The Washington Nationals are scuffling at the plate and on the brink of their longest slide in over two months.
Cliff Lee hasn't won since baffling the NL East leaders a month ago.
The Nationals may be hoping for the return of a pair of productive bats Sunday when they try to avoid a sweep in this three-game set by solving Lee and the surging Philadelphia Phillies.
Washington (77-49) owns the best record in baseball, but is hitting .224 with one homer and five runs during a three-game slide. That anemic stretch continued Saturday, when the Nationals were held to seven singles and struck out 11 times in a 4-2 loss at Philadelphia (60-67).
They last dropped four in a row from June 15-19.
"Our offense is struggling a little with (injured players) out, but you've got to give credit to their pitching," said manager Davey Johnson, whose club played without Ian Desmond (hamstring) and Michael Morse (hand).
It's unclear if Desmond and Morse will be back for the series finale, and Washington could use them.
Desmond, who has missed two games, is 5 for 12 with two homers and three RBIs in his last three games. Three of his seven hits against the Phillies this season have been homers.
Morse was hit by a pitch from Kyle Kendrick in Friday's 4-2 loss, and he's hitting .324 with eight homers and 26 RBIs on the road this season. He's also 13 for 27 with nine RBIs in his last 10 games at Citizens Bank Park, and 7 for 20 versus Lee.
Lee (2-7, 3.78 ERA) hasn't won since holding the Nationals to five hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings of an 8-0 road win July 31. The left-hander has won four of six meetings with the division rival, compiling a 2.44 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 44 1-3 innings.
Lee, though, is 0-1 with a 3.99 ERA in four games since his victory last month.
The three-time All-Star could have used some help from his teammates in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Cincinnati. He allowed three runs - two earned - with nine strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings, while being backed by one run with the defense making two errors.
Philadelphia, though, is going for its first four-game winning streak since July 22-25.
"We've got a little step in our get-a-long," manager Charlie Manuel said.
John Mayberry is hitting .367 with three homers and nine RBIs in eight games. He's collected three hits in this series and had a solo homer while driving in three runs Saturday.
Mayberry is 10 for 27 in his past nine home meetings with Washington.
Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.54) is scheduled to start opposite Lee, and he's 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA over his last two outings after going 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his previous nine.
The right-hander struggled again Monday, allowing four runs and eight hits while throwing 102 pitches in five innings of a 5-4 win in 13 over Atlanta.
Zimmermann was impressive in his most recent meeting with the Phillies on May 22, battling through 107 pitches in six innings while giving up one run and seven hits in a 5-2 win at Philadelphia. He had been 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA over his last four starts against the division rival.
The Associated Press News Service
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