The Washington Nationals are on the road at the Chicago Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball.
In a rematch of the National League Divisional series, the Washington Nationals (60-57) have spent the weekend at Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs (67-49). After splitting the first two games of the series, both teams will be looking for the win on Sunday night. For the Nationals, it is about trying to get back in playoff contention, as they are currently 5.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. For the Cubs, they are seeking to extend their divisional lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, as they are currently only 2 games up. In this game, the Nationals will be sending their ace, Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.28 ERA), to the mound to face off with the Cubs’ deadline acquisition, Cole Hamels (7-9, 4.38 ERA between Texas and Chicago). First pitch is scheduled for 8:08 pm ET.
The moneyline for Sunday’s game is set at the Washington Nationals -147 and the Chicago Cubs +137.
To call the Nationals a disappointment this season might be an understatement. After winning the NL East by 20 games last season, they were expected to cruise to the playoffs this year. In fact, the division-leading Phillies, finished in the last place in 2017 at 31 games behind the Nationals. They will be looking to Max Scherzer to try to get them one game closer on Sunday. On the season, Scherzer is 15-5 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and opponents are hitting a paltry .182 against him. In 161.2 innings he has 216 strikeouts, 39 walks and has allowed 17 home runs. A Cy Young contender again this year, Scherzer has been steady all season long. In his last start, a 3-1 loss to the Braves, Scherzer took a no decision after going 7 innings, allowing only a single earned run and striking out 6.
Offensively, the Nats were happy to see Ryan Zimmerman come alive on Saturday, even if for only one game. Saturday, Zimmerman went 2 for 3 with 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in and 2 runs scored. On the season, he is batting .256/.326/.506 with a .832 OPS. He has 9 home runs, 32 runs batted in and only 16 runs scored. Another guy having a down year is Bryce Harper. While he still has the power numbers (28 home runs, 71 runs batted in), he is only hitting .238/.382/.501. The Nationals are going to need guys like Zimmerman and Harper to step it up down the stretch if they want to make a run at the playoffs.
While Hamels was having just a mediocre season with the Rangers, he has come out strong in his first two games with the Chicago Cubs. In 2 starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and opponents are hitting .244 against him. In 11 innings pitched, he has 11 strikeouts and 3 walks. Trying to solidify a rotation that has largely been disappointing this season for the Cubs, Hamels’ early returns have been encouraging for Chicago.
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On the offensive side, it is never easy facing a guy like Max Scherzer. Despite that, Ben Zobrist is one Cub who has had a bit of success against him. In 15 at-bats, Zobrist is batting .333 with 3 home runs and 6 runs batted in. Other players who have had limited success against the righty are Tommy LaStella (3 for 6 with a home run), Anthony Rizzo (3 for 10 with a home run) and Addison Russell (2 for 5 with a home run). They will look to build on that success Sunday.
This is a good pitching matchup on both sides. Scherzer is the dominant righty who is competing for a Cy Young Award. Hamels is the veteran lefty who seems to be re-energized by the move to a first-place team. With all that in mind, I trust Scherzer to keep his streak going more than I do Hamels. While Hamels has thrown well in two starts, remember he still has a 4.38 ERA on the season, meaning that he has had struggles with consistency throughout the 2018 season. I think Sunday night will be his first bad outing for the Cubs. Take the Nationals at -147.