Washington Nationals’ Wilson Ramos hits an RBI single during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park, Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 5-4, in 12 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
As the Nationals last week headed into the huge three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, the best team in baseball, people wondered whether the Washington team could continue to play inspired baseball and keep the momentum going from the previous week. The answer was a resounding yes as the Nats won two of the three games played June 13-18, before embarking on a 10-game road trip that continues this week in Los Angeles and ends in Milwaukee against the Brewers.
The three-game set against the Cubs June 13-15 felt like late-September baseball with possibly the two best teams in the National League going pitch for pitch, blown save after blown save, clutch hit after clutch hit. After Nationals ace pitcher Max Scherzer’s seven-inning, two-hit masterpiece in a 4-1 win in Game One, the Cubs pulled out a 4-3 win as reliever Sammy Solis gave up the game-winning double to Albert Almora in the back-and-forth affair. The rubber match of the series would have so many twists and turns that it could possibly end up as the best game of the season when it is all said and done. First, Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the Cubs’ Jason Hammel basically dueled to a draw, then pinch-hitter Stephen Drew gave Washington a 2-1 lead with a homer in the eighth off of Cubs reliever Pedro Strop. It was the Nationals’ club-record ninth pinch-hit home run of the season, the third by Drew.
Washington Nationals’ Jayson Werth watches his game-winning RBI single, with Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross (3) in the 12th inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 5-4. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
But the fireworks were just starting. Cubs All Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo absolutely crushed a two-run homer to take the lead and possibly the series in the top of the ninth. But, as the Nationals have shown all season, they are a resilient bunch. A walk to Bryce Harper and a RBI single by the scorching Wilson Ramos off Cubs closer Hector Rondon sent the game into extra innings. The Cubs would eventually take the lead in the 12th inning. However, Jayson Werth continued his torrid play, hitting a liner off the wall in center field to score Michael Taylor, who hit an RBI single earlier in the inning. The play gave the Nationals the point necessary to win the regular season classic 5-4. It was Werth’s second walk off hit in the past four days.
Winning the next two games in San Diego gave the Nationals 10 wins in their last 12 games played with the suddenly unstoppable offense leading the way. Wilson Ramos leads all catchers in the majors with a .335 average, the aforementioned Werth has hit almost .400 in his past seven games. The Nationals’ lead in the division has now ballooned to a full six games over the New York Mets and the team currently is tied for the second best record in the National League.
Everything isn’t perfect in Natstown, however, as an injury to embattled closer Jonathan Papelbon has given members of the bullpen more chances to solidify their individual roles for the near future but they haven’t taken advantage of those opportunities. The recent struggles of Oliver Perez and Felipe Rivera are disconcerting and need to be fixed as the season continues.