|Nationals visit Cubs with both teams eyeing playoffs|
Two teams that have helped themselves in the National League playoff picture with impressive runs of late will take nearly identical records into a three-game showdown beginning Friday afternoon when the Washington Nationals visit the Chicago Cubs.
The Nationals (70-57) won for the ninth time in their last 11 games at Pittsburgh on Thursday night, hours after the Cubs (69-58) completed a three-game home sweep of the San Francisco Giants.
They will meet for the second time this season, with the Cubs having taken two of three at Washington in May.
Left-hander Jon Lester (10-8, 4.23), the Cubs' lone losing pitcher in the earlier series, is slated to pitch the opener for Chicago, which begins the series in first place in the NL Central.
Brian Dozier homered and the Nationals banged out 10 hits off Lester in 4 1/3 innings when Washington won 5-2 on May 18.
The 35-year-old Lester has pitched well of late, allowing only three runs and nine hits over 11 innings in his last two starts, but takes just a 2-3 record and 4.82 ERA in eight career starts against the Nationals into Friday's game.
Chicago rode a brilliant seven innings from Kyle Hendricks to a 1-0 win over the Giants on Thursday. The shutout was the Cubs' 10th of the season and their third in the last 20 games, a stretch during which Chicago has allowed three or fewer runs 11 times.
"All of our guys are really high-end major league starters," Cubs manager Joe Maddon gushed after Thursday's win, spreading the praise among all five members of his starting staff. "Some have been held back through injury this year a little bit, but overall, when they're on their game, man, it's good. It's really good."
The Nationals made the short trip from Pittsburgh to Chicago late Thursday night after completing a 3-1 series win over the Pirates with a 7-1 victory.
Washington has solidified its second-place position in the NL East and its lead in the NL wild-card race with big-time offense during its 11-game spurt, totaling 98 runs in those games. They've scored in double figures five times in their last eight outings.
Leading the way has been third baseman Anthony Rendon, who topped 100 RBIs for the season on Wednesday, a feat that required just 112 games this time after he did it in 147 games in 2017.
Rendon contributed a double, home run and RBI, his 101st of the season, to Thursday's win over the Pirates.
"It's a testament to what he's done all year," Nationals manager Dave Martinez assured reporters of the triple-digit RBI feat. "He's been really good. Let's remember that he missed some time, too, in the beginning. So what's he's done, he's done fairly quickly -- and we still have five weeks to play."
Rendon has held the upper hand in his head-to-head with Lester over the years, going 4-for-11 (.364) with two doubles, a home run and two RBIs.
The Nationals are scheduled to send right-hander Anibal Sanchez (7-6, 3.99) to the mound in hopes of ending a four-game winless streak during which he's been knocked around for 13 runs and 29 hits in 20 innings.
The 35-year-old has faced the Cubs eight times in his career, going 4-2 with a 3.30 ERA. He's 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in five starts at Wrigley Field.
--Field Level Media