Instant Analysis: Nats 9, Cubs 2

Instant Analysis: Nats 9, Cubs 2
September 7, 2012, 2:35 am
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Game in a nutshell: So, they played a ballgame on South Capitol Street tonight. The Nationals once again pulverized the Cubs' calamitous pitching staff, either scoring or loading the bases in seven of their eight offensive innings. Because of all that, plus seven strong innings from Jordan Zimmermann, they pulled off a four-game sweep of Chicago and maintained their 7 12-game lead in the NL East. But enough about actual baseball. This game will long be remembered more for the two incidents in the fifth and sixth innings that resulted in both benches and bullpens emptying. It all appeared to start when the Cubs took issue with Jayson Werth swinging away on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and the Nats up five runs in the bottom of the fifth. That led to a shouting match between Nationals third base coach Bo Porter and Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk (who was ejected). One inning later, Chicago reliever Lendy Castillo's very first pitch just missed Bryce Harper's hip. The 19-year-old said a few words to the pitcher, and that set off an actual kerfuffle during which Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger shoved Michael Morse with some force. Clevenger was ejected, as were Chicago reliever Manny Corpas and Nats reliever Michael Gonzalez. Order was finally restored and the game continued without incident.

Hitting highlight: We could highlight Adam LaRoche's sixth homer in as many days (and his 29th of the season). Or we could highlight Harper's first-inning triple. But how about Kurt Suzuki, who is becoming a much more potent force at the plate the more time he logs with the Nationals. After struggling through much of his first three weeks with the club, the catcher has turned it up a notch. He's now homered three times in a week, including a three-run blast in the bottom of the second tonight. Suzuki later added a couple more singles, and all of a sudden he's hitting .269 since the trade. The Nationals will happily take that from their No. 8 batter.

Pitching highlight: Lost in the chaos of the benches and bullpens clearing twice, Zimmermann authored up one of his best starts in a month. And boy did he need it. The right-hander labored early, serving up a first-inning homer to Anthony Rizzo and a pair of triples in the second inning. But he quickly settled down and retired 12 in a row at one point. The long delay during the fracas left Zimmermann sitting on the bench for a long time waiting to return for the top of the seventh, and he faltered a bit in that inning. But at the end of the night, Zimmermann gave the Nats exactly what they needed from him: Seven innings of two-run ball, striking out nine, to right his ship entering the final month of the season.

Key stat: Harper is the first major-league teenager with seven triples since Buddy Lewis of the 1936 Senators recorded 13 of them.

Up next: After this wild, four-game series, the Nationals now welcome the Marlins to town for a weekend tilt. Stephen Strasburg takes the mound for his final home start of the season, looking to bounce back after getting shelled in Miami last month. Right-hander Jacob Turner will oppose him at 7:05 p.m. Friday.