Nationals ride Scherzer and Harper to ninth straight series win

Max Scherzer locked up the Cubs through seven innings and Bryce Harper added another homer as the Nationals beat the Cubs 3-0 to claim their ninth consecutive series win.

Scherzer was rarely challenged on a night where he fanned a season-high 13 while only yielding five hits and one walk. In fact, Scherzer struck out all but one member of the Cubs’ starting nine.

“He’s awesome out there,” Ian Desmond on “Nats Xtra” after the game. “He flips a switch and doesn’t really turn it off until he comes out of the game.”

Max Scherzer gray throwing.jpgAfter starting the season 1-3, Scherzer has now rolled off five straight wins. His six wins are tied for second most in the National League, one off the pace. Scherzer owns the majors’ third best ERA at 1.51.

The Nats combined a single from Yunel Escobar, a walk to Harper and an error on Cubs second baseman Addison Russell to plate the game’s first run in the fourth.

Two innings later, Harper tattooed a fastball off Cubs starter Jon Lester deep into the left field seats. The opposite field solo homer was Harper’s 18th on the season, tying Seattle’s Nelson Cruz for the major league lead. The nearest followers to Harper and Cruz, the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira and the Reds’ Todd Frazier, have 14 long balls.

Harper’s 13 homers in May set a new Nationals record (2005-present) for most in any single month in club history. The previous mark of 12 was held by Alfonso Soriano in May 2006.

Scherzer left the game after the seventh, having thrown 108 pitches. He has now pitched at least seven innings in nine of his 10 starts this year.

Things got a bit shaky when Nationals manager Matt Williams opted for lefty Matt Grace to start the eighth. Grace gave up a leadoff double to Cubs pinch-hitter Jorge Soler and then hit first baseman Anthony Rizzo. That was enough for Williams, who turned to right-hander Casey Janssen to cool down the tense situation. Janssen inherited runners at first and second with no outs and calmly retired the Cubs’ next three batters in order, beginning with rookie sensation Kris Bryant.

“It’s just guts,” Desmond said of Janssen’s shutdown performance on “Nats Xtra”. “Like he said in spring training, ‘Whether I feel good or not, I’m gonna find a way to get it done.’”

Danny Espinosa added a solo bomb - his sixth homer of the season - for some insurance in the ninth. It was Espinosa’s first to come batting from the right side.

Drew Storen finished off the Cubs in the bottom of the inning to increase his National League-leading save total to 16.

The Nats only managed seven runs in this tightly contested three game series but six came off solo home runs.

“Amazing,” Williams said to reporters after the game. “You figure you come to Wrigley and you’ve got two days of the wind blowing out pretty good and one day where’s there’s relatively no wind and not a lot of runs were scored. It’s a testament to the pitching from both sides and we’re fortunate enough to get two out of three.”

The Nationals have now won 12 of their last 16 games on the road as they head to Cincinnati for a three-game series beginning Friday.

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