The Chicago Cubs, who have a two-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, have a critical stretch of games coming up, starting with a three-game set against the Washington Nationals.
The Cubs will then take on the Brewers in a quick two-game series at Wrigley before heading to Pittsburgh for a four-game series against the Pirates next weekend.
Here is our preview for the team’s first series of their homestand, as Bryce Harper and the Nationals come to town:
Friday: Jeremy Hellickson vs. Kyle Hendricks 1:20 p.m.
In his last seven starts, Hellickson has a 5.14 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 39 hits allowed in 35 innings of work, so the Cubs will hope to get to him early. Hendricks has been using his curveball more in recent starts, and has seen his strikeout totals go up, fanning at least seven batters in each of his last three starts.
Javier Baez, who has a home run in his career against Hellickson, is a player to watch for the Cubs in this game, as he is batting .333 with six extra-base hits and five RBI over the last week for Chicago.
Saturday: Tanner Roark vs. Jon Lester 3:05 p.m.
Roark, an Illinois native, has been on a tear lately, going 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 20 strikeouts in his last three starts. Meanwhile, Lester is still trying to find his form after a strong first half, giving up four or more runs in five of his last seven starts for the Cubs.
One player who may not see the lineup in this game is Jason Heyward, who is hitless in 18 career at-bats against Roark.
Sunday: Max Scherzer vs. Cole Hamels 7:05 p.m.
Scherzer has been dynamic against the Cubs, posting a 2.92 career ERA against the North Siders in six starts. Hamels has been strong in two starts since coming over to the Cubs, giving up just one earned run in 11 innings, and he had a good outing against the Kansas City Royals on Monday, striking out two batters but giving up just one earned run in six innings.
Ben Zobrist has had some success against Scherzer in his career, with three home runs and six RBI in 25 career at-bats. He has had more success recently according to MLB.com, with a .300 average in the last five seasons against the Nationals’ ace.