Let the record show that I never thought Cubs backup catcher John Baker could do what he did today.
Truth be told, he's had three hits and four RBI in the same game twice before, both while with the Marlins, once in 2008, once in 2009. But that's five-plus years ago and Baker started this season going 2-for-32 through games of May 15. After his 3-for-3, four-RBI day capped with a bases-clearing double that put the game away in the seventh inning, Baker is hitting .246/.306/.292 since May 20, and that's perfectly suitable for a backup catcher.
The Cubs improved to 14-13 in games Baker has started, and the Cubs defeated the Nationals for the second time in 24 hours, 7-2, this time with the Thursday night fog and cold replaced by sunshine and 83-degree temperatures.
Despite the beautiful conditions, the Nats showed why they are struggling to maintain first place in the National League East. They look like they'd rather have been anywhere else but Wrigley Field on this gorgeous Friday -- sluggish, lackadaisical play. Yes, they're missing one of their better players in Bryce Harper, but they just don't look sharp.
Even so, they played the Cubs even for three and a half innings. Jason Hammel gave up a run in the second inning and it could have been worse except for a perfect throw home by Luis Valbuena to get Ryan Zimmerman trying to score a second run. After that Hammel really settled down. Adam LaRoche homered in the fourth to tie the game after the Cubs put together a two-run second on four straight hits, capped by RBI singles by Baker and Darwin Barney . But Hammel retired 10 straight after the LaRoche homer until he gave up a one-out single to Wilson Ramos in the seventh, after which Brian Schlitter came in and put out the Nats rally with a double-play ball.
Any scouts watching Hammel Friday afternoon are likely filing glowing reports with their employers. He allowed only four singles and a walk apart from the LaRoche homer and seemed well in command all the way. July's coming next week and, you might recall, it was July 2, 2013 when Theo & Co. made their first major deal before the deadline, shipping Scott Feldman to the Orioles for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. Was this Hammel's last start in a Cubs uniform? Perhaps.
Besides Baker's big day, Valbuena scored a pair of runs, Chris Coghlan went 2-for-4, and Justin Ruggiano started the seventh-inning rally off former Cubs farmhand Jerry Blevins (remember that deal? Shipped to the Athletics in 2007 for Jason Kendall) with a double.
Despite the lovely weather, the announced crowd was just a bit over 30,000, though there were few no-shows (my in-house estimate was 27,000). There were a few Nats fans scattered around, but nothing like you'd see if the Reds, Cardinals or Brewers were in town this weekend.
But the complaint department is definitely closed after this one.
Saturday, the teams will wrap up their series and the Cubs homestand with a split-admission doubleheader (at 12:05 and 6:15 CT), scheduled as a result of the Pride Parade in the neighborhood. It's the first scheduled doubleheader at Wrigley Field since July 4, 1983; oddly, that one was against the Nats' predecessor, the Montreal Expos. (The Cubs got swept that day.)
In the first game, Dallas Beeler will make his major-league debut against Gio Gonzalez. In the nightcap, Blake Treinen, who has eight major-league appearances, will be recalled by the Nats from Triple-A Syracuse to face Jeff Samardzija.