CHICAGO - They trailed much of the afternoon, unable to string together much against Jon Lester and unable to keep Willson Contreras in the park. But the Nationals knew they still had a chance if they could: 1) keep the game close, 2) get Lester out and get into the Cubs bullpen and 3) get to their own new bullpen trio.
Wouldn’t you know they managed to do all three, and thanks to that - with a huge assist from Matt Wieters’ biggest blast of the season - the Nationals walked out of Wrigley Field with a 9-4 victory as captivating as any they’ve previously notched in 2017.
Wieters’ grand slam into the shrubbery beyond the center field wall capped a five-run top of the eighth for the Nationals, who stormed back from three runs down to beat the Cubs and capture not only this weekend series but also the season series.
The Nationals finished 4-3 against the defending World Series champs this season. The odds of the two clubs ending up in a tie after 162 games aren’t great. But the odds of the two division leaders meeting in the National League Division Series are better than good, and the Nats went a long way this weekend toward ensuring they’d have home-field advantage for that potential series.
Trailing 4-1 after six innings today, the Nationals stormed back with an impressive display of offensive might. They got two runs back in the seventh via doubles by Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, then Wieters’ sacrifice fly.
They then went to town on Chicago’s bullpen in the eighth. After Bryce Harper legged out a one-out infield single, Ryan Zimmerman greeted reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a double off the center field wall. Cubs manager Joe Maddon elected to intentionally walk Murphy, loading the bases for Rendon, but Edwards responded by plunking the Nats third baseman on his first pitch to force in the tying run.
Seconds later, Wieters launched a first-pitch breaking ball to center field, leaving most of the crowd of 41,047 in stunned silence. The pockets of red-clad Nationals fans roared as Wieters circled the bases following his third career grand slam.
Brian Goodwin added an insurance homer in the ninth to extend the lead to 9-4. The new bullpen trio of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle then finished things off to secure the victory and get Erick Fedde off the hook for what would’ve been a loss.
For a guy who has made two major league starts, Fedde has shown an impressive ability to throw strikes. After throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 23 batters he faced in his debut, he today did it to 18 of the 24 Cubs who stepped in against him (including 12 of the first 13).
And Fedde was better today at putting away hitters than he was last Sunday against the Rockies, striking out eight batters (including four of the first nine).
This time, though, Fedde was done in by the long ball, ultimately the difference in his outing. Contreras launched a changeup onto Waveland Avenue beyond the left field bleachers to open the bottom of the fourth. Two innings later, the young catcher/left fielder endeared himself even more to the Wrigley faithful with another bomb, this time on a fastball.
Before the crowd could settle down, Kyle Schwarber had everybody back on their feet, sending a slider into the basket hanging over the ivy in left-center, suddenly leaving the Nationals in a 4-1 hole and putting a serious damper on Fedde’s afternoon.
No worries, because the Nationals were just waiting to get the game into the seventh, at which point they were prepared to flip the script.