All season, Washington's formidable rotation has garnered much of the attention for the team's success.
The Nationals are showing they have quite an adept offense, too.
Coming off its second straight six-homer game, NL East-leading Washington looks to continue to pound Chicago's pitching and sweep its first four-game series from the Cubs in 15 years on Thursday.
The Nationals (84-52) likely would not own a 7 1/2-game lead over second-place Atlanta if not for a pitching staff that has an NL-best 3.27 ERA. As expected, their pitchers have limited the offensively challenged Cubs (51-85) to seven runs in the first three games of the series, but the bigger story has been their bats.
One night after setting a season high with six homers in an 11-5 victory, the Nationals matched that total in Wednesday's 9-1 win. Adam LaRoche has three of those 12 home runs and has gone deep five times in the last five contests.
"It's just one of those stretches that nobody can explain," said LaRoche, who has team highs of 28 homers and 90 RBIs. "They don't happen too often."
The Nationals have won four in a row, and with Wednesday's victory, the franchise amassed its most wins since the 1996 team won 88 games. The team hasn't swept a four-game series from Chicago since June 6-9, 1997, in Montreal."I don't think anybody's satisfied where we're at right now," Bryce Harper said. "We don't want to let down to anybody."
The 19-year-old Harper hit two homers Wednesday for his second multihomer game, joining Mel Ott and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only teenagers to accomplish that feat. Ian Desmond , Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina also went deep for the Nationals, who've plated at least eight runs in six of eight games."This is by far the best team we've played all year," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It's like an American League lineup, too. Guys that hit the ball a long way."
Next up against Washington's potent lineup is Justin Germano (2-5, 6.30 ERA), who has done a decent job of keeping the ball in the park but has been still been getting knocked around plenty in losing his last three starts.
Since beating Houston on Aug. 15, Germano has a 10.43 ERA while permitting 24 hits - only two of them home runs - over 14 2-3 innings. This will be the right-hander's first start against Washington since 2007, when pitching for San Diego.
The Nationals counter with Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 3.01), who is hoping an outing against the lowly Cubs can help him break out of his funk.
After leading the NL with a 2.38 ERA on Aug. 14, Zimmermann has a 9.88 ERA in his last three starts. Against St. Louis on Saturday, he was shelled for a career-worst eight runs in a season-low 3 2-3 innings in a 10-9 loss."When it was going good, it felt like I could go up there and threw anything and it would be a strike or a groundball," the righty said. "I'm trying to do the same thing I've been doing all year and they're just putting the ball in play and hitting it a little harder."
Zimmerman had little trouble against the Cubs in his season debut, yielding two runs and six hits in seven innings but was the tough-luck loser in a 4-3 final. That is Washington's lone defeat in six games against Chicago this year.
The Cubs, who have the second-fewest runs with 508, plated their only run Wednesday on Anthony Rizzo 's ninth-inning homer. Rizzo is batting .357 with two home runs in his last seven games.
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||60-Day DL||Left wrist surgery|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|September 03, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson figures the Chicago Cubs were ticked off because Jayson Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch in the fifth inning.
Just to be clear, Johnson wasn't apologizing.
Adam LaRoche added to his home run tear with a two-run shot and Washington beat the Cubs 9-2 in a fight-filled game Thursday night to finish a lopsided four-game sweep.
"If they get mad at my guys in the fifth inning swinging 3-0 or running, they better get used to it," Johnson said.
The trouble started with a testy exchange between Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk and Nationals third base coach Bo Porter in the fifth. Quirk shouted from the dugout toward third base and Porter walked over to the railing, jawing and pointing his finger.
The benches and bullpens emptied, but there was no pushing or shoving. Quirk was ejected before play resumed.
"It was the bench coach's frustration in us handing it to him for a couple days," Johnson said. "If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we're going to keep competing."
In the sixth, Chicago reliever Lendy Castillo threw his first pitch of the inning near Bryce Harper 's legs and the ball sailed all the way to the backstop.
"Castillo's a Rule 5 kid who's thrown a lot of them pitches today," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "There was no intention to hit Bryce Harper or anything because of what happened."
Harper made a move toward the mound and was quickly intercepted by catcher Steve Clevenger .
Both teams spilled onto the field again, and this time things got a little nasty.
Players pushed and shoved each other in the infield and Clevenger took an open-handed swipe at Washington shortstop Ian Desmond , who accidentally knocked down first base umpire Bill Miller while backing away.
"I'm just trying to check off everything on my list this whole year," Harper said. "I've gotten thrown at, gotten hit, stole home."
Clevenger, Cubs right-hander Manuel Corpas and Nationals lefty Michael Gonzalez were ejected - though neither pitcher was in the game. Order was finally restored and Washington went on to its fifth straight victory and eighth in nine games.
"All that stuff that happened, that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter," plate umpire Jerry Layne said. "And the obscenities that he screamed out I just felt was inappropriate, and that's what caused everything. The reason he was ejected was he was the cause."
Porter declined to get into specifics. But he did have something to say about the dust-up.
"When I was younger, I did Gold Glove boxing," he said. "My trainer would always tell me before the bell rang, `Just in case you didn't know, when this bell rings, that guy over there, he's going to hit back."'
The Nationals (85-52), who have the best record in the majors, remained 7 1/2 games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the NL East.
The Cubs (51-86) have lost 17 of their last 18 road games and six in a row overall. They were outscored 31-9 in the series.
"It's probably one of the biggest butt-whippings I've ever gotten in my career, as a coach or player," Sveum said. "I don't remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I've been a part of."
Kurt Suzuki hit a three-run homer to help back Jordan Zimmermann (10-8), who struck out nine in seven innings. LaRoche hit his seventh home run in his last six games.
Washington tied a franchise record in each of the previous two games with six home runs.
Harper set the tone for the Nationals in the first inning Thursday, turning an apparent double into a triple and then sliding headfirst to score from third on a groundout.
"He might be the only guy that can do that," Johnson said.
Zimmermann, who allowed two earned runs and five hits, joined Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg as Washington pitchers with double-digit wins. Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler each have nine.
Harper also scored in the fourth inning, when he hit an infield single and came around from second on Ryan Zimmerman 's two-out single.
Justin Germano (2-6) allowed seven hits and seven runs, six earned, in four innings - his shortest start of the season.
Anthony Rizzo homered in the first on a 3-0 pitch to give the Cubs their first lead of the series.
Chicago added another run in the second on triples by Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney .
"I respect every one of those guys in the other clubhouse. But again, I think that sometimes they need to learn how to play the game a little better," Miguel Gonzalez said. "There was nothing wrong with how we're playing ball."
NOTES: Strasburg (15-6, 2.94 ERA) is scheduled to make his final home start of the season Friday against Miami rookie Jacob Turner (0-2, 6.55). Johnson doesn't expect Strasburg will change his approach. "He's all in," Johnson said. "Every time he goes out, he's committed to being the best he can be. He probably puts that standard higher than I'd like him to." ... Johnson said LHP Sean Burnett , who has been bothered by an inflamed nerve in his elbow, will play catch Saturday. ... Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Travis Wood (4-11, 4.64) will pitch for the Cubs on Friday against Pittsburgh RHP A.J. Burnett (15-5, 3.63).