April 18, 2014

The Washington Nationals have set a franchise record by winning Stephen Strasburg's last 14 starts. Now he'd like to break a pair for himself.

The longest winning streak and best start to a season are those club marks within reach for Strasburg on Sunday when he faces the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

The Nationals have dropped five of their last eight games, including two straight, but haven't lost one started by Strasburg since Sept. 9. His dominance dates back even further because since coming off the disabled list June 23, his 2.22 ERA is topped only by Jake Arrieta (1.18) and Clayton Kershaw (1.40).

Strasburg now can match Arrieta for the best record in baseball at 9-0, something no pitcher in his franchise's history has achieved. Pedro Martinez had been the last to begin 8-0 in 1997. Strasburg also can break a tie for the franchise-record winning streak, having won 11 consecutive decisions just as Dennis Martinez did in 1989 and Livan Hernandez in 2005.

''It means he's one of the best out there and he's pitching like it,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''A lot of people say the wins don't matter, but they matter to the guys on the team and matter to the person getting the wins.''

A big reason the wins keep coming is Washington has averaged 6.7 runs in his 10 starts. Strasburg certainly has done his part, posting a 2.79 ERA while his 11.44 strikeouts per nine innings rank second in baseball.

He had 21 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings in his last two starts, beating the New York Mets in both while allowing three runs.

"Adjectives are tough to describe how well he's thrown the ball this year," second baseman Daniel Murphy told MLB's official website. "I'm glad he's on my side. And he's just been unbelievable."

The Cardinals have already seen it. They got two runs and four hits off Strasburg in the first inning April 29, but he held them to no runs and four hits through the next six in a 5-4 victory.

''That's their M.O. They're going to come out hacking and hunting the heaters,'' Strasburg said after his first win in five starts versus St. Louis despite a 2.76 ERA.

The Cardinals lead the NL with 68 homers and are among the leaders with 176 walks after drawing four apiece off Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez in the last two days and defeating both. Matt Holliday, 6 for 12 against Strasburg, homered in Saturday's 9-4 win and Matt Carpenter had an RBI double after missing two games for the birth of his first child.

Carpenter started at first instead of his usual third base as Greg Garcia remained there. Garcia has reached base in eight of 10 plate appearances, including three hits Saturday, since being called up when Carpenter was put on the paternity list.

"I had these visions of, 'What can you do to stay?'" Garcia said Saturday after Ruben Tejada was designated for assignment rather than him being sent down.

Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04) is pitching like he belongs in the minors. A 17-game winner in 2015, Wacha is the first St. Louis pitcher to lose five straight decisions since Joel Pineiro in 2009 and the first to allow at least six runs in three consecutive starts since Mike Maroth in 2007. He's given up 20 runs and 24 hits in 12 innings during that span.

The right-hander allowed a career-worst eight runs in four innings of a 12-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

''I feel like I'm on time for an inning, two innings, and then, you know, something gets out of whack,'' he said. ''I don't know if I'm trying too hard.''

The good news for Wacha is he has an 0.79 ERA in three matchups with the Nationals, striking out 22 in 22 2/3 innings.

Washington has hit six homers through three games of this series, including two by Ryan Zimmerman and one by Bryce Harper on Saturday. Zimmerman tied a career high with four hits to break an 0-for-11 slump, and Harper hit his second homer in three games after going 11 straight without one.

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