Among the unexpected stories of this season, few have been more surprising than the inconsistencies of the Washington Nationals' starting rotation.
Following yet another poor outing, the Nationals will turn to Gio Gonzalez on Sunday afternoon to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Aaron Harang.
Washington (25-18) has enjoyed steady performances from starters Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann, who've combined for a 2.31 ERA, but the remainder of the staff has failed to meet expectations.
Stephen Strasburg and Gonzalez have headlined those struggles. The former allowed six runs in 3 2-3 innings Saturday to inflate his ERA to 6.50 as Washington fell 8-1, ending a season-best six-game winning streak.
"We need to play well to give ourselves a chance to win," manager Matt Williams said. "Today was a clunker, but all in all over the past couple weeks its been darn good. I'm not worried about their intensity level. It was just one of those games. We'll get back at it tomorrow."
Ryan Howard hit his 10th home run and rookie Maikel Franco added a two-run shot for Philadelphia (19-26), which has won eight of 11.
Howard is 8 for 18 in his last four games with three home runs, three doubles and four RBIs. His homer Saturday was his 40th all-time against the Nationals - third-most against any opponent.
''Just the way he took the at-bats, his approach, was the vintage Ryan Howard I've grown accustomed to seeing, especially that home run that he hit,'' said winning pitcher Cole Hamels.
Howard will have a tough assignment Sunday against Gonzalez, who he is 0 for 11 against lifetime with six strikeouts.
Gonzalez (3-2, 4.94 ERA) looks to rebound from consecutive poor outings, however. The left-hander has managed to avoid losses in both starts despite allowing 11 runs over 10 innings while walking four and striking out four.
He surrendered six runs for the second time this season, lasting five innings before leaving without a decision in an 8-6 win over the New York Yankees on Tuesday. He's enjoying a 5.51 run support average, which ranks near the top of the NL, and the Nationals have won six of his eight starts.
This is a very favorable matchup for Ben Revere, who is 9 for 22 against Gonzalez. Freddy Galvis has also hit Gonzalez well, going 6 for 17 with a homer and two doubles.
Washington can win its eighth consecutive series and move to 16-5 this month with a victory Sunday, but will be up against Harang (4-3, 1.82), who has been a revelation for Philadelphia.
The 37-year-old ranks among the league leaders with a 0.98 WHIP and has not allowed an earned run in either of his last two starts. He gave up three unearned runs and three hits over six innings but didn't receive a decision Tuesday in a 6-5 loss at Colorado.
Harang is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts against the Nationals.
Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 Saturday, marking his first full game without reaching base since May 5. Harper, whose homer Friday was his 11th in 14 games, is 9 for 20 with a home run against Harang.