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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Nationals Series Preview

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The Cubs have been struggling lately. But then, so have the Nats.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

When I posted the Marlins series preview, some of you asked where Eric Clamage was. He was unavailable Monday at the last minute and so I put together a series preview, without an explanation. I'd actually been thinking about taking over this franchise for a while, to take it in somewhat of a different direction. I hadn't decided this for sure by Monday, but after I put that one together, I made the decision. It had nothing to do with Eric -- he did nice work and I thanked him by email, and I'll thank him again here for his contributions to BCB. I hope you like the "new" On the Horizon. First, I'm going to add, each series, a few words from the site managers at the Cubs' opponent. From Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball:

The Washington Nationals are in a weird place right now, coming off an 18-9 month of May. While they were rolling for a while, they've now lost five of their last six games, dropping three straight to the Reds in Cincinnati this past weekend after they took two of three from your Cubs in Chicago last week.

Over the last two-plus weeks, they lost Jayson Werth to a wrist fracture, missed Denard Span for two games with patella tendon soreness and the Nats' offense, which was on a tear for a while there, (led by Bryce Harper -- 31-for-86 with a .360/.495/.844 line, four doubles, a triple, 13 home runs, 28 RBIs, 22 walks and 17 Ks in 109 plate appearances in May) has cooled down some as they've worked Michael Taylor, Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson into the lineup with Werth and Span both missing some time.

They've also been dealing with the absence of Doug Fister and the struggles of Stephen Strasburg, who ended up joining Fister on the DL after he suffered a strain of the left trapezius muscle in his neck during the series in Great American Ball Park. With Tanner Roark filling in for Fister and Strasburg struggling to go far in a few starts, the bullpen has been taxed too, and the Nationals made one change since last week with Felipe Rivero coming up in place of Matt Grace, who gave up the walk-off hit in the Cubs' one win last week.

It looks like it's going to be a bit of a stretch for the next few days/weeks until Fister and hopefully Strasburg can return where they're going to have to get by with the players they have available and try to keep winning until everyone is available and healthy.

The Nats activated Anthony Rendon from the disabled list and he'll be available for this series. Rendon has not played in the major leagues this year due to a knee injury; he went 6-for-24 with three doubles on an eight-game rehab assignment to Double-A Harrisburg.

Pitching matchups

Thursday: Jake Arrieta (4-4, 3.18 ERA, 1.092 WHIP) vs. Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 4.73 ERA, 1.525 WHIP)

Friday: Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 2.30 ERA, 0.957 WHIP) vs. Tanner Roark (1-2, 2.59 ERA, 1.213 WHIP)

Saturday: Jason Hammel (4-2, 2.82 ERA, 0.896 WHIP) vs. A.J. Cole (0-0, 5.79 ERA, 1.607 WHIP)

Sunday: Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.99 ERA, 1.176 WHIP) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (5-2, 2.88 ERA, 1.223 WHIP)

The Cubs are fortunate that they'll miss Max Scherzer in this series, as I'm sure you'll remember how he dominated the Cubs at Wrigley last week. At least two of these matchups (Arrieta/Gonzalez and Hammel/Cole) appear to be favorable for the Cubs. Wada and Hammel, in particular, threw very well in their last outings, and even though Arrieta and Hendricks gave up more runs than they had been accustomed to, I didn't think either one of them threw that badly. Both Roark and Zimmermann tied Cubs bats in knots at Wrigley last week, so those games will be tougher.

As of the time of this post the Nats starter for Saturday is still listed as "TBD," although this Washington Post article suggests it will be Cole, who has already made one emergency start for the Nats this year. Cole was recalled before Thursday's game, according to the Nationals official Twitter feed, so I'd think he'll be slotted in as probable for Saturday. The Nats website also lists Sunday's starter as "TBD," but both the Cubs and Nationals media notes for yesterday list Zimmermann.

Kris Bryant went 3-for-10 with two homers against the Nats last week, including the video-board-smacking drive off Aaron Barrett. Bryant's slowed down a bit since then so perhaps the sight of Nats pitchers can get him going.

And never forget the two most important rules while facing the Nats:

  1. Don't let Bryce Harper beat you.
  2. Refer to Rule No. 1.

Prediction

I didn't do too well for the Marlins series. And I won't be predicting "sweep" again anytime soon. This set is obviously a much tougher one, on paper at least, than the one just completed in Miami. With the Nats in a bit of a slump, perhaps this is the time the Cubs can take advantage and win a road series, but I think I'm going to forecast a split.

Up next

The Cubs have Monday off before heading to Detroit to play the Tigers in their first 2015 series in an American League park. They're likely to add a bat before Tuesday, and the best news is that Jon Lester, who is on schedule to start Tuesday's game, won't have to bat.