Few would have predicted the Washington Nationals to be towards the bottom of the NL East standings as the season nears the end of its first month, but that's exactly where they are heading into a three-game set with the Atlanta Braves.
Looking to snap a five-game losing streak Monday night, the Nationals will turn to Doug Fister, whose stretch of quality starts ended with a substandard performance his last time out.
Each of the Nationals' five starting pitchers failed to secure a win their most recent time through the rotation, dropping two contests to St. Louis before being swept in three games at Miami.
Gio Gonzalez was the latest to falter, surrendering six runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 6-2 loss to the Marlins. The defeat dropped the Nationals (7-12) into a tie for last place in the division with Philadelphia.
Fister (1-0, 2.37 ERA) opened the losing streak by allowing five runs - four earned - in six innings of a 7-5 loss on Wednesday. Including the postseason, he had previously allowed two or fewer earned runs while pitching at least six innings in seven consecutive starts.
"I wouldn't make too much of it," manager Matt Williams said following last week's loss. "Tonight, he just left one over. I wouldn't make too much of that. He's throwing the ball effectively."
Fister has been dominant in three starts against Atlanta (9-9), posting a 3-0 record and 1.23 ERA. He may need another outstanding game Monday considering Washington's offense has produced only five runs over its last four games. Bryce Harper, who hit his fifth home run of the season Sunday, has combined with Denard Span to drive in all five runs.
"We surely didn't want to start like this," Harper said. "We're a great team, and we'll get it going."
Jayson Werth has headlined Washington's struggles, batting only .189 since returning to the lineup on April 13. Ian Desmond is 2 for 16 since Thursday, while Ryan Zimmerman has gone 2 for 15.
They'll look for better luck against Atlanta's Eric Stults (0-1, 4.50). The 35-year-old journeyman has been solid in three starts for the Braves and limited the New York Mets to one run and four hits through six innings on Wednesday.
He was chased after 2 1-3 innings in his last outing against Washington on June 8. Desmond hit a two-run home run as Stults allowed eight hits and six runs in a 6-0 loss while with San Diego.
The Braves lost to the Phillies 5-4 on Sunday, their fifth defeat in six games. Alberto Callaspo hit a pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning, but Atlanta stranded two runners to end the game.
"One thing about our club is you may beat us, but the other team will go back to the locker room and say, 'We're in it for a fight with these guys,'" Fredi Gonzalez said. "They battle, but we came a little short there."
Freddie Freeman is batting .323 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs against the Nationals in his career.