After wrapping up a series win over Philadelphia on Sunday, the Washington Nationals began a three game series with the Cubs at historic Wrigley Field with a narrow 2-1 victory on Memorial Day. It was a big win to kick off what looks to be a great series.
This series was one of the more highly anticipated of the season and for good reason. The Nationals entered in first place in the NL East, and the Cubs have been playing well so far this year under new manager Joe Maddon. There was also a lot of talk surrounding the two young superstars: Bryce Harper for the Nationals, and rookie Kris Bryant for the Cubs.
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Bryant certainly delivered in the first game, plating the Cubs’ lone run of the afternoon, while Harper made plays in the field and delivered at the plate with a double and his 40th walk of the season. But while these two may have been the stars of the show, there were other things to take away from Monday’s game, particularly from the Nationals starting pitcher.
Tanner Roark Proves He Can Still Start
Making his first start of the season in place of the injured Doug Fister, Tanner Roark did an excellent job of keeping the Nationals in the game. On a day when the team did not have its best offense and the umpire’s strike zone was wildly inconsistent, Roark went after hitters and got outs. He gave up a solo homer to Kris Bryant in the first, but after that he shut the Cubs down. Over five innings, Roark gave up only two more hits and a single walk.
It’s also worth pointing out how important A.J. Cole‘s appearance in Saturday’s game was for Monday’s game. When Strasburg fell apart, Cole took to the mound and ate innings. While Williams did use his relief pitchers on Saturday, it was in limited action and it allowed the bullpen to stay rested, for the most part.
That paid off in the series opener in Chicago. Roark, who still hasn’t been as stretched out as he needs to be to go deep into games, was pulled after five innings of work. From there, Blake Treinen, Matt Thornton, and Aaron Barrett combined to get through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings without further damage. They got the ball to Drew Storen, who managed to close out the game.
Wall’s Well That Ends Well
Bryce Harper‘s 2015 has, to this point, delivered on the promise of being the star’s breakout season. He’s already hit 16 home runs and has been the unwavering spark on a Nationals offense that has gone through a few ups and downs so far.
With that being said, Nationals fans everywhere had to have been holding their collective breath in the bottom of the third inning. Harper made a catch on the warning track on the run before colliding (however gently) with the ivy-covered brick wall in right field. The collision didn’t appear to be anything serious, but as Harper made his way back to the dugout, he was clearly flexing his wrist and made sure to use his glove to high five teammates.
Fortunately, any concern over Harper’s health was quickly put to rest in the top of the fourth as Harper turned on a slider and sent a line drive into right field. Harper wound up with a stand-up double and Nats fans heaved a collective sigh of relief as Harper appeared to suffer no lingering effects from the run in with the wall.
The rest of this series looks as if it should be every bit as intriguing as the first game and that’s important for the Nationals. To this point, much of their schedule has been confined to division rivals and struggling opponents. In Chicago, the Nationals will get one of their first big tests of the season against a Cubs team that many believe could make a run to the playoffs.
While the season is still long and it’s hard to know what, exactly, the Cubs are at this point, Monday’s game was just the first for the Nationals to test themselves against some of the up-and-coming talent in the National League. If they want to make a run in October, these are the sorts of games they’ll need to continue to win.