After ‘crazy’ loss, Cubs prepare for Nats in possible NLDS sneak peek
At least the Cubs won’t have much time to dwell on the one that got away Thursday against the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, a 6½-hour ordeal that featured more than 2½ hours of rain delays, two comebacks by the home team and a career day by catcher Willson Contreras.
All of which amounted to a 10-8 loss by the end of the day and the Cubs’ first series defeat since the All-Star break.
‘‘It was a crazy game; it was like a roller coaster,’’ said Contreras, who drove in a career-high six runs with solo and three-run home runs and a two-run single. ‘‘Tomorrow’s another day.’’
The National League Central-leading Cubs take on the NL East-leading Nationals the next three days in what almost certainly will be a first-round playoff preview. That is, if the Cubs can keep hold of a lead that dipped to 1½ games after the Brewers beat the Cardinals.
‘‘I’m sure we’re going to go out there and play like [it’s the] World Series,’’ said Contreras, whose performance took a backseat to that of the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt, whose third homer of the game was the go-ahead shot in the ninth. ‘‘It probably will be a playoff matchup. We don’t want to give up against them.’’
It’s a much different Cubs team — and even a different Nationals team — from the time the clubs split a four-game series June 26-29 in Washington.
The Cubs were so banged up that Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis all made starts against the Nationals. And Victor Caratini made his major-league debut the same day Miguel Montero was jettisoned for making critical comments about teammate Jake Arrieta’s inability to hold baserunners the night before.
These days, the Cubs are whole again and then some, with recent acquisitions bolstering the rotation, bullpen and catching corps. The
Nationals are the closest thing left on the schedule to a litmus test for the Cubs, who are 14-5 since the break.
‘‘It’ll be interesting to see how we play with the full complement right now,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘We’ve been playing, obviously, a lot better. We’ve been pitching a lot better. We’ve been doing a lot of things a lot better.’’
If anything, it’s the Nationals who will bring different players to the series this time around. Ace right-hander Max Scherzer is doubtful for his scheduled start Sunday because of a stiff neck, and left-hander Gio Gonzalez is a wait-and-see proposition for Saturday because his wife is due to give birth this week.
And shortstop/leadoff man Trea Turner, who stole most of the bases against Arrieta that fired up Montero, has been on the disabled list with a broken wrist since reliever Pedro Strop hit him with a pitch in the last game of that series.
It may be October before either team has a true sense of how it matches up against the other. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t the biggest marquee matchup the Cubs have left on their schedule or that it isn’t worth watching for what might be in store when the lights get brighter.
‘‘It’s just a matter of being able to pitch with them,’’ Maddon said.
And with the Dodgers running laps around the rest of the NL, they’re the prohibitive favorites to face the wild-card winner in one Division Series. That leaves the Nationals and Cubs (or Brewers) fighting for position in the other NLDS. The Cubs trail the Nationals by 6½ games for home-field advantage in that series.
‘‘Of course, the Dodgers are out of reach,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘But I think everybody else is in play. It’s going to be interesting to see how we match up against them now.’’
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