Despite a disaster of a series finale - a 9-2 loss to the Brewers that was capped by the benches clearing - the Nationals have to be pretty satisfied with their performance in Milwaukee. They won the first two games against the NL's best team, including a 16-inning marathon that took just about everything out of them.
Now, after finishing on such a poor note, the Nationals (41-36) are probably glad to be moving on to the next one. Thursday they will begin a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs, owners of the worst record in the NL at 32-44.
The series includes a late afternoon start on Friday and a split doubleheader on Saturday. The Saturday games will begin at 1:05 and 7:15 p.m., giving the teams Sunday off when Chicago will be gridlocked for the city's Pride Parade.
Going from playing a team with the best record in the NL to the worst should favor the Nationals, who have taken care of business against lesser teams this year. The Nats have the best record in the NL this season against clubs with records under .500 at 26-11. The Cubs, meanwhile, have the second worst mark among NL teams against teams with winning records at 17-32 (the Nats are third worst).
In recent years the Nationals have had the Cubs' number in head-to-head matchups. Since 2011 Washington is 14-7 vs. Chicago and 6-4 at Wrigley Field.
Here are the starting pitchers for each game:
Thu. 8:05 p.m. - Doug Fister (6-2, 2.65) vs. Travis Wood (7-6, 4.55)
Fri. 4:05 p.m. - Tanner Roark (7-4, 2.79) vs. Jason Hammel (6-5, 2.99)
Sat. 1:05 p.m. - Gio Gonzalez (4-4, 4.38) vs. Dallas Beeler (0-0, 0.00)
7:15 p.m. - Blake Treinen (0-3, 2.08) vs. Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.53)
On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez will go up against a rookie making his MLB debut. Dallas Beeler will be called up from Double-A Iowa to start the first game of the doubleheader. A former 41st round pick in 2009, Beeler has a 3.71 career ERA in five minor league seasons. He's a 6-foot-5 right-hander who is 5-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts this season.
While the Nats figure to have the advantage in Game 1, the second game of the doubleheader will feature a Nats rookie against Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija. As part of the 26th man rule for doubleheaders, Blake Treinen will be called up to start the night game in his fifth career start.
Treinen has been solid in all four starts this year, going at least five innings with two earned runs or less in each of them. This will also not be the first time Treinen has pitched opposite an elite pitcher. Already he has gone up against Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Cashner and Tim Hudson.
One factor to look out for this series is the return of catcher Wilson Ramos. The Nationals' backstop is set to be activated Thursday after serving 15 days on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain. In four games split between Harrisburg and Potomac, Ramos went 7-for-16 with two home runs, a double and nine RBI.
Ramos should help a Nationals offense that has been relatively quiet lately. Though the team has won four of their last five games, the Nats haven't scored more than four in a game in eight consecutive outings. Over their last 13 games they have averaged just 2.76 runs.
The Cubs, though, have had scoring troubles of their own. This season they rank third to last in runs scored (289 in 76 games) and have a .293 on-base percentage as a team.
When it comes to Chicago's lineup this year, there are two names that stand out: Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. They are the only two Cubs' regulars who are hitting above .270 this season.
Rizzo, 24, is enjoying the best year of his young MLB career. He's batting .284 with a team-best 17 homers, 44 RBI and 52 runs scored. His .923 OPS ranks 11th in baseball.
Castro is also having a very good season, as he is on pace to set career-highs in several offensive categories. He's hitting .287 with 11 home runs, 45 RBI, 23 doubles and a .812 OPS.
Getting to know the Cubs may not be a bad idea, as the Nationals will face them in seven of their next 10 games. By all accounts it should be a great opportunity for the Nats to string together some wins against an inferior team. We'll see if they take advantage.