 innings in an 8-2 win.

Boggs had a 7.55 ERA last season in six midseason starts with the Cardinals, and he may be a regular in the rotation with starter Chris Carpenter on the disabled list.

"I feel a lot more confident about myself right now," Boggs said. "I feel more comfortable around here. These guys have accepted me. Last year, they were great teammates, too, but this year, I just feel like I belong here."

Daniel Cabrera (0-2, 4.42), on the other hand, hasn't shown many signs that he's planning to stick in the Nationals' rotation. He gave up five runs - one earned - in just 2 1-3 innings Saturday in an 8-2 loss at New York.

Cabrera, in his first season in the NL after spending five seasons with Baltimore, has never faced St. Louis.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 30, 2009

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