When the Washington Nationals (81-52) faced the Chicago Cubs (51-82) on Opening Day at the historic Wrigley Field, they had no idea that the season unfolding before them would become one for the history books. This time, as the Cubs make the trek to Nationals Park, the Nats will be vying for yet another record breaking stat for this year: the best season record since baseball returned to Washington. With just one win against the Cubs in this four game series, the 2012 Nats can surpass the 2005 Nats in season total wins, guaranteeing not only that they will earn their first winning season, but that this team of guys will go down in history as the Washington Nationals’ first heroes.
Their first series of the year — when the Nats took two of three from the Cubs — set the tone for the season both teams would have; the Nats would have the winningest season in their existence, and the Cubs would continue their recent tradition of losing. With nearly opposite records, the Nationals have won 30 whole games more than the Cubs this year, as Chicago looks to finish out their third straight year with a losing record.
The Nats came back from one of their longest losing streaks of the season in a big way last week, taking three of four from last year's World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. Washington has only dropped one contest in five games since they snapped their losing streak, and since they started winning again they are batting a collective .339 and are averaging 7.8 runs per game.
Across the board, the Cubs’ stats pad the bottom of MLB rankings. Their pitching has underperformed, with the seventh highest ERA (4.48), the fifth most walks (451) and 12th highest opponent batting average (.257) in the majors. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, their team’s hitting has been even worse. They have scored the second fewest runs (501, 3.77 per game) and have the third worst run differential of all teams (-114). Their offensive slash line of .240/.299/.381 ranks 26th, 29th, and 26th, and only five teams have hit fewer home runs than they have (113).
The Cubs will face four other playoff contenders in addition to the Nationals in their final month of baseball. Although at this point in the season their postseason chances are shot, they have the opportunity to shake up the standings by playing spoiler.
With a series against the 70-63 Pittsburg Pirates following the Nationals series, Cubs manager Dale Sveum recognized that actually executing the role of spoiler is going to be a serious challenge, especially against formidable teams like the Nationals, according to MLB.com.
"We're going to see the best team in baseball the next four days," Sveum said. "Even though we miss Strasburg, we're still going to see four quality starters and a heck of a lineup that they can throw at you. Everybody in their lineup is capable of hitting 20 home runs and swinging the bats really well. We've got our hands full the next seven days."
– The Cubs have .500 record at home, but their 17-48 road record is the second worst in baseball, above only the Houston Astros. The Cubs and the Astros are also the only two teams in the majors with total winning percentages under .400.
– Jeff Samardzjia, who will get the ball in the series opener, pitched the only game the Nationals lost to the Cubs this season. Back in April he nearly pitched a complete game, giving up just one earned run (three runs total) and striking out eight. Current Nationals are batting .182 against him this season.
– The Cubs are almost a completely different team compared to the one they fielded to face the Nats on Opening Day. Jeff Baker, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto were traded, and Ian Stewart is on the 60-day disabled list.
– The Nationals are 23-25 overall against the Cubs since 2005, and 11-13 at home.
David DeJesus (RF) .321 AVG, .406 OBP, .500 SLG, 1 HR, 6 RBI (last seven games)
Anthony Rizzo (1B) .269 AVG, .321 OBP, .500 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI (last seven games)
Carlos Marmol (CL) 1.80 ERA, .194 BAA, 11 SO, 4/4 SV/SVO, 10.0 IP (last 10 games)
Brett Jackson (CF) .142 AVG, .333 OBP, .381 SLG, 11 SO (last seven games)
Alberto Cabrera (RP) 7.94 ERA, .250 BAA, 5 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO, 5.2 IP (last seven games)
Ross Detwiler (8-6, 3.32 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.03 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (8-9, 3.53 ERA) vs. Chris Rusin (0-1, 1.80 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (17-7, 3.10 ERA) vs. Chris Volstad (2-9, 6.06 ERA)
Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 3.01 ERA) vs. Justin Germano (2-5, 6.30 ERA)