The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.
Today’s starting pitching matchup: John Lackey vs. Max Scherzer
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The Cubs were due for a close game and they almost got it Thursday evening.
After steamrolling the second-place Pirates over the three-game series in Pittsburgh, the Cubs looked ticketed for a nail-biting victory over the Washington Nationals in the series opener at Wrigley Field.
Instead, Ben Zobrist channeled his "Zorilla" alter-ego and smashed a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers with two outs in the bottom of the eighth en route to a 5-2 Cubs victory in front of 37,564 fans.
The Cubs were leading 5-0 with two outs in the ninth before Travis Wood served up a two-run shot to Jayson Werth.
Zobrist drove in the first four runs in the game - he also had a two-run single through the right side in the fourth inning to plate Tommy La Stella and Kris Bryant) - and is now second on the Cubs with 20 RBI on the season.
Two batters after Zobrist's blast, Addison Russell drove home Ryan Kalish with a double to left field, pushing the Cubs' run differential to a ridiculous +96 on the season.
"We're off to a good start," Cubs catcher David Ross said, "but we don't sit on the bench and talk about run differential or on-base percentage. We try to have good at-bats.
"Guys are going up there and doing their thing pitching. Everybody's out to do their best on a daily basis and I think that's the sign of a good team."
Despite the Nationals' late comeback attempt, Zobrist still provided all the offense Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs bullpen needed.
Hendricks spun six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks, striking out four.
Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop combined for two shutout innings and Hector Rondon recorded the final out as the Cubs kicked off this crucial four-game series by flying the "W" flag at Wrigley.
The Cubs now lead the majors with 21 victories, but because they've been winning by such lopsided scores, they only have four saves.
Roughly 48 hours before the no-hitter and the onesie press conference that introduced his client to a national audience, Scott Boras sat in his Dodger Stadium luxury suite explaining the pitching odometer and equating Jake Arrieta to Max Scherzer.
By Aug. 28 last year, Arrieta still hadn’t completed a start-to-finish season in the big leagues, much less won a Cy Young Award. The Cubs had only won six consecutive Arrieta starts, a streak that has now reached 19 in a row, including a second no-hitter for the hottest pitcher on the planet.
That’s why the Cubs have to be looking at this as a two-year window to win a World Series with their ace, because Arrieta can become a free agent after the 2017 season. That’s when Jon Lester will be in his mid-30s, John Lackey will probably be retired and maybe the farm system will have produced an actual big-league pitcher by then.
Boras Corp. almost always pushes its talent onto the open market. And as the super-agent likes to say: “Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract.” Like Scherzer, who reportedly turned down a six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the Detroit Tigers and later scored a $210 million guarantee from the Washington Nationals in January 2015.
“All the free-agent stuff, that just takes care of itself,” Scherzer said Thursday, sitting at his locker inside Wrigley Field’s cramped visiting clubhouse. “If you just play to win the game – and go out there with that mindset – everything takes care of itself.
“It’s a beautiful thing, because everybody’s attention is on your free-agent stuff, but the only thing you care about is winning. And when you win, everything falls right into place.”
Scherzer, who will attack a dangerous Cubs lineup on Friday afternoon in Wrigleyville, went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in his walk year, helping Detroit win its fourth consecutive division title in 2014.
At that point, the mileage on Scherzer’s right arm had almost reached 1,240 innings in the big leagues. By comparison, Lester had thrown 1,596 innings by the time he signed a six-year, $155 million megadeal, weeks before Scherzer finalized his contract in Washington.
Arrieta is now only at 838-plus innings after an up-and-down beginning to his career with the Baltimore Orioles. He’s 22-1 with a 0.85 ERA in his last 26 regular-season starts, making $10.7 million this year and setting himself up for another huge payday through the arbitration system.
But Arrieta will also be 32 years old on Opening Day 2018. As much as the Cubs respect his work ethic and fanatical approach to fitness and nutrition, Theo Epstein’s front office will also have to account for the aging curve, all the unknowns and how much risk to stomach.
“I had the (information) in front of me,” said Scherzer, who took out an insurance policy that would have covered him in the event of a serious injury. “The injury risk factors – where I was at in my career – appeared low.
“As a pitcher, you understand that the nature of this business is that you can get injured from pitching with your elbow or shoulder. But I made sure I took certain precautions to minimize that risk factor.
“Once I had that peace of mind, I just went out there and pitched and competed and tried to win. That’s all that mattered to me.”
If the idea of moving on from a place where you’re comfortable and successful sounds difficult, well, “the business side of the game can get ugly at times,” Scherzer said. “That’s how it is.”
So Cubs fans should enjoy this ride with Arrieta, wherever it leads and however long it lasts, appreciating the chance to see history every time he takes the mound.
“He’s fun to watch,” Scherzer said. “He goes out there and competes and he does it with an assortment of pitches as well. That’s what makes him one of the best in the game right now. He really seems to be locked in.
“When you can find the mechanical thing where you can keep your delivery, I know for myself that’s when I feel my best. I’m sure that’s probably how he feels, too. He just feels locked in, that if every time I do this, I can locate the ball exactly where I want to.”