A series against the team with the worst record in the majors gives the Washington Nationals a golden opportunity to pad their lead in the NL East.
They'd like to make things a bit easier on themselves, however.
A night after a pair of errors led to an extra-inning victory, the Nationals look to continue their impressive success on the road against the woeful Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
Washington (66-43) leads the East by three games over Atlanta and seems to be in position to widen that gap against Houston (36-74), which has dropped a staggering 27 of 31.
The Nationals got some help in maintaining that advantage on the Braves by beating the Astros 5-4 in 11 innings to open this four-game set Monday. Kurt Suzuki 's bunt single produced throwing errors to first and home, allowing Roger Bernadina to score the decisive run from first.
"Everything conceivable that could go wrong went wrong," manager Davey Johnson said. "They gave us one by airmailing it over first base then airmailed it over the catcher."
Washington has won 13 of 18 on the road, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been a key figure in that success. He's hitting .367 with six homers and 21 RBIs during that stretch after getting two hits and knocking in two runs Monday.
Zimmerman is 8 for 20 with seven RBIs to spark Washington's 4-1 record against Houston this year. He's also 3 for 5 with a homer versus Jordan Lyles , the Astros' scheduled starter for Tuesday.
He'll be opposed by Ross Detwiler (6-4, 3.02 ERA), a pleasant surprise since replacing an ineffective Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation. The left-hander is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA in seven starts since, and turned in perhaps his best performance yet in Thursday's 3-0 win over Philadelphia. He yielded three hits in seven innings to outpitch Cole Hamels .
"He started the game amped up," Johnson told the team's official website. "Then, he started getting confidence - not overthrow, hit his spots and made it look easy. ... You could see he had great movement on his fastball."
Despite his recent success, Detwiler hasn't won on the road since beating the New York Mets in his season debut on April 10. He's 0-3 with a 4.23 ERA in nine games - six starts - since.
Houston has lost 10 of 12 at home, committing 11 errors and hitting .167 with runners in scoring position.
"Somewhere, we're stowing up some hits," manager Brad Mills said. "We get runners on and we're getting a lot of opportunities, but we're just not bringing them in."
Lyles (2-8, 5.95) is 0-4 with an 8.02 ERA in six starts since beating San Diego on June 26. Opponents are batting .349 and have hit 10 homers off the right-hander in that span.
He was hit hard again Wednesday, giving up a career-high nine runs and nine hits in five innings of a 13-4 loss at Milwaukee.
He's 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA in two games versus the Nationals, losing his only start against them on July 18, 2011.
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 01, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|July 29, 2012||Adam LaRoche||Day-to-Day||Left game - Back tightness|
|July 22, 2012||Ian Desmond||15-Day DL||Torn left oblique|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
|June 26, 2012||Justin Maxwell||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in left ankle|
HOUSTON (AP) -- A day after giving Washington a victory with his offensive skills, Roger Bernadina saved a victory with his defense.
Danny Espinosa hit a two-run homer early, and his RBI single in the 12th inning Tuesday night put the Nationals up 3-2 over the Houston Astros before Bernadina's nifty catch secured the win.
Michael Morse was 0 for 4 when he doubled to start the 12th inning and extend his career-high hitting streak to 16 games. He was replaced by pinch-runner Cesar Izturis , who was making his first appearance for Washington after being claimed off waivers from Milwaukee on Monday.
Bernadina advanced Izturis to third with a sacrifice bunt. Espinosa's sharp grounder off Mickey Storey (0-1) skipped past the pitcher for a hit that brought Izturis home and gave the Nationals their second straight extra-inning win over Houston.
Houston's Steve Pearce singled off Tyler Clippard in the 12th before Carlos Corporan drew a two-out walk. Bernadina, the center fielder, crashed into the wall while making a diving catch on a ball hit by Brett Wallace to finish off the victory.
"It was sensational," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of the catch. "I thought the ball at first was going to go out. I saw him disappear from my angle ... and he came out holding the glove high and I said: `This is great, let's get out of here."'
The loss dropped the Astros to 0-11 in extra-inning games this season. Washington beat them 5-4 in 11 innings on Monday.
Bernadina said he had the same feeling when he made the catch that he did when he scored the go-ahead run from first on a bunt attempt during which Houston committed two errors in Monday night's victory.
He knew he was going to hit the wall, but figured he had to do it to save the game.
"This game took forever," he said. "I just want to get out of here and whatever it takes to get an out."
For the Astros, who have baseball's worst record, it was another difficult game in a season full of them.
"I stayed on the field with the guys to tell them how much I appreciate all that they have gone through the last couple of nights," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "It's been tough."
Washington pinch-hitter Chad Tracy doubled with two outs in the 10th for the only hit by either team in the first two extra innings.
Drew Storen (1-0) retired the last two hitters in the 11th for the win, and Clippard earned his 23rd save.
Johnson raved about the performance of his bullpen over the last two games, but hopes the group will get a break soon.
"They're holding together and doing a great job, but we need a laugher," he said.
Pearce drew a two-out walk in the ninth before Ryan Mattheus intentionally walked pinch-hitter Scott Moore , but pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic grounded out to send the game to the 10th.
Ben Francisco gave Houston an early lead with a two-run homer off Ross Detwiler to the Crawford Boxes in left field in the first inning. The lead was short-lived as Espinosa tied it at 2-all with his two-run shot to right field off Jordan Lyles in the second.
Both pitchers quickly got back on track.
Detwiler set down the next 10 Astros, with Houston's next hit not coming until back-to-back singles by Pearce and Matt Downs with two outs in the fourth inning.
Detwiler retired Brandon Barnes, who was making his major league debut on Tuesday, and allowed just one baserunner - a walk in the sixth - after that. He was replaced by Michael Gonzalez for the eighth inning.
Detwiler allowed three hits and two runs with two strikeouts in seven innings.
Jose Altuve recorded Houston's first hit since the fourth inning with a two-out single in the eighth. He stole second base, but the Astros came away empty when Michael Gonzalez retired Marwin Gonzalez .
Lyles was equally effective, retiring the next nine batters he faced after the homer. Jesus Flores broke the streak with a double with two outs in the fifth.
Lyles walked a batter in the sixth and seventh innings, but didn't give up another hit until he was chased by a single by pinch-hitter Jayson Werth to start the eighth.
Wesley Wright replaced Lyles and struck out two, before Fernando Rodriguez threw 1 1-3 perfect innings.
Lyles yielded three hits and two runs with six strikeouts in seven-plus innings.
NOTES: Werth, who left Monday night's game with sore legs, was held out of the lineup on Tuesday, but he pinch-hit in the eighth inning. Werth was reinstated last Thursday after missing almost three months with a broken left wrist. ... Houston placed CF Jordan Schafer on the 15-day disabled list with an injured left shoulder on Tuesday. The Astros aren't sure how long he'll be out. "I really have no timetable," Schafer said. "Whenever I feel healthy, whenever I get better, then I'll get back in there." Houston purchased the contract of Barnes to take Schafer's spot on the roster.