The Washington Nationals can win a road series in Los Angeles for the first time in nine years, but Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw could prove a considerable obstacle.
Kershaw looks to become baseball's first 17-game winner by earning a fifth consecutive victory over the Nationals on Tuesday night to keep the NL West leaders from a fourth loss in five contests.
Washington (78-58) hasn't earned two wins in a road series against the Dodgers (77-61) since May 2-4, 2005. The Nationals put themselves on the cusp of that achievement with Monday's 6-4 victory. Denard Span hit two home runs for the NL East leaders, who won for the third time in four games after opening a nine-game trip with three consecutive losses.
The Nationals have hit an NL-best 44 homers since the beginning of August and had four on Monday. They've built a seven-game lead over second-place Atlanta but padding that advantage could hit a bump against Kershaw (16-3, 1.73 ERA).
The left-hander is a strong candidate for not only a third Cy Young Award but also the NL MVP after going 13-1 with a 1.21 ERA in his last 16 starts. He was forced to work out of some early jams in his eight innings Wednesday in Arizona, but permitted one unearned run while striking out 10 in a 3-1 victory.
"It was a bad start, really," he said. "I felt guys were on base all night. You know, working in and out of jams, which is never fun to do. But I was fortunate to get some outs when I needed them."
Kershaw also had to work out of some jams in his only 2014 outing against Washington on May 6 - his first start following a six-week absence due to an ailing back. He scattered nine hits and fanned nine in seven scoreless innings in an 8-3 victory, improving to 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last four matchups.
Los Angeles, which is trying to avoid a season high-tying third consecutive home defeat, stayed two games in front of San Francisco in the division Monday with the Giants' 10-9 loss in Colorado. The Dodgers led by 4 1/2 on Wednesday after Kershaw's victory, the club's sixth win in eight games.
The Nationals give the ball to Doug Fister (12-6, 2.55), who is trying to avoid a third consecutive defeat.
The right-hander has allowed nine runs and 17 hits in 11 2-3 innings in his back-to-back losses after going 12-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 17 starts. He yielded five runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings Wednesday in an 8-4 loss to Philadelphia.
He also gave up two home runs for the second straight game. He had allowed three in the 10 starts before his consecutive defeats.
"It's just a matter of getting the ball down," Fister told MLB's official website. "That's the key to any sort of success. And it's going to be something that I really have to bear down on."
Fister will face the Dodgers for the first time but several of their hitters are familiar with him, most notably Adrian Gonzalez, who is 3 for 8 lifetime. Gonzalez was hitless in three at-bats Monday, and is 1 for 11 against Washington this season.
Jayson Werth went 3 for 3 against Kershaw in May, and is 9 for 24 (.375) with two homers lifetime versus him. Werth homered Monday - his third in four games - and has hit safely in nine of 10 contests.
Span, who is hitless in five career at-bats against Kershaw, is 8 for 22 (.364) with three home runs and two doubles in his last five games.