The weather at Nationals Park on Friday night was an improvement over the nasty, cold and wet days and evenings the DC area has been enduring lately. The game time temperature was 73 degrees and it wasn’t raining. The fans were hoping that the warmer weather would wake up the Nats bats. It did. The Washington Nationals (30-25) defeated the Chicago Cubs (28-25) 7-5. Tonight, the Nats played a good all-around game with solid defense, timely hitting and good pitching.
Tanner Roark (2-2, 3.16) made his third start of the year for the Nationals. He cruised through the first five innings, only giving up one run. Unfortunately, he was pushed one inning too far. He gave up three runs in the top of the sixth before he was pulled from the game. Roark still got the win because the Nationals never trailed in this game.
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The Cubs sent Tsuyoshi Wada (0-1, 4.19) to the mound to pitch against the Nats. Wada had pitched against the Nationals in Chicago and only gave up one run. That was back on May 25. The Nationals did a better job hitting Wada the second time they got a look at him.
Matt Williams changed up the Nats batting order for the game. Ryan Zimmerman moved to the second spot in the lineup, Anthony Rendon hit fourth, Wilson Ramos hit in the five hole and Ian Desmond moved down to sixth. Danny Espinosa started at second base because Yunel Escobar was not in the lineup tonight due to a sore wrist.
The Nationals finally broke out of their hitting slump in the bottom of the second inning. Ramos led off the inning with a single and Desmond doubled to left. With two on and no one out, Espinosa hit a bomb over the Cubs bullpen to put the Nats up 3-0. It was Espinosa’s seventh of the season.
The Nats wasted an opportunity to tack on in the bottom of the third thanks to Junior Lake’s plays in the field and a base running mistake. Zimmerman led off the inning with a single. Bryce Harper then hit a ball to right field that looked like it would be a home run, but it didn’t quite have the distance and hit the top of the wall. Zimmerman went to third and was held. Lake got to the ball quickly and Harper, anticipating Zimmerman was going home, got caught between second and third.
Instead of two on and no out, the Nats had a runner at third and one out–the Nationals’ bete noir. Rendon hit a line drive right back to third base for the second out and Ramos flew out to right field. The Nats didn’t score. Perhaps having Zimmerman running in front of Harper is not such a hot idea. Probably need to put Rendon in the two hole and Zimmerman back into the four hole.
Anthony Rizzo got Chicago on the board in the top of the fourth with a solo home run. That was the first hit given up by Roark in the game. Kris Bryant then hit a ball to left field off the bottom of the wall. Michael Taylor made a terrific play on the ball and threw a bullet to second base to the waiting Espinosa, who tagged Bryant out. Chicago challenged the play, but the call on the field was upheld. Unlike Thursday night, this call went the Nats way.
Desmond singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Espinosa doubled to left field, which would have easily scored Desmond under normal circumstances. But, the ball got stuck under the padding in left field and was ruled a ground rule double. With runners at second and third, Taylor hit a fly ball to deep right to score Desmond and it moved Espinosa up to third. The Nats were ahead 4-1.
Roark would hit a ball to third base that handcuffed Bryant for a single. Then, Denard Span got his first hit of the night, a single up the middle to score Espinosa. Zimmerman hit into a fielder’s choice with Span out at second and runners on the corners. Harper was intentionally walked to load the bases so that Joe Maddon could go to his bullpen and have Edwin Jackson pitch to Rendon, who would pop up to end the inning. The Nats led 5-1 and Wada was out of the game.
The Nats were going to have to deal with the Cubs bullpen the rest of the way, which has the second lowest ERA in the National League. Roark was starting to tire in the top of the sixth. He got the first out, but his pitches were starting to drift up. He gave up a single to Dexter Fowler and then had to face Rizzo. He got behind Rizzo 3-0 and then threw a belt high fast ball and Rizzo hit another home run. The Cubs made the score 5-3 with Rizzo responsible for all three of the Cubs RBI’s to thar point in the game.
Roark pulled it together and struck out Bryant and then gave up a home run to Miguel Montero with another high fastball. Now the Cubs were within one run of tying the game. Williams finally went out to get Roark and brought in Aaron Barrett. He got Lake to ground out, but the game was now a nail biter.
The Nationals extended their lead in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and Justin Grimm pitching for the Cubs, Rendon singled and Ramos doubled to right to score Rendon from first. Ramos went to third on a wild pitch, but Desmond grounded out to end the inning. The Nats led 6-4.
Casey Janssen pitched a scoreless seventh. Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless eighth thanks to Span’s great defense. He made a fabulous catch on a ball Rizzo put a charge into that went all the way to the wall and would have been a double off the top of the wall in the eighth inning with one out. With the catch, there were two outs and nobody on. The Cubs went scoreless in the eighth. The Nats put another run on the board in the bottom of the eighth against reliever Zac Rosscup. With one out. Taylor drew a walk. Pinch hitter Dan Uggla doubled to deep left field, which drove in Taylor to give the Nationals a 7-4 lead.
Drew Storen came on in the top of the ninth for the save. It was not without drama. After two quick outs, Starlin Castro doubled and Chris Coghlan singled to left to score Castro. Matt Szczur ended the game by striking out. Storen notched his 18th save of the year in 19 chances and the Nats won 7-5.
Next Game: The Washington Nationals will play the third game of their four game series against the Cubs Saturday afternoon at 12:05 PM ET. Joe Ross will be making his Nationals debut after being called up from double-A Harrisburg. He is a player the Nats obtained as part of the Stephen Souza Jr. trade. The Cubs will send Jason Hammel (4-2, 2.82 ERA) to the mound. The Nationals did not see him during their recent road trip to Chicago.