Coming off consecutive series wins against the Phillies and Braves, Washington will start a three-game set against the Marlins on Monday afternoon in Miami. The Nats will be looking to improve their 11-3 record against the division.
After the Nationals beat Atlanta on Sunday night, Washington led the Braves by four games, the Marlins by 3 1/2 and the Mets by 2 1/2.
"The big thing in division play is that you try to win series," second baseman Danny Espinosa said after Saturday's win. "You are not always going to sweep, especially in this division. It's a tough division. You always want to go out there and win series, especially on the road. It's tougher to do on the road."
The Nationals are 2-0 this season against the Marlins, having swept a brief series in Washington in April, with the third game rescheduled due to bad weather. The games were decided by a total of three runs, with one going to extra innings.
"Welcome," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said of the Nationals coming to town. "We're going to face those guys a lot of times. Obviously it's a big series. They're in first place, they're playing well, and so are we. I will take my chances with the way we played last time in Washington. Every game was decided by one run and we were very flat, not hitting at all. Now we are hitting a little bit and I expect a pretty good series."
This series will begin with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound for Washington, opposite Miami's Carlos Zambrano.
Zimmermann carries a 2.47 ERA, but will be looking to reverse his career trend against the Marlins. The righty is 0-2 with a 4.55 ERA against Miami, and he gave up a total of eight runs in 12 2/3 innings against the club last season.
Zimmermann's start last Tuesday brought good overall results, as he got the win by holding the Phillies to one run in six innings. But he also struck out only two against two walks, and manager Davey Johnson was less than thrilled by the 26-year-old's lack of efficiency.
"[Zimmermann] pitched well, but again, he threw too many pitches. He was right at 20 pitches an inning," Johnson said. "That's not him, but our pitchers have been doing that lately. I'm not real happy with it."
Zambrano also worried his manager in his last start, on Wednesday at Colorado, when his fastball velocity sat mostly in the 86-89 mph range.
The veteran right-hander had worked at least seven innings and permitted no more than two runs in four straight starts, but the Rockies touched him up for seven runs in five frames. That bumped up his ERA from 1.96 to 2.85.
"I made too many mistakes today. I don't know if that was because I didn't have my best stuff today," Zambrano said. "But it's over with. I have the Nationals on Monday, and it should be a good series."
Zambrano took the loss on April 20 against the Nats, despite holding them to one run on two hits in seven innings.Nationals: Plenty of pop from Desmond
Shortstop Ian Desmond already has cracked eight home runs, matching his 2011 total and coming within two of tying his career high, set in 2010.
Desmond is leading NL shortstops in home runs and slugging percentage. He has started his last seven games in the No. 5 hole after being moved from the leadoff spot. Since the switch, Desmond has smacked two home runs and three doubles.
The Nationals are waiting at least until Monday before making a decision on whether to place infielder Chad Tracy on the disabled list. Tracy injured his groin while running out a pinch-hit RBI double on Saturday.
Marlins: Sticking with Bell
Embattled closer Heath Bell will keep his job for now, Guillen reiterated before Sunday's game.
Bell, signed to a big contract this offseason, was removed during the ninth inning on both Friday and Saturday. He is 2-3 with an 8.47 ERA and seven saves in 11 chances. The righty has surrendered 24 hits in 17 innings with more walks than strikeouts, but he will continue to get chances.
"It's going to be hard for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer," Guillen said. "My vote of confidence is there, but maybe a lot of people don't believe that. I'm the manager; I'm not going to kick the guy when he's down."
Bell didn't pitch Sunday, as Miami trailed throughout a 3-2 loss.
The Marlins increased their versatility in the outfield on Sunday, calling up Justin Ruggiano a day after acquiring him in a trade with the Astros. Miami needed a right-handed-hitting outfielder, with Austin Kearns and Emilio Bonifacio (a switch-hitter) on the disabled list.
Chris Coghlan, Bryan Petersen and Logan Morrison -- who has been playing first base -- are all lefties. The 30-year-old Ruggiano, who was hitting .325 for Triple-A Oklahoma City, struck out as a pinch-hitter on Sunday.
With Chien-Ming Wang taking Ross Detwiler's rotation spot, the Nationals won't start a lefty during this series.
The Nationals are 6-2 in road series this season, and 9-2 going back to last September.
Zambrano is 8-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 16 career games (13 starts) against the Nationals franchise. The first of those starts came on Sept. 10, 2002, when the team still played in Montreal.