The Miami Marlins' overhaul appears to be finally paying dividends.
So far, the Washington Nationals also seem to be improved.
The Marlins go for their longest winning streak in nine months when they face the surprisingly first-place Nationals in the opener of this three-game set in the nation's capital Friday night.
Moving into their new stadium, the Marlins (7-6) changed seemingly everything from their colors to location identity to uniforms to the roster, which included uncharacteristically lavishing money upon free agent All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
After dropping six of their first nine, things appear to be finally falling into place for the usually frugal team.
Miami, which finished at the bottom of the NL East last season, has won four in a row while outscoring opponents 24-10 behind a .307 average and five homers. The club last won five in a row from July 23-28.
"Right now they are putting it together," said manager Ozzie Guillen, arguably as high a profile addition as his star players in the offseason.
Reyes is still trying to find his groove, hitting .226 with two RBIs, six runs and four stolen bases on six attempts. However, Hanley Ramirez - who moved from shortstop to third to accommodate Reyes - is picking up the slack with a .550 average, three homers and nine RBIs in the past four games.
A series with Washington (10-4) may just keep Ramirez rolling while also providing a spark for Reyes.
Ramirez is a career .341 hitter with 25 homers and 70 RBIs against the Nationals, while Reyes hit .328 in 16 meetings last year.
While the Marlins were expected to become a contender in the division race, Washington is proving to be a big surprise with its own improvement.
The Nationals are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the most wins in the NL, and their success may potentially crowd the East race with Atlanta, Philadelphia and the New York Mets.
"Everywhere we play in this division is going to be tough," Guillen told the team's official website. "No matter where we're going, we know we're going to face a tough team."
Guillen gives the ball to his Venezuelan compatriot Carlos Zambrano (0-0, 3.75), who looks to continue his dominance in the nation's capital as he gets a third crack at win No. 1 with the Marlins.
The fiery right-hander has won all four of his starts in Washington with a 0.69 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 26 innings. Overall, he's won six of his last seven starts versus the Nationals behind a 2.84 ERA.
Zambrano wasn't nearly that effective in his latest outing, leaving without a decision in Saturday's 5-4 loss to Houston. He tossed 106 pitches in six innings, allowing one run and four hits with six walks.
Washington will counter with Ross Detwiler (1-0, 0.90 ERA), who may be looking for some help from his teammates in order to win for the second time in three starts.
The left-hander lasted five innings Sunday, giving up five runs with just one earned due to two errors by the Nationals in an 8-5 loss in 11 to Cincinnati. He was much better in his season debut when he fanned six in five scoreless innings of a 6-2 win over the New York Mets on April 10.
"Things are not going to go my way. It's a big test when you see how you react to that. I guess, (Sunday), I didn't react all that well," Detwiler told the team's official website.
Detwiler is getting his first start against the Marlins. He's thrown four scoreless innings over two relief appearances against them, striking out three and walking three.
The Associated Press News Service
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