Two baseball heavyweights are set to square off in DC. This matchup is one that many expect we might see come October. Isn’t it fun to talk about these things four months before they could actually happen?
There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, but right now, the Nationals and Cubs are the two best teams that the National League has to offer.
One word: fun. This series won’t fall short on it.
Offensive players to watch
The power-hitting Nationals rank 4th in the league in home-runs and 10th overall in runs scored.
Lately, Bryce Harper hasn't looked like Bryce Harper. He’s slashing .258/.412/.511, which is concerning when compared to his MVP-campaign last year (.330/.460/.649). “He doesn’t necessarily think anything’s wrong, and he hasn’t made many adjustments,” MLB.com’s Jamal Collier said in a phone interview. “When he’s getting pitches in the zone, he’s just missing on them. He’s not making people pay like he usually does.”
Harper’s struggles have been overshadowed by newly acquired Daniel Murphy’s success. Cubs fans remember Murphy all too well from last year’s NLCS when he was still wearing a Mets’ uniform—he homered four times while helping sweep the North Siders. Clearly the Nationals had high hopes for Murphy, they signed him to a 3-year, $38 million contract in the offseason. But few could’ve expected a season like this, Murphy is leading the league in batting average (.369) and is set to shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
Cubs fans should keep an eye on 37-year-old Jayson Werth as well. He’s slashing .355/.459/.645 in the month of June and has become extremely comfortable hitting out of the two-hole in the Nats’ lineup.
Max Scherzer is set to pitch the series opener against Kyle Hendricks tonight. Lately, he’s starting to look like himself again. Cubs fans will remember his last start against the Cubs back in early May— four balls flew over the Wrigley Field wall in that one. “When he’s gotten in trouble, it’s because of the home run ball,” Collier said. “A lot of it has had to do with location, especially to left-handed hitters. He was leaving a lot of fastballs over the middle of the plate.”
Since his poor start at Wrigley, he’s settled in nicely, allowing two earned runs or fewer in five of his last six starts. Baseball fans know what to expect from Scherzer these days—the hard-throwing righty has made his living by making batters swing and miss. That was evidenced by his 20-strikeout performance in May.
Gio Gonzalez will take the bump for Tuesday night’s game against John Lackey. Gonzalez has had a Jekkyl and Hyde type of season. In the early going, he looked like one of the best pitchers in the bigs, allowing just four earned runs in his first five starts this season. His ERA has steadily increased since then and is now at 3.93 on the season. Despite recent struggles, the Nationals still expect Gonzalez to play a significant role as the season rolls along. Look for the left-handed Gozalez to rely heavily on his four-seamer and sinker to get ahead in counts early and get hitters out.
The marquis pitching matchup of the series comes in the finale between Stephen Strasburg and Jason Hammel. Strasburg is starting to blossom into the pitcher everyone expected him to be since he came into the league at the ripe age of 21. He’s a league-leading, perfect 10-0 on the season. Despite his many injuries in his short career, he’s still the same pitcher: he generates a high number of ground balls, but can also blow hitters away with strikeout stuff when he needs to. The 27-year-old is averaging 11.5 K’s per 9 innings pitched.
With two of baseball’s best teams getting together in the nation’s capital, I can only be sure of one thing: This series will be a lot of fun. Between Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, many of the game’s best young players will be on display.
I think this is the toughest series the Cubs have had to play so far this year. It’ll be difficult to grind out runs over the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, especially on the road. Not to mention, the Nationals’ offense is red-hot, scoring at least eight runs in five of their last seven games. This will have as close to an October feel as a June-series can have.
The Cubs are motivated now that the Cardinals are right on their tails in the NL central, trailing by a measly nine games. Joking aside, I like the Nationals to take two out of three in this series. As good as the Cubs rotation has been, I’ll take the Nationals front-end pitchers over the backend of the Cubs rotation.