Series preview: Dodgers at Nationals

WASHINGTON -- It looked like a harmless little trip before the Dodgers left, but it has turned out to be a storm-tossed voyage. The Dodgers ran into lousy weather in Minnesota that led to a postponed game and a day-night doubleheader with one game dragging on for more than five hours.

They got to Miami, where the warm sun was shining, only to lose star pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who flew back to Los Angeles to have his shoulder examined, and -- maybe -- outfielder Yasiel Puig, who slammed into the outfield wall trying to make a circus catch in Sunday’s final at-bat.

Now, here they are in the the nation’s capital and they have to face Jordan Zimmerman (Monday) and Stephen Strasburg (Wednesday) in two of the next three games. Of course, there is good news: The Dodgers can counter with Zack Greinke Monday and, on Tuesday, Clayton Kershaw will come off the disabled list to make his first start since Opening Day.

Besides, the Nationals wouldn’t figure to have much sympathy for the Dodgers’ problems. They have treaded water nicely all season, inching ever closer to the free-falling Atlanta Braves, despite a deluge of injuries. Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Scott Hairston have all missed time on the DL.

Somehow, the Braves have held onto first place while losing six in a row, but every team in the NL East is knocking on the door. Unlike in the Dodgers’ division, where the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres have practically checked out of the race after the first month, every team in the East has a winning record. Nobody in the East is more than 1 ½ games out of first place.

The Dodgers’ pitchers could have a more formidable challenge than they did facing this Washington lineup last season. Washington is fourth in the NL in runs and OPS despite that litany of injuries to its hitters. The Nationals batted .251 and were seventh in runs scored in 2013.

One difference, according to the Washington Post, could be a new emphasis on getting into fastball counts and hitting fastballs under hitting coach Rick Schu.

The Nationals finished 27th in the majors against fastballs last season. This year, they rank eighth and third in the NL.

“We hunt heaters,” Schu told the newspaper. “If you can’t hit a heater, you can’t play in this league.”