The Chicago Cubs host the Washington Nationals on Sunday night in the rubber match of a three-game series. The Cubs stole a close win on Friday while the Nationals won easily on Saturday, setting up an interesting rubber match with both teams sending a longtime ace to the mound.
The Nationals are no doubt more desperate to get a win. While they are 7-4 in the month of August, they continue to trail in the NL East by 5.5 games, as they struggle to gain ground on both the Phillies and Braves. They are also 4.5 games back in the wild-card race, with several teams to jump over to get to the top.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are in a slightly more comfortable position atop the NL Central. However, after Saturday’s loss, they are just two games over the Brewers and 5.5 games ahead of the Cardinals. Any kind of slump down the stretch could end up costing them, so they won’t want to drop a series to the Nationals, especially at home.
Mr. Cy Young
Max Scherzer will get the ball for the Nationals on Sunday night. It’s impossible to deny that he’s one of the top candidates to win the Cy Young this year. In 24 starts, he’s 15-5 with a 2.28 ERA. He’s also won five of his last six starts, with his last month coming over a month ago. Also, with the rest of Washington’s rotation inconsistent at best, the Nationals can’t afford to lose a game that Scherzer starts, so he knows he needs to be at the top of his game right now.
Of course, Chicago’s lineup is more challenging than most. Scherzer doesn’t have much experience against most of the hitters in the Cubs lineup, although both Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward have good track records against him. Oddly enough, Tommy La Stella is also 3 for 6 with three extra-base hits against Scherzer. In addition to those three, Scherzer has to watch out for Javier Baez and David Bote, who are both swinging a good bat lately.
The Newest Cub
The Cubs will counter Scherzer with Cole Hamels. The Cubs picked up Hamels at the trade deadline, hopeful he could provide a boost to a sluggish rotation. Thus far, the move has paid big dividends for Chicago. Hamels has won both of his two starts since joining the Cubs, allowing just one earned run over 11 innings. If he can continue that, he’ll be a major difference-maker for the Cubs down the stretch.
Of course, Washington’s best hitters are left-hand hitters, most notably Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, who are both red hot right now. Hamels has actually handled Harper quite well, as he has just one extra-base hits in 31 career at-bats against Hamels. Murphy, however, is a career .321 hitter against Hamels in 53 at-bats. Hamels also needs to watch Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner from the right side. All three have started to heat up lately.
Flip A Coin
This is a tight game to call. To be frank, flipping a coin isn’t a bad way to pick it. However, while Hamels has had two good starts since the trade, Scherzer has been brilliant all season. The Nationals also need this game a little more, which will matter. Bet on the Nationals to beat the Cubs Sunday night.