If there’s one thing recognizable to fans who root for Jake Arrieta every fifth day, it’s the utter hopelessness of an offense facing a right-hander in the midst of a historic roll. In Monday’s series opener, Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer struck out 11 Cubs batters over seven innings, while facing just two batters more than the minimum, and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The Nationals offense, meanwhile, would do enough against Kyle Hendricks—every position player except Ryan Zimmerman ended up recording at least one hit, and the Nationals picked up the win, 4-1.
Scherzer came out dialed in, striking out the side in order in the first, and eight of the first nine batters he faced. He was getting whiffs with his four-seam, slider, and change. Addison Russell’s sixth inning home run (see Top Play) and Kris Bryant’s seventh inning double were the Cubs only two baserunners on the night.
Hendricks, meanwhile, faced traffic on the base paths all evening, recording just a single clean inning. He allowed three earned runs and ten baserunners in 5 1/3 innings. Hendricks struggled to find the strike zone with consistency, and when he did, the Nationals made hard contact. Even under the best circumstances, Mondays are a bummer. Tonight wasn’t pretty, but over the course of 162 games, these things happen. Read how it all went down below.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs’ first 16 batters were set down with ruthless and frightening efficiency by Scherzer before Addison Russell’s game-tying home run with one out in the sixth inning (+.172). It was Russell’s fifth home run of the season, and for a brief, flickering half-inning, it appeared the Cubs had done just enough to stem the tide against Scherzer.
Bottom Play (WPA): Unfortunately, the tie score would be short lived. Leading off the sixth inning for the Nationals, Wilson Ramos homered to the opposite field (-.174). Jason Heyward made a valiant effort to keep the ball in the park, but he could not keep it corralled in his glove as he crashed into the wall. It would prove to be the game-winning run, and it marked the third consecutive start in which Hendricks has surrendered a home run.
Key Moment: It would be hard to get more key than Ramos’s home run. The Cubs struggled mightily in their first two trips through the lineup. Russell’s home run had provided them new life, but it would vanish almost immediately. Adding insult to injury, Heyward nearly made a highlight-reel catch to keep the game tied. It was just a single run, but it felt slightly more seismic.
Trend to Watch: Don’t look now (or I guess you’d have to look at the standings, at least) but the Nationals are just four games behind the Cubs for the NL’s best record. After tonight, they own the major’s second best third-order winning percentage and third greatest run differential. At the center of the surge is Scherzer, who, since getting hammered for seven earned runs in five innings at Wrigley on May 6, is on an absurd roll. In his seven proceeding starts, Scherzer’s posted a 0.74 WHIP and 37 percent strikeout rate. The Nationals are rolling, which makes the rest of the series absolute Must See TV (hey, there’s a current pop culture reference!).
Coming Next: The second game of the series matches John Lackey against Gio Gonzalez. Since May 1, Lackey owns a 0.79 WHIP and batter’s are slugging just .267. Included in that stretch in his seven-inning, 11 strikeout win against the Nationals on May 6. That day, Lackey threw a season-high 18 curves, so don’t be surprised if he features it prominently on Tuesday night. The next day, the Cubs offense got to Gonzalez for five earned runs on seven hits 5 2/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 PM CST.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports