Early this morning, the Chicago Cubs completed a five-player trade with the Oakland Athletics, sending their announced Saturday afternoon starter Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics. While Samardzija has a 2-7 record, his 2.83 ERA, 103 strikeouts and 1.20 WHIP are exactly the reason that the A’s were looking to add him to their starting rotation. His absence in Washington was absolutely noted as the Nationals put together 13 runs on 19 hits in an absolutely dominant performance of offensive superiority matched with a pitching outing from Gio Gonzalez that was nothing short of superlative.
Gonzalez threw eight scoreless innings against the Cubs, scattering four hits, and striking out seven. With his off speed pitches working the zone, his pinpoint fastball control completely stymied the little bears. After the game, Manager Matt Williams would point to Gonzalez using all his pitches effectively, calling this a “good sign” in his recovery process. Gonzalez’s 109 pitches isn’t a season high, but is his longest performance since coming off the disabled list. He has now put together 22 straight innings of scoreless mound mastery, something that had eluded Gonzalez during the early season. Williams was quick to point out that his next start will be a challenge, as it will be his first start after such a long outing, and much will depend on Gonzalez’s workouts over the next four games.
There was no part of the Nationals offense that didn’t work today. Every National starter got a hit today (including Gio) and every starter save one (Harper) scored at least one run. Anthony Rendon lead the way with a stellar day, going 3-for-4 with a walk, three doubles, three runs and a pair of RBI. Jayson Werth followed right behind, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI. Ryan Zimmerman lead the Nats lineup with 3 RBI, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles.
The late spring’s injuries now past the opening day lineup, today’s Nationals squad was brutal to what remained of the Cubs bullpen, starting with Carlos Villanueva. Nueva would last just 2 full innings plus three batters, surrendering four runs in 12 batters. Zimmerman, Harper and Desmond would combine for a run in the second, and then a roustabout third inning would see ten men come to the plate. Anthony Rendon would hit the first of three doubles, followed by an RBI double for Jayson Werth, a fielder’s choice for LaRoche that put Werth at third just ahead of a tag. Ryan Zimmerman hit the first of his two doubles with runners at the corners, and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos would each add an RBI single before a sacrifice and a groundout would end the inning as the Nationals put a six spot up on the Cubs to take a 7-0 lead.
The Nats would get two more in the 6th, off the strength of five hits from the middle of the lineup. In the seventh, they would tack on four more runs as the Cubs bullpen would further implode. Ramos would lead with a double to the right field corner, followed by a Gio Gonzalez single (becoming the last of the Nationals’ starters to grab a hit, and all but Harper would score a run), before Anthony Rendon plow his 3rd double of the day. Filling in late for Adam LaRoche, Kevin Frandsen would get an RBI single, ahead of Ryan Zimmerman’s two-run double.
Anthony Rendon looks to be the leading candidate for the Nationals to send to the All-Star Game as a replacement, as he now leads the Nationals in Slugging Percentage at .489, going ahead of LaRoche’s .486, and while he’s not leading in average, his Tony Two-Bags routine with 21 doubles in 82 games bests his rookie performance. Were I to pick an offensive MVP for the day, though, that honor goes to Zimmerman who went 4-for-5 with 3 RBI, with two doubles. Gio Gonzalez gets the clear MVP slot of the day, though, with his eight innings of absolutely crushing baseball, extending his scoreless streak to 22 innings.
The Nationals face the Cubs for one more on Sunday afternoon at 1:35, with Jordan Zimmermann facing off with Jake Arrieta, before a four-game home-and-home series with AL East-leading Baltimore starting Monday night.