No matter how this weekend’s series against the Washington Nationals plays out, the Chicago Cubs can come back home with a valuable lesson in tow.
This weekend’s matchup between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs features some primetime pitching matchups sure to take center stage. Chicago looks to get back on the winning track after dropping two of three to the lowly Cincinnati Reds, while Washington looks for any kind of positive momentum.
Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Stephen Strasburg and Kyle Hendricks will all take the ball at Nationals Park this weekend. Earlier this week, I talked about how the Cubs could give themselves some breathing room in the loaded National League Central by taking care of business against a Washington team that, at least so far this season, has looked like a shell of its former self.
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Chicago enters play Friday clinging to a precipitous half-game lead in the division, barely edging out the rival Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile, Washington sits seven games under .500, a full six games behind Bryce Harper‘s new club, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the National League East. At this point, former Joe Maddon protegé Dave Martinez has to be considered on the hot seat – and with good reason.
He assumed the mantle of a 97-win ballclub that fell to the Cubs in a wild 2017 NLDS and won just 82 games in his first year at the helm. This winter, the team lost Harper, the face of the franchise, but still looked primed to contend in an unstable NL East. Instead, they enter this weekend with 21.4 percent playoff odds, according to Baseball Reference.
Despite a loaded pitching staff and a young core that boasts the likes of Carter Kieboom, Victor Robles, Juan Soto and Trea Turner, the Nationals have looked flat – and it goes to show you how quickly things can head in the wrong direction.
A lot of folks wondered if the same could be said for this year’s Cubs ballclub after they limped out of the gates to a 2-7 start. But Maddon’s squad turned it around and went five-plus weeks without losing a series prior to last night’s loss.
If the Nationals’ descent continues (although, it’s hard to get much worse given the only team they’re ahead of in their division is the comically bad Miami Marlins), a championship window that’s seen them clinch three of the last five NL East crowns may close far sooner than many had anticipated.
Don’t forget, despite missing out on bringing back their slugging outfielder this offseason, Washington made some major moves, adding the likes of Yan Gomes, Brian Dozier and left-hander Patrick Corbin to pair with their talented young core. No one expected things to go this badly in 2019.
We got a taste of this in early April – and thankfully, Chicago got things sorted out sooner rather than later. But championship – or even winning – windows don’t stay open forever. Just ask a Nationals team that hasn’t advanced past the NL Division Series since 1981 – and is watching the promise of a long-awaiting title fade into the D.C. skyline.