The St. Louis Cardinals ceded the top spot in the NL Central for the first time in almost a month after getting swept over the weekend.
It may be tougher to regroup against a Washington Nationals lineup that includes Ryan Zimmerman.The Nationals are expected to activate their slugging third baseman before Tuesday night's series opener in the nation's capital, where the Cardinals will try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive loss.The Cardinals (38-29) were outscored 17-6 and swept in a three-game set at Milwaukee, dropping behind the Brewers and out of first place for the first time since May 18 after Sunday's 4-3 defeat."I don't want to be melodramatic. This is June and we have to be ready for Washington on Tuesday," manager Tony La Russa said. "We came in here to win a series and they outmanaged us and outplayed us."The Nationals (30-36), meanwhile, have won three straight and could match their longest winning streak of the season Tuesday. They scored twice in the ninth inning to defeat San Diego 2-0 on Sunday, finishing their road trip with a 6-5 mark."It felt good to finally get one in," said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who drove in the go-ahead run. "It feels even better to win the road trip."The best feeling of the week for Washington may come when Zimmerman returns to the lineup -- likely Tuesday.Zimmerman has been out since April 9 due to an abdominal problem that required surgery. The 2009 All-Star was off to a fast start before the injury, going 10 for 28 (.357) with a home run and seven walks.He'll face a challenge with Jaime Garcia (6-2, 3.20 ERA) taking the mound for St. Louis. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA in two starts against Washington, working five-plus innings in a 5-3 win April 20.Garcia, however, has seen his road ERA rise to 5.70 following back-to-back losses as the visiting pitcher. After giving up career worsts of 12 runs -- 11 earned -- and 11 hits during a 15-4 defeat at Colorado on May 28, Garcia allowed three runs and seven hits over five innings of Wednesday's 4-1 loss at Houston.He may want to be careful with Michael Morse, who's hitting .342 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in his last 20 games overall. Morse has gone 9 for 19 (.474) with a homer over his last five games versus the Cardinals.Washington counters with Yunesky Maya (0-1, 5.40). The right-hander, who allowed a combined eight runs in nine innings over his first two starts after his callup May 29, limited San Francisco to one run and four hits over six innings during Wednesday's 3-1 road loss.He's still looking for his first big league win in his ninth start.Maya hopes to slow down Albert Pujols, who is likely looking forward to visiting Nationals Park. Pujols is batting .440 with five homers over his last eight games in Washington.Lance Berkman, who ranks among the NL's top five with 16 homers, has also thrived in the series lately. Berkman is 10 for 21 (.476) with a homer during a five-game hitting streak versus the Nationals.St. Louis, which has won 16 of 22 against Washington, has been without four-time All-Star Matt Holliday (left quadriceps strain) this month and also placed Allen Craig on the 15-day DL with a right knee contusion Sunday."We'll be okay," second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "When we get all of our players back, we'll be in good shape. We did not have a good weekend, but there is a lot of season left."