For the first time this season, the Cardinals welcome the Washington Nationals to Busch Stadium. After a year filled with disappointment, the Nats are off to a fast start, and will look to continue their winning ways over the weekend.

After a short road trip out to the West coast to face off with the Diamondbacks and Padres, the Cardinals return home for a nice, long homestand. With sky-high expectations heading into last season, the Nationals were a disaster, finishing the year at 83-79 prompting the firing of Matt Williams. One year later, and the Nats coast into town boasting a 14-7 record and a new manager, Dusty Baker, at the helm.

In the Friday night opener, the Cards send Mike Leake to the hill, still looking for his first win with the ball club. Opposing him will be Stephen Strasburg, who already has three wins to his name and a sparkling 2.17 ERA to go along with it. Strasburg, at just 27 years old, will look to continue putting up big numbers in his free agent walk year. Leake, on the other hand, is looking to provide the Cards with some length, as he’s consistently struggled to make it deep into ballgames so far this season.

Jaime Garcia takes the mound in the middle game of the series for the Cardinals, as he tries to return to the style of pitching that led him to throw a fantastic 1-hit, complete game shutout on April 14th. Joe Ross, brother of Padres starter Tyson Ross, will be pitching on plenty of rest due to the Nationals’ decision to skip his turn in the rotation due to a minor blister. Despite a so-so season for Nats shortstop Danny Espinosa, he has a history of success against Garcia, holding a .462 batting average against the southpaw, so look for him to play a big role in Saturday night’s ballgame.

In the Sunday afternoon game, nice weather should allow the ball to carry a bit more, shifting Busch Stadium in the hitters’ favor. Carlos Martinez will look to follow up on his best start of the season (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R) and win his fifth straight decision to begin the season. This won’t be quite a walk in the park, as Nats ace, Max Scherzer, stands in the way of a Cards win that day. Scherzer, sporting a 4.35 ERA heading into Sunday’s start, hasn’t been his normal self recently. While his fastball velocity has remained constant for the most part, his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is triple that of last year’s.

Since the division-leading Chicago Cubs are matched up with the hapless Braves this weekend, the Cards are going to want to try and take at least two of three from their visitors to keep pace in the NL Central. On the other end of the matchup, Washington looks to stretch their lead over the New York Mets in anticipation of their first head-to-head battle of the season in the middle of May.

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