Stephen Strasburg is in danger of matching a career-worst losing streak, and the odds of it ending would certainly be in his favor if he wasn't facing Cole Hamels.
The Washington Nationals ace gets a chance to correct things Sunday as he faces a team he's dominated recently and pitches at home, where he's been considerably better this season. Hamels, though, has been cruising for the Philadelphia Phillies since early July.
Strasburg (7-9, 3.55 ERA) is winless in his last five starts with three straight losses, but that's been largely on his teammates. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 3.66 ERA and 2.25 run support average since July 7. He was near top form in Tuesday's 3-0 loss in Miami, surrendering a run and four hits in seven innings.
He had four strikeouts - his second-fewest of the season - and that was somewhat by design after fanning 14 in 12 1-3 innings over his previous two starts but allowing eight runs and 16 hits.
"I was trying to keep the ball down and pitch to contact - trying to go in and out," Strasburg told MLB's official website.
Strasburg has lost four straight starts once in his career, spanning April 7-24, 2013.
The likelihood of halting the current winless run seems far greater with him pitching at home, considering his 6-2 record and 2.62 ERA at Nationals Park. He's 1-7 with a 4.68 ERA on the road.
He's also 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA in his last six starts against the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins (3 for 27 with 11 strikeouts), Chase Utley (3 for 19) and Cody Asche (1 for 8) have struggled against Strasburg.
Hamels (6-5, 2.55) has done the opposite of Strasburg lately by going five straight starts without a loss and winning the last three. Over those three victories, he has an 0.78 ERA with 27 strikeouts against one walk in 23 innings.
He's made it at least seven innings in four straight starts and 14 of 16, including an eight-inning effort while allowing six hits in Tuesday's 6-0 win over the New York Mets.
Hamels has pitched better away from Philadelphia with a 1.70 ERA in 10 road starts, yet he's happy to still be with the Phillies after facing a potential trade at the deadline.
"This is the place that I want to win again," Hamels said. "It was such a great experience. Especially these young guys, you can't tell them enough that this is a place you want to win a World Series, because it's the most exciting time you'll ever have in your career. For me, I want to be able to have it again here."
In Washington, he's 6-3 with a 2.56 ERA in 13 career starts.
Jayson Werth is just 4 for 25 against Hamels while Wilson Ramos is 2 for 14. Manager Matt Williams might be wise to get backup Scott Hairston some at_bats considering he's 16 for 41 with five home runs and five doubles against him.
The Nationals (59-49), who had scored 19 runs with a .203 average over a 2-5 stretch, had no such offensive struggles in Saturday's 11-0 victory to avoid losing the first three games of the series.
Anthony Rendon went 3 for 5 with four RBIs, while Denard Span went 2 for 4 and is batting .422 over his last 16 games.
The Phillies (49-62), meanwhile, have stalled with two runs and 13 hits in the last two games after opening the series with 10 runs and 17 hits.
Utley continued slumping with an 0-for-3 night to fall to 1 for 19 over six games.
Manager Ryne Sandberg is less concerned heading into Sunday, considering who he has headed to the mound.
"With Hamels going tomorrow, things are set up pretty well for us," Sandberg said.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved