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Nationals vs. Brewers series preview: Who’s playing left field?

On Tuesday, Edwin Jackson will make his second start since returning to the Nationals. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

But the Nationals still have Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon healthy in the middle of their order, while Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, who were acquired during the road trip, should make the bullpen sturdier than it was when the Nationals were last in Washington.

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The Brewers come to town reeling in midst of their worst stretch of the season, though they remain in a virtual tie for first place. Here are a few things to keep in mind as they teams clash over the next three days.

Milwaukee entered the all-star break with a 50-41 record and 4½-game lead on the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Both were surprising. This was supposed to be another rebuilding year for the Brewers, who possess one of the best minor league systems in baseball, while Chicago ran away with the division. Instead, Milwaukee was on pace to claim the division title.

But that lead has vanished. After posting a three-game winning streak out of the break to expand the gap to 5½ games, the Brewers went on to lose six in a row. They finally won again Saturday but lost Sunday to fall into a virtual tie with the Cubs (Milwaukee has played four more games and is .001 behind Chicago in the standings) and now sit 4½ games behind the second wild-card spot.

The skid has put the Brewers in a precarious position a week from the trade deadline. Will they stand pat or go for it and add pieces for a playoff push? Based on recent reports, they’re looking to buy and are in the market for starters and relievers while also expressing interest in Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler. The next three days in Washington could have a major impact on their plans — and on the future of the franchise.

With the Nationals already without Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor and Jayson Werth, the team’s outfield depth took two more hits over the weekend when Ryan Raburn went on bereavement leave and Chris Heisey landed on the disabled list with a groin injury. The developments left Washington with two healthy outfielders on its 40-man roster, which forced them to start Wilmer Difo in left field Sunday and call up prospect Andrew Stevenson.

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As a result, the Nationals head into the Brewers series with three outfielders (Bryce Harper, Brian Goodwin and Stevenson) and two infielders with limited outfield experience (Adam Lind and Difo). Three right-handers are scheduled to start for the Brewers, which is ideal for the Nationals because both Stevenson and Lind are left-handed hitters (and Difo is a switch hitter). Stevenson, who can play all three outfield positions, played four innings in left field Sunday and hit twice in his major league debut. He could make his first career start in the next few days.

Edwin Jackson’s return to the Nationals could not have gone any better. Replacing the injured Joe Ross in the rotation, the right-hander allowed two runs over seven innings in a win over the Angels. He was uncharacteristically efficient (91 pitches) while not walking a batter. He’ll get a second crack at it Tuesday against the Brewers opposite right-hander Zach Davies for his first appearance in a Washington uniform at Nationals Park since Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.

Jackson is the Nationals’ fifth starter, and fifth starters aren’t crucial. Rotations can be manipulated with off days to avoid them, and playoff rotations often don’t even have one. But Jackson could provide rotation insurance in case Strasburg misses extended time or something else pops up over the next couple months — or even become a bullpen option come October.

With injuries piling up, will the Nationals need to change their deadline strategy?

Tuesday: RHP Zach Davies vs. RHP Edwin Jackson
Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Nelson vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez
Thursday: RHP Matt Garza vs. RHP Max Scherzer