Think Max Scherzer might be a little fired up to face the Cubs for the first time since getting blasted out of Wrigley Field last month?
Scherzer took the ball for tonight's series opener at Nationals Park and immediately started overwhelming Chicago's vaunted lineup with dominating stuff.
Through three perfect innings, the right-hander already has eight strikeouts, conjuring up memories both of his 20-strikeout game against the Tigers earlier this season and his pair of no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets last season.
The Cubs haven't come close to touching Scherzer yet. The only batter to make contact the first time through the lineup was Ben Zobrist, who grounded out weakly to second base in the top of the second.
Otherwise, Scherzer has been untouchable, offering up an assortment of 96-97 mph fastballs, 88-90 mph sliders and a pull-the-string changeup that got Miguel Montero to open the top of the third.
And at 40 total pitches through three innings, he has remained efficient despite the long at-bats.
The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, has tried to apply pressure to the Cubs from the outset, and so far it has paid off. Their first two batters to reach base (Ben Revere and Anthony Rendon) both tried to run on starter Kyle Hendricks, and Jayson Werth's aggressive baserunning in the bottom of the third ultimately produced the first run of the game.
Werth went first-to-third on Bryce Harper's one-out single up the middle, a bit of a gamble. A good throw might've gotten him, but with the ball and Werth arriving in unison, third baseman Kris Bryant couldn't make the play. The ball squirted away and Werth came barreling home to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
After getting nothing to hit in last month's series in Chicago, when the Cubs walked him 13 times in 19 plate appearances, Harper has seen nothing but strikes so far tonight. He lined out to right-center in his first at-bat, then produced the aforementioned single his second time at the plate.
Update: Hoo-boy, does Scherzer have it going on tonight, or what? He is through five spotless innings, striking out nine, on only 62 pitches (40 strikes). The Cubs have started making contact the last couple innings, but they haven't come all that close to reaching base yet. Jason Heyward hit a 107-mph grounder but right at Ryan Zimmerman, and Chris Coghlan lined a ball to Rendon that required a slight leap but nothing spectacular to snag. Nats still lead 1-0 after five, but the story here is Scherzer.
Update II: There goes the perfect game, the shutout and the lead. Addison Russell's solo homer on a 3-2 slider from Scherzer with one out in the sixth leaves this a 1-1 game. But moments later, Wilson Ramos returned the favor, drilling a ball over the right field wall and off Heyward's leaping glove for a home run. And then Rendon's double and another quality piece of hitting by Danny Espinosa (who lined a curveball the other way for an RBI single) made it 3-1. And then Revere's RBI single off reliever Justin Grimm made it 4-1 Nats, giving this game an entirely new complexion.
Update III: It's over. Nats win 4-1. Scherzer went seven innings, allowing one run on two hits, striking out 11. Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley pitched the eighth. Kelley then was given a chance to return for the ninth instead of Jonathan Papelbon and wound up notching his first save of the season.