Nationals-Cardinals Preview

AP - Sports

A brilliant effort from a rookie pitcher moved the St. Louis Cardinals closer to an NL Central title.

Shelby Miller is now getting his chance, but Jordan Zimmermann is looking to become a 20-game winner.

Miller will try to follow a superb performance from Michael Wacha and help the Cardinals take another step toward a division title Wednesday against the Washington Nationals.

Wacha came within an out of throwing a no-hitter Tuesday, allowing an infield single to Ryan Zimmerman before exiting the 2-0 victory.

"For a kid to do that against a lineup like that, at this point in the season, it's hard to get your head around it," manager Mike Matheny said.

Matheny's team is chasing its first division crown since 2009, sitting two games ahead of Pittsburgh and three in front of Cincinnati with four to play.

All three teams have clinched at least a wild-card spot, while St. Louis' magic number in the division race is three.

In an effort to reduce that number further, the Cardinals (93-65) will start another impressive rookie in Miller (14-9, 3.12 ERA).

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his last four starts. He's been even better in his last three at home, winning each while posting 0.96 ERA.

Miller, though, wasn't close to being that sharp Friday, yielding four runs in six innings of a 7-6 win in 10 at Milwaukee.

Miller allowed two unearned runs and three hits with eight strikeouts over 6 2-3 innings in a 3-2 road win against the Nationals (84-74) on April 22.

With wins in the first five meetings against Washington this year, St. Louis is on the brink of sweeping a season series of at least six games for the first time since going 7-0 against the Dodgers in 2006.

Cardinals pitchers have limited the Nationals to seven runs and 24 hits in those five games, walking eight and striking out 42.

Another win in the season series won't be easy with Zimmermann (19-8, 3.18) on the mound.

The right-hander is bidding to join Gio Gonzalez (2012) and Ross Grimsley (1978) as the only 20-game winners in franchise history.

Reaching that milestone would mean beating the Cardinals for the first time. He's 0-3 with a 9.40 ERA in six starts against them, including two in last year's division series, which Washington lost in five games.

Zimmermann has been superb of late, winning all four of his starts this month behind a 2.25 ERA.

He turned in his best performance of that stretch Friday, tossing a two-hitter with nine strikeouts in an 8-0 victory over Miami.

Now, Zimmermann will make his final scheduled start of the year despite dealing with a stiff neck that has finally subsided.

He has personal highs in wins, innings (206 1-3) and strikeouts (159), while his 1.10 WHIP is his lowest.

"It's actually fun waking up the morning," Zimmermann said, "knowing there's not going to be any pain in your neck."

Yadier Molina is 7 for 13 versus Zimmermann, including playoffs. He's 6 for 12 with a homer and three RBIs in his last three home games.

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