Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats go for a four-game sweep of the Cubs tonight at Nationals Park.
Whether the Nats match that remarkable record or not doesn't diminish what they've done at the plate in recent days. They'll get a chance to take their hacks tonight against Justin Germano, 29-year-old journeyman with a 5.52 ERA in nine games (seven starts this season).
Jordan Zimmermann is on the mound for the Nationals, hoping to right his ship after a rocky month that included the worst start of his career last weekend against the Cardinals. Something tells me the right-hander will be motivated to turn things around tonight against a very suspect Chicago lineup.
Around the NL East, the Braves already beat the Rockies 1-0 this afternoon, so the Nats' division lead stands at 7 games for the moment. They can either gain or lose a half-game pending tonight's outcome.
Plenty of updates to come, so please check back...
CHICAGO CUBS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, Wind 7 mph RF to LF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
RF David DeJesus
3B Luis Valbuena
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
SS Starlin Castro
C Steve Clevenger
CF Brett Jackson
2B Darwin Barney
RHP Justin Germano
HP Jerry Layne (cc)
1B Bill Miller
2B Mike Estabrook
3B Larry Vanover
7:06 p.m. -- And we're underway on a gorgeous night for baseball. 79 degrees and clear skies as Jordan Zimmerman delivers a strike to David DeJesus.
7:14 p.m. -- Not shocking: Somebody hit a home run in the first inning at Nationals Park. Very shocking: It was hit by a Cub. Anthony Rizzo destroyed a 3-0 fastball from Jordan Zimmermann into the Red Porch seats to give Chicago its first lead of this series. Zimmermann was otherwise fine in the top of the first, striking out DeJesus on three pitches and striking out Alfonso Soriano on a nasty slider. But that sequence to Rizzo was not good. Nats trail 1-0 as they step to the plate for the first time tonight.
7:24 p.m. -- The Nats get credit for a team run in the bottom of the first, but really all the credit goes to Bryce Harper, who single-handedly scored it. He laced a drive to deep left-center, what should've been a simple double. Except Harper never slowed down around second and took off for third. Honestly, he probably should've been thrown out, but hey, you gotta make the defense make the play. Which they didn't. Starlin Castro's relay was off-line, so Harper slid into third with his seventh triple of the year. Moments later, Harper really displayed some heads-up baserunning. Ryan Zimmerman tapped a routine comebacker to the mound. Harper froze as Justin Germano looked him back, then took off the moment Germano turned his head to make the throw to first. He beat the throw back to the plate, so just like that the Nats have tied this game 1-1 after one.
7:35 p.m. -- Yikes, Zimmermann gives the run right back in the top of the second on a pair of triples into the right-field corner. This was his issue last time out against the Cardinals: Every time his teammates gave him a lead, he couldn't hold onto it. It's 2-1 Chicago in the middle of the second.
7:46 p.m. -- And there's the first homer of the night by a National. Took eight batters for someone to do it tonight. Kurt Suzuki crushed a hanging curveball from Germano into the left-field stands for his third homer in a week and the Nats' 13th homer in their last 18 innings. There also happened to be two men on base at the time, so now the Nats lead 4-2 after two, and we could be in for a long night of offense here.
7:53 p.m. -- That's more like it for Zimmermann: a 1-2-3 top of the third that featured two strikeouts on fastballs and a first-pitch comebacker. Exactly what he needed there.
8:08 p.m. -- And another 1-2-3 inning for Zimmermann in the fourth. He's looking much better, though one cause for concern: He's actually throwing his slider too hard. I know that sounds crazy, but that pitch has been clocked between 87-89 mph tonight. It's tough to get enough break when you throw it that hard. Still 4-2 Nats in the middle of the fourth.
8:25 p.m. -- Hey, it's another three runs for the Nats! They scored them thanks to Harper beating out a grounder to short (with Castro then throwing the ball away for an error) and Zimmerman delivering a two-run single to left. It's now 7-2 and in all four innings the Nats have either scored or loaded the bases.
8:52 p.m. -- Whoa, the benches and bullpens emptied in the bottom of the fifth after a bizarre exchange between Nats third base coach Bo Porter (who walked all the way up to the top step of the Cubs dugout) and Chicago bench coach Jamie Quirk. I really don't know what prompted that. It could've been the Cubs were upset at the Nats stealing two bases up five runs. It could've been Porter mad at catcher Steve Clevenger for taking too long to switch mitts. Whatever the case, no punches were thrown and order was restored, with Quirk ejected and Porter told in no uncertain terms by crew chief Jerry Layne to get back into the coach's box and stay there. At the end of all that, it's still 7-2 after five innings of a wild ballgame.
9:15 p.m. -- Yeah, that one wasn't just going to blow over. Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo's first pitch of the bottom of the sixth barely missed plunking Bryce Harper in the hip, and Harper immediately started jawing at the right-hander. That prompted both benches to empty again. Then once it looked like order was restored, Chicago's Clevenger appeared to throw a punch, possibly at Ian Desmond, who wound up knocking over an umpire as he squared to respond. Both bullpens again emptied, and it took quite a while for the umps to settle this one. In the end, they ejected Clevenger and nobody else. The Nats have to be careful here. The Cubs have nothing to play for. The Nats have everything to play for, and they can't afford for somebody to be injured or suspended in the middle of a pennant race.
9:24 p.m. -- Meanwhile, Adam LaRoche just hit his sixth homer in six days, his 29th of the season. The umps reviewed it at Sveum's request, but it held up. It's 9-2 after six.
9:30 p.m. -- OK, so it turns out three players (in addition to Jamie Quirk) were ejected: Clevenger and reliever Manny Corpas of the Cubs, plus Michael Gonzalez of the Nats. Gonzalez and Corpas were involved in a scrap that picked up after it appeared things had quieted down.
9:48 p.m. -- Meanwhile, Zimmermann's night is done. His final line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 96 pitches, 68 strikes. A much-needed gem from the right-hander.
10:07 p.m. -- We're through the top of the eighth, Tom Gorzelanny and Christian Garcia combining to close out the inning. It remains 9-2.
10:28 p.m. -- That's your ballgame. Nats win 9-2. They're 33 games over .500. They still lead the NL East by 7 1/2 games. And the magic number for the division title is down to 18.