The Washington Nationals will try to keep their postseason hopes alive on Sunday night when they take on the Chicago Cubs on the road at Wrigley Field.
This could be a pivotal stretch in the history of Nationals franchise. The team is in danger of missing the postseason and could lose superstar slugger Bryce Harper, who has morphed into the face of the franchise since he debuted as a 19-year-old rookie. The Nationals come into the weekend 5.5-games back of the Milwaukee Brewers for the final Wild Card spot in the National League. Harper’s impending free agency made the trade deadline a complete frenzy, but the Nationals opted not to deal him and remain confident about their chances of retaining Harper, despite the fact that he could command a record-breaking contract after posting an underwhelming 2018 season. The Cubs remain among the top suitors for Harper, who is batting just .236 with 28 home runs in 114 games this year.
Scherzer continues to dominate
The Nationals will lean on mighty Max Scherzer as they try to close the gap in the NL Wild Card race. Washington’s struggles this season certainly can’t be pinned on Scherzer, who’s dominance has been overshadowed this season. He comes in with a 15-5 overall record and a 2.28 ERA in 24 starts.
The 34-year-old starter sports a 0.90 WHIP to go along with 216 strikeouts in only 161 ⅔ innings of work. Scherzer has completed six innings or more in a ridiculous 22 straight starts and he has allowed two earned runs or less in 20 of his 24 outings. He is fresh off of tossing seven innings of one-run ball in a no-decision at home versus the Atlanta Braves. Scherzer has posted five consecutive quality outings, going 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA during that span.
Scherzer enters Sunday Night Baseball with a 3-1 career record and a 2.92 ERA in six career starts against the Cubs. While Scherzer hasn’t faced off against the Cubs in 2018, he went six strong innings against them last year, limiting them to just one run on two hits in six innings of work. He struck out six and walked none in that game to get the win. According to Baseball Savant, the current Cubs lineup is batting .242 in 106 plate appearances versus Scherzer.
Hamels turning things around in Chicago
The Cubs are expected to counter with newly-acquired left-hander Cole Hamels, who has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the organization at the beginning of August. After going 1-3 with an 11.11 ERA in his final four starts as a member of the Rangers, the Cubs’ lefty has shown a renewed level of focus on the mound. Hamels has allowed just one earned run in his first two starts with the Cubs, spanning 11 innings of work. He is fresh off of tossing six innings of one-run ball in his last start versus the Kansas City Royals for his first quality start since June 19. The 34-year-old comes in with a 7-9 overall record to go along with a 4.38 ERA in 22 starts, but he is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA since joining the Cubs.
Hamels has not faced Washington since he was a member of the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. During that season, he made three starts against the Nats, going 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA. According to Baseball Savant, the current Nationals lineup is batting .249 in 270 plate appearances versus Hamels. Ryan Zimmerman is among the players that have done the most damage versus the Cubs’ veteran coming into this one. He is batting .262 with three home runs in 91 career plate appearances.
- Cubs are 1-4 in their last 5 games vs. a starter with a WHIP less than 1.15.
- Nationals are 8-2 in Scherzer’s last 10 starts vs. National League Central.
- Nationals are 10-3 in Scherzer’s last 13 starts with 4 days of rest