Nico Hoerner’s grand slam seals Cubs’ series victory vs. Nationals

Mike Tauchman hit a leadoff, opposite-field home run off former Cub Trevor Williams in the first and a pair of RBI doubles, in the fourth and seventh.

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Nico Hoerner celebrates his grand slam with Mike Tauchman (from left), Miles Mastrobuoni and Christopher Morel in the eighth inning Wednesday night.

Nico Hoerner celebrates his grand slam with Mike Tauchman (from left), Miles Mastrobuoni and Christopher Morel in the eighth inning Wednesday night.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

With their playoff hopes flagging and the potential for selling at the trade deadline looming, the Cubs have longed for more production out of the top of their lineup.

Ian Happ’s home run Monday looked like a glimmer of hope after a monthslong power outage, and Seiya Suzuki’s four-hit outburst Tuesday looked and felt like a breakthrough. And pressed into shortstop duty by an injury to Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner’s three-hit night at the end of Tuesday’s rout was something manager David Ross hoped could carry over.

So for the first seven innings of Wednesday night’s 8-3 win over the Nationals, top-of-the-order heroics came from … leadoff man Mike Tauchman?

On a quiet night early for hitters on both sides, Tauchman followed a leadoff, opposite-field home run off former Cub Trevor Williams in the first with a pair of RBI doubles, in the fourth and seventh. Three extra-base hits in a single game is a career first for Tauchman and a welcome rescue for a Cubs offense that entered Wednesday 23rd in MLB in slugging for the month of July.

“Since he’s been here in that leadoff spot, that’s been the best version of our offense,” Ross said.

Playing for his fourth major-league team at 32 years old, the left-handed Tauchman has been a sound option at leadoff against right-handed pitching for his judicious batting eye and on-base ability (.371 OBP). But the Palatine native also entered Wednesday with a .372 slugging percentage in 303 career games, signaling his likely contributions are setting up others for RBI opportunities. But career-best nights have a way of boosting career numbers.

“I just try to get on base, swing at a good pitch — there’s a lot of complicated stuff at times, but it boils down to that,” Tauchman said. “There are guys that are run scorers, there’s guys that are run producers and the guys that do both are the best players in the game. Good lineups have both.”

As it turned out, Tauchman setting the table keyed up the most memorable moment after all. After Yan Gomes’ pinch-hit sacrifice fly broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth, Tauchman walked to reload the bases with two outs — his fourth time on base for the night — setting up Hoerner to break his 20-game homerless streak emphatically.

Greeting Nationals reliever Cory Abbott by ripping a 1-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers, Hoerner put the game out of reach with his first career grand slam. After an easy top of the ninth, Gomes’ fly ball proved to be the game-winner, but Hoerner saved reliever Adbert Alzolay from back-to-back nights of work ahead of four games against the Cardinals.

“Driving the ball to pull-side especially,” Ross said of encouraging signs from Hoerner. “Getting the barrel of the bat out front in an even count was really nice for him.”

“You really have no clue when he is struggling,” said starter Kyle Hendricks, who spun six innings of one-run ball. “You think he has a chance of getting a hit every time he’s up there. To come through like that in a huge moment, that’s what he does for us. He’s one of the best players on our team.”

As a crucial cog at the top of the Cubs order, Hoerner emerging from the .175/.235/.222 start to July he had entering Wednesday would be a shot of life to a clubhouse set up on staying in the NL Central race. But with the Brewers leading the division by 7½ games, Hendricks has to at least ponder the possibility of next month’s trade deadline marking the end of his time with the Cubs in his 10th season.

“We all know where we’re at and we know the situation,” Hendricks said. “After the last year that I had with the injury and stuff, I’m just really soaking in just playing the game right now. Wherever that happens to be, I think everybody knows, obviously I really hope it’s still here.”

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