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WSH@PHI: Jackson strikes out eight over six innings

There's nothing wrong with a little adversity. That's the lesson that both the Cardinals and Nationals will be preaching prior to their series opener on Thursday. The Cardinals have been shut out in two straight games, while Washington needed a close win Wednesday to stop a five-game skid.

The Nationals got the first multi-homer game from Bryce Harper in that victory, and manager Davey Johnson is remaining philosophical in the wake of his team's struggles. After all, the Nationals are 29-17 since the All-Star break and own a five-game advantage in the National League East.

"I think losing streaks just make winning sweeter," said Johnson prior to Wednesday's victory over Miami. "You're going to have ups and downs. I don't care who you are. The 1927 Yanks had problems. It's just good to step back. It's a game we play, and it's about momentum. It's a grind. I've said this before: This club has got outstanding makeup. If anything, they work too hard. It's a young club that doesn't need pushing. If anything, it needs some time to settle in. ... Just because you've had a rough stretch, that doesn't mean you've got to go hit 1,000 balls before the game."

These two teams -- frequent opponents in Spring Training -- will meet for the first time this season on Wednesday, and Edwin Jackson will start against the team he helped win a World Series last year. St. Louis will counter with Jaime Garcia, and hopes to get Yadier Molina back in the lineup.

Molina, injured in a home-plate collision on Tuesday night, had hoped to play on Wednesday, but the Cardinals erred on the side of caution.

"We'll take off tonight, and tomorrow, we'll see how I feel," said Molina. "My neck is sore. My head [pain], it went away. My shoulder pain is fine. It's just my neck that's a little stiff. Not too bad, that's what I say."

The Cardinals hold a one-game cushion over Pittsburgh in the race for the NL's second Wild Card, giving every game they play a sense of urgency. Johnson rallied the Nationals for a brief pregame talk on Wednesday, but he's not close to pushing the panic button, and likes the hand he holds.

"I've really got five stoppers," he said. "The pitching for this last week has really been pretty good. Our offense just has taken a nap. I don't know if we're averaging two runs a game over this skid. We'll be fine. I'm not concerned about it. I wanted to tell them, just to let them know I'm not concerned about it."

Cardinals: Molina contributes at and behind plate
Molina is batting .325 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs for the season, and his absence robs the Cardinals of both a valuable bat and one of the game's best defenders at catcher. Molina is batting .368 (49-for-133) since the All-Star break, and .417 (30-for-72) in his last 20 games.

Nationals: Harper looks to get on track
Harper connected for two home runs on Wednesday, but he's gone through a bit of a drought since the All-Star break. Harper, who won't turn 20 years old until October, is batting .201 (33-for-164) since the season's midway point, but he's hitting .250 for the year, with 14 homers and 40 RBIs.

Harper, the top overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, is ahead of schedule in all aspects, and he's batting .267 with six homers and 20 RBIs in his first 49 home games. Now, he can test himself through the final month of the season, and perhaps beyond in the playoffs.

Worth noting
• The Nationals were outscored, 26-6, over the course of their five-game skid.

• The Cardinals are 3-3 so far on their 10-game road trip.

• Both St. Louis (+113) and Washington (+96) rank among the top four run differentials in baseball. Washington has either led or shared first place for 132 days.

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