Opposite dugout: Dominant Cubs welcome red-hot Nationals for four-game set

cubs-logo.jpgManager: Joe Maddon (2nd season)

Record: 20-6

Last 10 games: 8-2

Who to watch: CF Dexter Fowler (.348/.470/.587 with 15 RBIs), 3B Kris Bryant (.303/.395/.495 with 4 HR, 17 RBIs), 1B Anthony Rizzo (9 HR, 27 RBIs), RHP Jake Arrieta (6-0, 0.84 ERA), RHP Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA), RHP Hector Rondon (1.00 ERA with 4 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (4-3 in 2015)

Pitching probables:

May 5: RHP Joe Ross vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks, 8:05 p.m., MASN2
May 6: RHP Max Scherzer vs. RHP John Lackey, 2:20 p.m., MASN
May 7: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Jason Hammel, 4:05 p.m., MASN
May 8: RHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Jake Arrieta, 2:20 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Cubs:

If the Cubs hadn't already established their dominance in baseball, specifically the National League Central, then they certainly did over a three-game series sweep in Pittsburgh. You might recall last week when I wrote the Cardinals are now the team chasing the Cubs and Pirates. Well now, everyone's just chasing the Cubs. Yesterday, the Cubbies became the first team to reach 20 wins by completing the sweep at PNC Park in a series in which they outscored the Bucs 20-5.

The Cubs now hold a six-game lead in the Central with the best record in baseball at 20-6. Chicago has grabbed a stronghold on the major leagues with some solid offense, ranking first in runs and second in RBIs and on-base percentage, obviously a good formula for generating wins. But where the Cubs are really exerting their dominance is with their pitching. The Cubs staff boasts a major league-best 2.32 ERA, although the Nationals are right behind them at 2.35. Chicago has allowed the least runs, both overall and earned, and has the lowest opponent batting average against at .201. But again, the Nats are right behind the Cubs in those categories, as well.

Leadoff man Dexter Fowler appropriately leads the team with a .348 batting average, .470 OBP and 32 hits. Reigning unanimous NL Rookie of the Year (and childhood friend of reigning unanimous NL MVP Bryce Harper) Kris Bryant is putting together quite the sophomore campaign, slashing .303/.395/.495 with four home runs and 17 RBIs. First baseman Anthony Rizzo has hit nine homers to go along with his major league-leading 27 RBIs. Right fielder Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs over the offseason, is off to a slow start, batting just .211, and is nursing a sore right wrist that kept him out of the Pittsburgh series.

The Cubs will give the Nationals some of the best pitching they have to offer, all of whom are right-handers. But first, Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for tonight's opener at Wrigley Field. Nothing against Hendricks, but he is the only starter with a losing record on the best staff in baseball. But his 1-2 record and 3.52 ERA over his first four starts is nothing to be ashamed of. He is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts against the Nats, giving up homers to Harper and Daniel Murphy, and 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA in his career at Wrigley. John Lackey will start tomorrow's matinee in Chicago. Lackey won his first three starts this season on his way to a 3-1 record and 4.32 ERA over five starts. He posts a 1-0 record and 3.86 ERA in four starts against Washington, but has done well in the ivy confines of Wrigley, going 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA.

Saturday and Sunday are when the Cubs will send out their best arms. First, Jason Hammel brings his 4-0 record and 1.24 ERA for a late afternoon matchup against the Nats. He got a no-decision in his first start, but has won four straight since. Hammel has proven tough against Washington, going 9-0 with a 3.01 ERA in his career against the Nats. He's also tough at his home ballpark with an 8-4 record and 3.27 ERA in 24 career starts at Wrigley Field. Jake Arrieta will get the ball in Sunday's finale, yet another award-winner from 2015 to take part in this series. The reigning Cy Young Award winner is off to a dominant start this season, posting a 6-0 record and 0.84 ERA with another no-hitter already under his belt. Arrieta is the first Cy Young winner to start the next season 6-0 since Randy Johnson in 2002. If there's one bright spot for the Nationals against Arrieta, it's his 1-1 record and 5.11 ERA over his seven starts against the team. But he is 20-7 with a 1.93 ERA in 35 starts at Wrigley.

In a battle of first-place teams, this weekend's series in Chicago is must-watch TV. The Cubs are the best team in baseball, while the Nationals, who are off to a 5-1 start to their road trip, may be the hottest team in baseball. You have the NL Cy Young winner and Rookie of the Year against the MVP; the two best staffs in the majors against two of the best lineups; and Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker going head to head. And all of it goes down at historic Wrigley Field. What more could you want?

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