Opposite dugout: Cubs send out top three starters, meet Nats for second time in three series

cubs-logo.jpgManager: Rick Renteria, first year
Record: 37-46
Last 10 games: 6-4
Who to watch: 1B Anthony Rizzo (.281/.392/.502, 17 HR, 44 RBIs); SS Starlin Castro (.288/.334/.470, 25 doubles, 11 HR, 48 RBIs); RHP Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.81 ERA, 1.01 WHIP); RHP Jason Hammel (7-5, 2.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 2-2, 14 runs scored, 15 runs allowed

Pitching probables
July 4: Jason Hammel vs. Tanner Roark, 11 a.m., MASN HD
July 5: Jeff Samardzija vs. Gio Gonzalez, 4 p.m., MASN HD
July 6: Jake Arrieta vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 1:30 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
It’s not often you see non-division opponents face each other twice in a matter of three series, but that’s the case for the Cubs and Nationals as the two open a three-game weekend series in Washington.

The Cubs and Nats will have wiped out all seven of their 2014 meetings in a matter of 11 days. The teams went head-to-head at Wrigley Field from June 26-28, splitting a four-game series where Chicago won the first two and Washington the last two.

This time, the Cubs make the trip and will be looking to stay hot after an impressive road sweep in Boston. The Cubs outscored the Red Sox 20-10 in the three-game set, holding Boston to one run over the first two games before a 16-9 slugfest on Wednesday.

It was the latest example of Chicago’s improvement away from Wrigley this season. After failing to win their first 12 road series of the year, losing nine and splitting three, the Cubs have won their last three in a row. With that, Chicago is 7-2 in its last nine away games following an 11-24 start.

Three fantastic pitching matchups will highlight the holiday weekend at Nats Park. Although the Cubs are tied for seventh in the National League with a 3.54 team ERA, they throw their impressive top of the rotation at Washington over the next three days.

Right-handers Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta bring ERAs under 3.00 to duels with Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, in order.

Hammel starts this morning’s series opener with a 7-5 record and a 2.98 ERA in 16 starts. He has tossed two straight quality starts, including a solid outing where he held the Nats to two runs in 6 1/3 innings last Friday in Chicago.

Samardzija struggled in a loss to Washington last Saturday, but five earned runs in five innings only elevated his ERA to 2.83 through 17 starts. Despite that success, he’s 2-7 heading into his second consecutive start against the Nats.

Arrieta has been the gem of the group, going 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 11 starts this season. He has taken a no-hitter into at least the seventh inning of each of his last two starts. The 28-year-old right-hander tossed six perfect innings before finishing with two earned runs in seven frames against the Reds on June 24. On June 30 in Boston, He had a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings, but left immediately after allowing his first hit of the night. He ended with one hit allowed and 10 strikeouts in 7 2/3 scoreless frames.

Offense has continued to be a struggle for the Cubs, who scored just six runs over their four games before a 16-run outburst on Wednesday.

Chicago has the second-lowest team average in the majors (.234) and ranks 12th in the NL with 323 runs, but they are sixth with 74 homers.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo leads the team with an .894 OPS and 17 homers. He’s second on the club with 44 RBIs.

Shortstop Starlin Castro leads the Cubs with 25 doubles and 48 RBIs. He has an .804 OPS and 11 homers.

The pitching matchups, and the fact that Chicago is playing much better ball away from home, should make this a must-watch weekend at Nats Park.

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