Game 108 Review- Cubs 7 Nationals 4

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Chicago’s Willson Contreras admires his sixth inning two run home run off of Washington’s Matt Grace in the Cubs 7-4 victory over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Game 108

Nationals’ Record- 64-44, first place in the National League East, 13 games ahead of Miami

Chicago Cubs 7  Nationals 4

WP-  Lackey (9-9)   LP- Jackson (2-2)  SV- W. Davis (23)

HR- Harper Was (28),  Avila Chc (12), Contreras Chc (19)

As was the case with Friday afternoon’s game, there was a playoff atmosphere at Wrigley Field yesterday as the Nationals and Cubs squared off in game two of their weekend series.  This time it was the Cubs who emerged victorious, riding the wave of a four run first inning and holding late threats by the Nats to earn a 7-4 victory.

STARS OF THE GAME

On a team with popular superstars such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and established veterans such as Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, it is easy for some of the team’s younger players to get lost in the shuffle.  If talented Willson Contreras keeps playing like he’s been recently, that is not going to be possible. Contreras drove in three runs, including two on a laser shot home run in the bottom of the sixth, to pace the Chicago attack. Since the all-star break, Contreras 27 RBI match Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for the most in the Major Leagues.

Contreras played left field in yesterday’s game because Joe Maddon had new Cub Alex Avila start behind the plate. The veteran backstop made his start count, hitting a two run first inning home run off of Washington’s Edwin Jackson to give the Cubbies a 4-1 lead.

STRONG IN DEFEAT

Nats’ left-handed reliever Sammy Solis was a valuable asset out of Washington’s bullpen in 2016, posting a solid 1.1 WAR on the year.  Things have not gone as well for the 6’5″ Minnesota native so far in 2017, but he did a superb job in yesterday’s contest.  Solis threw 1.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts, punching out Rizzo and Contreras to leave two Cubs stranded in the seventh inning and fanning Zobrist and Heyward in a one-two-three eighth.

NATS NOTES

After allowing four runs on five hits in the first inning, Washington starter Edwin Jackson settled down nicely over his final four innings of work.  From innings two through five, Jackson allowed no runs on only one hit while striking out seven Cubs.

On Saturday, Bryce Harper demonstrated some of the skills that make him one of the Major League’s best players. He hit a long solo home run off of Cubs’ starter John Lackey in the top of the first, giving him a Major League best 12 first inning home runs this year.  In the bottom of the frame, Harper threw a laser from right field to cut down Contreras at third base.  Harper displayed his range in right in the bottom of the fifth, robbing Jon Jay of a potential extra base hit with a running catch at the wall in right center.

On a team with numerous offensive stalwarts, Washington’s Jose Lobaton is not expected to provide much at the plate.  Since the all-star break however,  Lobaton has picked his game up somewhat.  The affable backstop worked a ninth inning walk off of Cubs’ closer Wade Davis in the top of the ninth to keep Washington’s hopes alive, and moved his post-break OPS to .876 in the process.  Before the break, Lobaton’s OPS was an anemic .437.

Both Matt Grace and Matt Albers gave up runs out of the bullpen in yesterday’s game, continuing a trend that has seen the relievers get roughed up in recent outings.  Grace was touched for two runs in the game, giving him 10 runs allowed in his last nine innings pitched since July 23rd.  The Cubs touched Albers for a single run, and the stout righty has now allowed seven hits, three runs and two walks over his last three appearances.

UP NEXT

Sunday’s contest is the rubber game in the seven game regular season series between the two division leading teams.  The Cubs go with veteran left-handed ace Jon Lester, who has a 3-0 record with a 2.77 ERA and a .769 WHIP in his three post-All Star game starts.  Washington’s Matt Wieters has had success (.327 average, four extra hits in 49 at bats) against Lester in the past, but Ryan Zimmerman (2-14, four strikeouts), Daniel Murphy (2-11) and Howie Kendrick (8-46, nine strikeouts) have not.

Rookie Erick Fedde looks for his first Major League win today.  Last Sunday, Fedde gave up 10 hits and seven runs as the Nats fell at home to Colorado.

Game 107 Review- Nats 4 Cubs 2

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Daniel Murphy’s two home runs off of Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks led Washington to a 4-2 win over Chicago at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon in the first game of a three game series between probable 2017 post-season opponents.

Game 107

Nationals 4 Cubs 2

Nats’ Record 64-43, first place in the NL East, 13 games ahead of Miami 

WP- Roark (9-7)  LP- Hendricks (4-4)  SV- Doolittle (8)

HR- Murphy Was 2 (19),  Baez, Chc (15)

If the Nationals and Cubs end up meeting in the 2017 post-season and play games like the one played at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, the series will be a great one.  On a day where temperatures in the Windy City were more suitable for October than for August, the Nats got solid pitching and clutch hitting by Cubs-killer Daniel Murphy to pull out a 4-2 victory over Chicago.  Washington is now eight games ahead of the Cubs in the loss column in the battle for the second seed (with resulting home field advantage) in the National League playoffs.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the game.

STARS OF THE GAME

Daniel Murphy went 3 for 4 with a pair of homers and three runs driven in to extend his dominance of the Cubs in games played at Wrigley Field.  Among opponents with at least 80 at bats at Wrigley since 1913, only Hall of Famer Eddie Murray (with a 1.111 mark) has a higher OPS than Murphy’s 1.098.    Murphy got the Nats off to a strong start with a booming two run home run to right center in the first inning, and expanded Washington’s lead to 3-0 with an opposite field solo shot in the sixth.

Pitching in his home state of Illinois, Tanner Roark won his ninth game of the year with 6.1 solid innings pitched.  Roark shut the Cubs out through six innings before being removed after giving up Javier Baez’s two run home run in the seventh.  In his last four starts, Roark has allowed eight earned runs in 24 innings pitched while posting a 3-1 record.

Nats’ relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle showed why the revamped Nationals’ bullpen may make the team’s relief pitching a strength down the stretch. The trio recorded the last eight outs of the game, allowing only one hit and striking out three batters in the process.

STRONG IN DEFEAT

Lanky Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks had a magical 2016 season, leading the National League in ERA with a 2.13 mark while winning 16 of his 24 decisions in the Cubs’ championship season.  Things have been tougher for the Ivy League product in 2017, but he showed signs of getting his mojo back yesterday as he allowed only five hits and three runs in seven innings pitched.

NATS NOTES

Murphy’s two home run game marked the 18th time a Nationals’ player has had a multiple home run game so far in 2017.  That total leads the National League.  Murphy’s two round tripper game was his second of the year.  Bryce Harper leads the Nats with five multi-homer games this year with five.   With 55 games still left to play, the Nationals’ 18 instances of multiple home run games this year is the most the team has had in a single season since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Prior to this season,  Washington’s high mark for instances of multiple home run games in a season was 15, set in 2010.   Ryan Zimmerman’s 20 multiple home run games in his career is the Nats’ high mark, with Harper (15), Adam LaRoche (8), Adam Dunn (8) and Jayson Werth (6) rounding out the top five.

Madson struck out two Cubs in yesterday’s game, including talented Anthony Rizzo and young slugger Kyle Schwarber, to keep the Cubs at bay in the crucial eighth inning.  On the year, Madson has been equally impressive against both lefthanded and righthanded hitters.   Lefties are hitting only .188 with a .266 OPS against the veteran reliever, and righthanders have a .180 average with a .258 OPS.

Washington’s win was its 35th road victory of the year, the second most in the Major Leagues behind Houston’s 38.   The Nats have a .625 winning percentage (35-21 record) on the road so far this year, and are primed to best Washington’s team best .593 winning percentage in road games from the 2012 season.

UP NEXT

If the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field this afternoon, fans in the bleachers would be smart to bring their baseball gloves with them to the ballpark as both of today’s starting pitchers have had difficulty with the long ball so far in 2017.

Chicago’s John Lackey has surrendered 26 round trippers in 114.2 innings pitched this year.  Only Atlanta’s Julio Teheran, with 27, has given up more among National League hurlers.  Lackey has also shown a difficulty controlling the running game this year, allowing ten steals in 11 attempts.  Look for Adam Lind to be patrolling left field for the Nats today. In 43 career at bats against Lackey, Lind has a .419 average with seven RBI.  Lackey has had success against Bryce Harper, holding the Nats’ star to one hit in 11 career at bats.

Nats’ starter Edwin Jackson has allowed five home runs in his 19 innings pitched for Washington this year.   Anthony Rizzo has four hits in five career at bats against Jackson but the Nats’ righty has had success against Chicago’s Ben Zobrist, holding the versatile veteran to three hits in 15 at bats with five strikeouts.