Even without injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals held the National League-leading San Francisco Giants to only three runs in four games over the weekend.
The Nationals believe it's not too late to make a move up the NL standings, especially if their lineup can heat up the way Kyle Schwarber did with three home runs in that series.
Washington figures to have a chance to sustain some momentum starting Monday night when it hosts the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates to open a three-game series.
Pittsburgh has lost seven in a row and was swept in three games by Milwaukee this weekend to open a six-game road trip.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez's decision to move Schwarber into the leadoff spot has paid off so far as he hit a pair of leadoff homers over the weekend including the first of two in Sunday's 5-0 win over the Giants.
Schwarber, who leads the Nationals with 12 home runs, recorded his ninth career multi-homer game and became the sixth player in the history of the franchise to homer in each of the first two innings of a game.
"It's just another spot in the order," Schwarber said. "I think it's just going up there and trying to take a normal at-bat. It's not like I hadn't led off an inning before."
Veteran lefty Jon Lester (0-2, 4.19 ERA) is still looking for his first win of the season as he opposes Pirates' right-hander JT Brubaker (4-5, 3.90 ERA) in Monday's opener.
Lester has had trouble pitching deep into starts recently, throwing more than four innings only once in his past four outings. Lester walked a season-high four batters, struck out two, and threw 91 pitches over 3 2/3 innings last Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I just need to do a better job with attacking with whatever I'm throwing," Lester said.
Pittsburgh rookie starter Wil Crowe gave up two runs over five innings and retired 15 consecutive batters at one point while striking out a career-high eight. But it wasn't enough to end the Pirates' skid in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Brewers.
"We had opportunities today and left people on base," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
Crowe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis after Trevor Cahill was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left calf strain.
Brubaker, who will make his first career start against the Nationals, compiled a 2.58 ERA over his first seven starts this season, but has struggled over his past four starts, allowing 15 runs, including four home runs. Brubaker struck out six, and tossed four scoreless innings before allowing three runs in the fifth inning in a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers last Tuesday.
"(Brubaker) did a really nice job the first four innings executing pitches," Shelton said last Tuesday. "It just looked like he got a little tired in the fifth, and we got him out at what we thought was the right opportunity."
Martinez said Scherzer would throw a bullpen session Monday, which could determine whether he makes his next scheduled start on Wednesday. Martinez also said the Nationals are waiting for the nerve irritation in Strasburg's neck to subside before he can start throwing again.
For the Pirates, first baseman Colin Moran exited Sunday's game after the first inning with lower back tightness and is considered day-to-day.
--Field Level Media