The Nationals were ready to turn the page after mustering only two hits (one in the infield) against a dominant Adam Wainwright on Thursday. And yet, they next get Michael Wacha, whose last start against Washington came even closer to history.
Wacha, who will face Gio Gonzalez in Friday's rematch at Nationals Park, nearly no-hit the Nats last September in his first appearance against them. The only hit Wacha allowed was also an infield variety, and it came with two outs in the ninth inning.
"The night ended up being pretty special," said Wacha, who then rode the momentum from that performance into October, where he made more rookie history.
There is familiarity now from Washington's side, and it will attempt to fare better than Thursday's 8-0 defeat in the second game of the four-game series. Both the Cardinals and Nationals were projected by many to be division winners in 2014, and the Nationals want to prove themselves capable of keeping up with a Cardinals team that eliminated them in the 2012 postseason and has beaten them eight times since.
"It starts with their rotation," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "They have one of the best catchers [Yadier Molina] in the league and he runs a great game -- both offensively and defensively. They have power, they have some speed, they play exceptional defense. All of that combined is the reason they are at where they are at. Do we measure ourselves? I guess, yes, but ultimately we have to worry about ourselves and play the game the way we want to play it in order to have a chance to beat them."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described the Nationals in much the same way when asked about their formidable foes on Thursday.
"A very, very athletic, strong, fast team that is an exciting team to compete against," he said. "They've got the starting pitching. They've got an accomplished bullpen. They've got speed and power and the ability to hit for average all the way through their lineup. You look at the guys and how they move around, especially you look at the middle of their infield, they have guys that make plays. It's all the makings of a really good team. I don't think it surprises anyone when they do something well for an extended period of time."
Cardinals: Center field carousel
After starting in center field just three times in the team's first 12 games, Jon Jay has found himself in that position in three of the first four games on this road trip. He's seized the playing time, too. Jay contributed a three-run homer on Monday, had a two-hit game on Wednesday and reached base four times in Thursday's win.
Jay's production can continue to earn him starts.
"Jon has done a nice job, and I think that's what all these guys need to know from us: 'What do I need to do to get an opportunity to play?'" Matheny said. "You go out and play both sides of the ball, take good at-bats."
With a left-hander starting for Washington on Friday, though, Peter Bourjos is expected back in the starting lineup in place of Jay.
Nationals: Gio seeks to rebound
In his last start, left-hander Gio Gonzalez had to take one for the team. He was hit hard, allowing six runs in six innings against the Braves. He lasted as long as he did because the bullpen has been overworked in the last week. It marked the third consecutive game in which a Nats starter has allowed at least five runs.
Atlanta scored its first six runs in the first two innings off Gonzalez. Jayson Heyward came home on Freddie Freeman's sac fly in the first, and Justin Upton highlighted the scoring with a two-run homer. The Braves scored three more runs an inning later. Heyward ripped an RBI double before Freeman launched a two-run homer.
"The ball was just up. They put good swings on pitches. It's kind of been [the Braves'] M.O. this whole weekend -- early and often for them," Williams said after the game. "We were able to come back in the first two games, but not today."
Gonzalez wanted to go and pitch at least eight innings, but he left the game after throwing 103 pitches.
"This is one of those tough pills to swallow," Gonzalez said. "You can look at the good and the bad, but at the end of the day you wanted to save as [many] arms as we could. I felt I should have gone deeper."
• The Cardinals went 19-23 against left-handed pitchers last year, but they are 2-1 against southpaws to start this season.
• When Sandy Leon is starting, the Nationals are 11-4. They are 5-5 when an opponent scores first.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.