Nationals-Cubs: First Meeting Since Wild Game 5 of NLDS

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, August 9, 2018 4:11 PM UTC

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 4:11 PM UTC

The Nationals and Cubs played a very entertaining NLDS last October and meet for the first time since on Friday afternoon in a series opener at Wrigley.

Washington (59-56) at Chicago Cubs (66-48)Friday, 2:20 p.m. ET (MLB Network)Free MLB Pick: CubsBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Whenever the Cubs are home on Friday, you can expect a 2:20 p.m. ET start time and the MLB Network to televise the game nationally, and that’s the case this Friday as the Washington Nationals make their lone visit of the season.

The last time Washington played at Wrigley was Game 4 of last year’s NLDS with Stephen Strasburg shaking off an illness and throwing seven shutout innings with 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 Nationals win to force a deciding Game 5 back in D.C. Neither Cubs nor Nationals fans will ever forget that Game 5, either, as the Cubs rallied from an early 4-1 deficit against Washington ace Max Scherzer with a four-run fifth inning that was about the most bizarre postseason inning (at least in the Cubs’ turn at-bat) in MLB history.

Chicago would win 9-8 to advance to its third straight NLCS, where it lost to the Dodgers. It was the fourth time in the past six years that Washington won the NL East and lost its opening playoff series and third time the Nats lost a Game 5 in the NLDS at home. I still believe we could see another Nationals-Cubs playoff series even though Washington has plenty of work to do to either win the NL East again or earn a wild-card spot.

One other story line heading into this one: It’s the last Washington visit to Wrigley, barring the playoffs, for Bryce Harper. Some around baseball believe he wants to play for the Cubs as a free agent as he’s good buddies with fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant and the fact Harper has a dog named Wrigley. Washington took two of three at Wrigley last regular season.

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Probable Pitchers: Hellickson vs. Hendricks

The Cubs should have a bit of advantage here in the bullpen because the Nationals had to play Thursday to close a series vs. Atlanta and also had a doubleheader on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Chicago was off Thursday so its relievers will all be fresh.

It’s Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 3.56) on the bump for the Nats, and he has been a pleasant surprise. Last year, he was pretty bad with both the Phillies and especially Orioles. Hellickson isn’t going to go deep into games as he has gone at least six just twice all season. Not a huge strikeout guy (59 in 78.1 IP) and doesn’t walk many (13 BB) as he lets his defense do the work. He beat the Reds last time, out allowing two runs over 5.2 innings.

Hellickson is 1-1 with a 7.59 ERA in two career starts vs. the Cubs. Javier Baez is 2-for-2 career off him with a homer. Kyle Schwarber also has gone yard in three at-bats. No active Cub has more than three at-bats against him. If the Nats have a lead in the ninth, it won’t be usual closer Kelvin Herrera finishing things off as he was placed on the DL Wednesday. Ryan Madson will be the guy.

Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks (8-9, 4.07) also has struggled to go deep into games this season and has regressed after a cumulative 2.51 ERA the past two seasons. The right-hander lasted 5.2 innings Saturday vs. San Diego and allowed four runs in a victory. Hendricks has cut his walks of late and has struck out 23 over his past three so perhaps he’s figuring things out.

Hendricks pitched twice vs. Washington in the NLDS. He won Game 1 with seven shutout innings and took a no-decision in Game 5, surrendering four runs and nine hits over four innings. Harper is 4-for-13 career off him in the regular season with a homer. Adam Eaton 3-for-7 with two longballs.

  • Nationals are 3-10 in their last 13 vs. a team with a winning record.
  • Cubs are 8-3 in Hendricks' last 11 starts during game 1 of a series.
  • Cubs are 5-2 in Hendricks' last 7 starts vs. Nationals.

Hendricks’ ERA is more than a half-run better at home (3.75) than the road (4.45) and that rested Chicago bullpen could be the difference with neither starting pitcher likely to go past six innings. Take the Cubs for a Friday MLB pick.

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