Three-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg will go for a career-high 16th victory when the Washington Nationals look to finish off a sweep against the host Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon in the finale of a three-game series.
Strasburg (15-5, 3.65 ERA) already has matched his career high in wins and leads the National League as he prepares for his 27th start of the season. The 10-year veteran also notched 15 wins during the 2012, 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
Although he still has a power arm, Strasburg has learned to be more deliberate with his mix of pitches. He has used his curveball more this year.
"I've always had a feel for it," Strasburg told reporters earlier this season. "I think it's just using all my weapons as best I can, and I think as you get older and stuff, you might be a tick down on your velocity, so you have to pitch a bit more. Especially when guys are trying to get to your fastball early in the count because they don't want to see the other stuff later."
Strasburg is coming off a strong performance in which he hurled seven scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday. He drew a no-decision after the Nationals' bullpen struggled in a 4-1 loss.
In seven career starts against the Cubs, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA. He has 10 walks and 54 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Washington has won four in a row, six of seven and 11 of 13 to strengthen its chances of reaching the postseason. The Nationals thumped the Cubs 9-3 in the series opener Friday afternoon and followed up with a decisive 7-2 win Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Chicago has lost two in a row and will try to avoid its second losing streak this month of three games or more.
The Cubs will turn to veteran left-hander Cole Hamels (7-4, 3.73), who is slated to make his 22nd start. He earned a victory in his last outing Tuesday, when he gave up three runs on five hits in six innings against the San Francisco Giants.
Hamels knows the Nationals well from his years pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East. He is 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA in 38 career starts against the club. The only team he has faced more in his career is the Miami/Florida Marlins (40 starts).
The Nationals have scored double-digit runs five times in the past 10 games, and have scored at least seven runs eight times.
"Hitting is contagious. They say it all the time," Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki recently told reporters. "When you get guys to swing the bats, get the ball rolling, get guys on base, you know, things happen. One guy hits, and it seems like everybody keeps hitting."
The Cubs soon could welcome back veteran hitter Ben Zobrist, who has been fine-tuning his swing in the minor leagues after sitting out for most of the past three months for personal reasons.
How does Cubs manager Joe Maddon plan to slot Zobrist into the lineup?
"If and when he comes back, we'll figure that out easily," Maddon told reporters.
--Field Level Media
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