It may be a stretch to suggest two teams from different divisions have established themselves as rivals, but in some ways, the Cardinals and Nationals have done just that.
Though both are highly respected and consistently picked to win or heavily contend for their respective division titles every year, the Cardinals have had their way with the Nationals, dating to October 2012, when St. Louis knocked off heavily favored Washington in a dramatic National League Division Series.
In 2013, the Cardinals and Nationals played six times, with the Cards winning every one of them.
So, in that vein, the Nationals may feel they have some work to do this week, beginning with the first of a four-game home set with St. Louis on Thursday.
Then again, is there ever a time during a season when there's not work to do?
"Every game's different in that respect, but we have to play well if we're going to challenge them or beat them," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "If we ever want to get to where we want to get to it's through those guys, and it's through the Braves, through the Marlins, and everybody else, too. It's presented to you every day. What are you going to do with it?"
Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan will attempt to end the winning streak against his team in his first career appearance vs. the Redbirds. The 25-year-old gave up five runs on 10 hits to the Braves over five innings in his last outing and has allowed six earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his first two starts of the season.
The Cardinals will counter with ace right-hander Adam Wainwright, who brings two important elements to this game: durability -- he has gone seven innings in each of his first three starts this season -- and a nice recent history vs. Washington. He won both starts against them in 2013, posting a 1.76 ERA.
Cardinals: Bullpen stretched?
Wainwright's ability to pitch deep into games may be the Cardinals' best weapon this time around. The start comes one day after starter Joe Kelly left the game with a hamstring injury, which forced the bullpen to absorb the final four innings in the Cards' loss to the Brewers.
Incidentally, Wainwright's last outing also came a day after the bullpen was needed to cover five frames in an extra-inning loss. Given the Cardinals' current stretch during which they are playing 20 games in 20 days, the timing is right for a typical Wainwright start, or at least, something close to it.
Nationals: Harper a late scratch
While insisting it's "nothing too serious," Bryce Harper's nagging tight left quad has kept him out of action quite a bit lately. He has been nursing the injury since last Friday, exited two consecutive games because of it and was a late scratch in the finale with the Marlins on Wednesday.
A healthy Harper would be an obvious lift to the lineup, given his numbers over the last eight games: a .483 batting average, three doubles, one triple, a homer and five RBIs.
Anthony Rendon is also off to a hot start. He entered Wednesday's game 7-for-21 with runners on base, with six of the hits for extra bases.
• Both teams are ending strings of 15 consecutive games against division opponents to open the season. The Cardinals have faced all four of their NL Central counterparts, winning four of five series.
The Nationals have played the Marlins and Braves twice and the Mets once. Their next 25 games will feature 22 against non-NL East opponents.
• Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta will enter Thursday riding a four-game hitting streak that started after Mike Matheny's decision to sit him on Saturday. Peralta opened the season with just two hits in his first 32 at-bats.