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Posted at 04:34 PM ET, 08/06/2012

Nationals-Astros lineups (and a series the Nationals need to take advantage of)

There’s a few thoughts on the Nationals’ series with the Astros below, but first tonight’s lineups. Bryce Harper is back in center again, with Jayson Werth in right.

Nationals

1. Danny Espinosa, SS

2. Bryce Harper, CF

3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

4. Michael Morse, LF

5. Adam LaRoche, 1B

6. Jayson Werth, RF

7. Kurt Suzuki, C

8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

9. Edwin Jackson, SP

Astros

1. Jose Altuve, 2B

2. Marwin Gonzalez, SS

3. Brett Wallace, 1B

4. Justin Maxwell, RF

5. Scott Moore, 3B

6. J.D. Martinez, LF

7. Jordan Schafer, CF

8. Carlos Corporan, C

9. Dallas Keuchel, SP

The Nationals handled their business as they should have over the weekend, as they won three of four games against the disintegrating Miami Marlins. In a playoff race, it is far more enticing to look ahead to showdowns against other contenders, but the first-place finishers build their seasons on the backs of the bottom feeders. They punish ineptitude.

The Nationals have another opportunity now against the Houston Astros. If you thought the Marlins were a mess, wait until the next four days. The Astros are a staggering 4-30 in their past 34 games. They are 36-73 on the year, which puts them on pace to lose 109 games, and have been outscored by a total of 415-557. They’re 29 ½ games worse than the Nationals.

In July, the Astros traded every established major leaguer they could to rebuild – Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, Chris Johnson, J.A. Happ and more. It was the smartest move new General Manager Jeff Lunhow could have made for their future, but it left them with a bleak and brutal present. They are losing at a nearly impossible rate.

With the Braves in close pursuit, four games in Houston is an opportunity they cannot pass up. Even on the road, a split would be disappointment. Just look at the pitching matchups. The Nationals will throw Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann against Dallas Keuchel, Jordan Lyles, Armando Galarraga and Lucas Harrell.

The Astros did the Nationals a solid by at least taking one game against the Braves this weekend, a 3-2 victory Saturday in which old friend Justin Maxwell, the former National and Maryland alum, drilled two homers and knocked in all three Astros runs.

Baseball is by nature too unpredictable for the Nationals expect a four-game sweep. But they should win the series and score a bushel of runs. The Astros as currently constructed could be one of the worst teams baseball has seen in a while, and the Nationals need to take advantage.

By  |  04:34 PM ET, 08/06/2012

 
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