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In Need of Wins, Washington Hosts Arizona

Davey Johnson has reached the stage where his ballclub must win.

Davey Johnson has reached the stage where his ballclub must win.

Having failed so far to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, the Washington Nationals find themselves precariously positioned on a precipice between potential success and crushing failure.

Despite the All-Star break still being three weeks away, the Nationals find themselves at the point where losing could be monumentally disastrous, which makes this week’s three-game series against the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks all the more intriguing.

Early Season Struggles

20130624_NL_EastConsidered the National League favorite entering the season, the Nationals have been overshadowed by the Atlanta Braves, a club that has looked like one of the best in the majors since day 1.

A combination of inconsistent pitching and offensive inadequacies sees Washington six games back of the Braves in the AL East, and one game below .500. The Nationals spent a grand total of zero days below .500 last campaign.

With 87 games left on the calendar, it might be a little too early to write the Nationals off, but then again, it might not be.

At no point this season has the side looked likely to catch the Braves. With the NL Central sporting the three best records in baseball, securing one of the two Wild Card berths this season might be out of the question, which means the nationals must catch the Braves. That means the Nationals must win now.

Injuries - including that to Bryce Harper - have hindered the Nationals this season.

Injuries – including that to Bryce Harper – have hindered the Nationals this season.

Series Preview

While the Braves make the trip to the City of Fountains for a two-game series with the Kansas City Royals this week, the Nationals look to defend Nationals Park against the Diamondbacks.

Unlike Washington, Arizona has surpassed expectation so far this season and currently holds a three-game lead in the NL West. While the downplay of the highly touted Los Angeles Dodgers and defending champion San Francisco Giants has played a part in the Diamondbacks’ rise, make no mistakes about it, this is a club that can win now.

The two clubs will meet for the first time this season on Tuesday night (7:05 p.m. ET) before continuing the three-game series on Wednesday and Thursday.

Washington (37-38, 20-15 home) enters the game looking to shed a two-game losing streak that saw the club split a four-game set with the Colorado Rockies over the weekend. Rightfielder Jayson Werth left Sunday’s closer earlier with a groin injury after missing Saturday’s game with flu-like symptoms. He expects to play on Tuesday though.

The Nationals picked up three straight wins ahead of those two losses, but had lost three straight before that. These inconsistent trends are testament to the club’s season.

Injuries have been a big part of the Nationals’ season which, while not an excuse, goes some way to explaining the less than stellar performance of the team.

Arizona dropped Sunday’s game to the Cincinnati Reds, missing out on a sweep of the series. Like the Nationals, the Diamondbacks have been inconsistent in their trends of late, having won four after losing four.

Arizona picked up the victory the last time the two clubs met (Aug. 12, 2012), snapping a four-game Washington winning streak in the process.

Gio Gonzalez has pitched well of late, but poor production from the Nationals' offense means he has nothing to show for it.

Gio Gonzalez has pitched well of late, but poor production from the Nationals’ offense means he has nothing to show for it.

Starting Pitchers

Arizona will start Trevor Cahill (3-8, 3.92 ERA) on Tuesday. Cahill was forced out of the game after the first inning last time out (June 19) having been hit by a line drive. A bruised right has had him listed as day-to-day since, but he’ll be ready to take the mount at Nationals Park.

Cahill – alongside the rest of the Diamondback’s pitching staff – has not recorded a win in the month of June. In fact, you have to go back to May 17 to locate the last time he found his way into the winner’s column. Furthermore, the right-hander hasn’t made it into the sixth inning since May 27.

Cahill isn’t the only pitcher struggling to pick up a win. Nationals’ starter Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.34 ERA) has had a tough time of it lately, failing to record a decision in seven of his last eight starts. The one decision he managed during that time was a loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

While he may not have recorded a win since May 5, Gonzalez has at least helped the bullpen out with some quality starts. He’s pitched seven full innings in five of his last eight starts. Despite this, the Nationals are 3-5 during that span.

Both Cahill and Gonzalez will hope to unearth winning ways on Tuesday night.

Looking ahead in the series, Washington appears to have the advantage on Wednesday as Jordan Zimmerman (10-3, 2.26 ERA) takes to the mound but Thursday will prove tough as Arizona starts undefeated Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.40 ERA). With Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.40 ERA) toeing the rubber for the Nationals, Thursday’s game turn into a pitcher’s duel.

Game Day Betting Lines

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Washington Nationals odds for 6/25/13 are available now.

The home team Nationals (-137) opened as the favorite over the Diamondbacks (+127) and most sportsbooks have subsequently stretched that lead further. Bovada currently has the Nationals at -150.

The over/under opened at and remains at 7, with the over (-115) favored against the under (-105).

Washington (36-35-4) has marginally trended towards the over this season while Arizona (32-41-2) has been a firm favorite of the under.

The Diamondbacks (-190) are expected to cover the 1.5 spread.

Following this week’s series, the Nationals and Diamondbacks will meet for one more series this season, a three-game set at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz., to close out the regular season (Sep. 27-29).

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