After getting outscored, 32-1, in its four previous games, St. Louis broke out with a 10-9 win over Washington and will get a chance to split the series behind Jake Westbrook in Sunday's series finale at Nationals Park.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson told Strasburg late Wednesday night that the right-hander has "got a few more to go" before he's shut down for the year. To finish strong, Strasburg will need to bounce back from his poor showing against the Marlins on Tuesday, when he allowed seven runs -- five earned -- on nine hits.
He'll be facing a St. Louis lineup that erupted for 10 runs in Saturday's win over Jordan Zimmermann and the Nats after being silenced during a four-game losing streak.
"Sometimes these things happen when you play long enough. You're going to run into periods of time where you don't score runs for whatever reason," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. "It doesn't matter who's pitching, really."
Added St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, "There's no reason to do anything drastic except just keep pounding the idea of playing the game the right way and going about your at-bats the right way and not giving up any at-bats."
Westbrook, meanwhile, is hoping to recover from consecutive rough outings. Westbrook, a reliable member of the Cardinals' rotation most of the year to this point, has allowed 12 earned runs on 18 hits in his last 10 innings primarily due to shaky fastball command.
Despite carrying a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League East with a month left to play, the Nationals aren't overlooking anyone. They watched last year as the Cardinals and Rays took advantage of monumental late-season collapses, and their manager is convinced their stubborn refusal to look too far ahead will benefit them in the end.
"We're in it until that last ball comes down. That's the way that you have to look at every game you play," Johnson said. "We basically control our destiny right now because we're up in the loss column, so every day is the most important day. I don't think about how many games we got or what somebody else is doing.
"If you get to this point, you just keep the same mindset that you had the whole year. This is the most important game, and don't at any time in that game take for granted that you're going to win it."
Cardinals: Furcal may not need surgery
Shortstop Rafael Furcal was diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, meaning Tommy John surgery won't be required -- at least, not yet. The Cardinals hope that the injury will heal with enough aggressive therapy, rehab and rest. Matheny said the expected recovery time is about four to six weeks, although it could be longer, and the surgery still can't be completely ruled out.
"That would be a nice surprise," Matheny said regarding the possibility of Furcal playing in October. "But right now we're just setting ourselves up each day to figure out who gives us the best chance at shortstop."
Carlos Beltran didn't start Saturday's game but recorded a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning. Beltran got most of the game off to rest, and the Cardinals moved Allen Craig to right field. Beltran entered Saturday hitting .214 since the All-Star break, lowering his average on the season to .267.
Nationals: Harper back in business at the plate
Bryce Harper's second-half offensive slump drew plenty of attention as the rookie saw his average plummet, but he'll enter Sunday with a five-game hitting streak during which he's batted .351 (13-for-37). Harper has raised his to .256, the highest it's been since Aug. 6. Harper said he hasn't made any changes that led directly to him once again hitting the ball with authority.
"I'm just trying to stay within myself, and my swing's been the same all year," he said. "I think it's just a matter of trying to not do too much and be as patient as I can and wait for my pitch to drive."
The Nationals recalled left-hander John Lannan, catcher Sandy Leon and outfielder Eury Perez on Saturday and also activated infielder Mark DeRosa from the disabled list. Perez made his Major League debut in Saturday's game, coming into the game in center field in the ninth inning.
Danny Espinosa hit his 15th homer of the season Saturday, tying him for third most among NL second basemen and giving him an outside shot at recording at least 20 homers for the second straight season.
Sunday's game will wrap up the Cardinals' 10-game road trip through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Washington. So far, St. Louis is 4-5 on the trip despite opening it with a series victory against the Reds.