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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Nationals series preview

The Nats were once a contender. The Cubs still are. That makes these games important.

Milwaukee Brwers v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals were supposed to be one of the favorites to win their division in 2018 and contend for a World Series title.

Not only has that not happened, they’re in danger of posting their first losing season since 2011.

Patrick Reddington, manager of our SB Nation Nationals site Federal Baseball, updates us on what’s happening with the Nats.

While they haven’t officially waved the white flag on the season (they’re 7½ games back in the NL East and nine back of the second Wild Card spot with a 2.1% chance of making it back to the postseason as of Thursday morning according to Fangraphs), the trades they’ve made (including the one to send Daniel Murphy to the Cubs), have made it clear that the Nationals know a third straight trip to the postseason and a fifth division title in the last seven seasons isn’t happening.

So what now? They have a number of young-ish players (especially pitchers) up to see what they can do. Jimmy Cordero, Kyle McGowin, and Austen Williams all impressed in the minor leagues this season and earned a look. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross are working their way back after injuries, as is Victor Robles, so there’s plenty to keep Nats fans interested-ish down the stretch, but this isn’t how things were supposed to end.

There are also questions to be answered. Was it all the injuries, an over-worked bullpen, some shaky starting pitching, and a few months of sub-par Bryce Harper that led to the issues this season, or was it a bad idea to hand a team with postseason aspirations to a rookie manager?

I’m not in the camp that’s putting this all on Davey Martinez (or on GM Mike Rizzo), but there are decisions to be made now.

Do the Nationals just hope it’s different in 2019 or do they make some changes on the field and on the bench (to the coaching staff if not the manager’s position)?

What does the future hold for Harper? Is he gone after this season?

I’m among those (a small minority) not sold on the fact that it’s a foregone conclusion he’s leaving. He and Martinez have bonded and he’s had nothing but praise for the first-year skipper.

Will that end up factoring in his decision? Will the lure of staying with one team throughout his career keep him in Washington, or will a record-setting deal somewhere take him elsewhere?

They can see which arms are options for the bullpen next season over the last month, try out an outfield with Robles, Juan Soto, and Adam Eaton to get an idea what a post-Bryce mix might look like, and see how Fedde (shoulder) and Ross (Tommy John) fit into the plans for the 2019 rotation (along with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Tanner Roark). It’s not what anyone expected at the start of the 2018 campaign, but it’s the reality now.

Also, something to keep an eye on this weekend:

Fun fact

Fun to know, maybe not so much fun for the Nationals. On April 28, the Nats were 11-16 and six games out of first place. They then went on a 26-10 run and moved into first place in the N.L. East. Since that run they’re 32-45, the second-worst record in the National League.

Pitching matchups

Thursday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (11-10, 3.77 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, 3.95 FIP) vs. Stephen Strasburg, RHP (7-7, 4.09 ERA, 1.194 WHIP, 3.54 FIP)

Friday: Jon Lester, LHP (15-5, 3.53 ERA, 1.323 WHIP, 4.63 FIP) vs. Joe Ross, RHP (2018 season debut)

Saturday: Cole Hamels, LHP (4-0, 1.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 2.24 FIP) vs. Max Scherzer, RHP (16-6, 2.28 ERA, 0.878 WHIP, 2.73 FIP)

Sunday: Mike Montgomery, LHP (4-5, 3.85 ERA, 1.375 WHIP, 3.86 FIP) vs. Erick Fedde, RHP (1-3, 6.00 ERA, 1.576 WHIP, 4.94 FIP)

NOTE: Hamels’ numbers above are with the Cubs only. With the Rangers: 20 starts, 5-9, 4.72 ERA, 1.373 WHIP, 5.19 FIP

Times & TV channels

Thursday: 6:05 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Washington markets)

Friday: 6:05 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago

Saturday: 6:05 p.m. CT, WGN, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Washington markets)

Sunday: 12:35 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago, TBS (outside Chicago market)


The Cubs face two of the best pitchers in the league in this series, another who’s made 10 major-league starts, and another making his first start coming off Tommy John surgery. The Nats have struggled lately, and the Cubs handled them at Wrigley. Three of four.

Up next

The Cubs return to Wrigley Field to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series beginning Monday evening.


How many games will the Cubs win against the Nationals?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    (24 votes)
  • 41%
    (104 votes)
  • 45%
    (114 votes)
  • 3%
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    (3 votes)
253 votes total Vote Now