Red-hot Scherzer, Nationals try for series win vs. Cubs

CHICAGO -- Max Scherzer has not lost in more than a month and if the Washington Nationals are going to make a serious move in the National League East, Scherzer will be a big reason why.

Scherzer has won five of his last six games (5-0) and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in a start since July 12 -- a streak he will take into his prime-time start against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

The Nationals will be playing for a series win after they jumped all over struggling Cubs starter Jon Lester in a 9-4 victory Saturday.

Scherzer (15-5, 2.28 ERA) is a serious candidate to win his third straight NL Cy Young Award and has kept rolling with double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three starts. He is coming off a no-decision in which he allowed one run and four hits in seven innings against the Atlanta Braves. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA in six career starts against the Cubs.

As well as Scherzer is pitching, Ryan Zimmerman's bat could also factor into Sunday's rubber match. Zimmerman homered twice and drove in six runs against Lester on Saturday and chased the Cubs ace early despite entering Saturday's game struggling against Chicago pitching.

Zimmerman, who came off the disabled list three weeks ago, may be heating up at the right time. He has driven in 11 runs this month.

"Since I've come back, I feel like I've had some good at-bats, hit the ball well," Zimmerman said recently, according to the Washington Post. "My body's now starting to feel good back in there playing a lot more than when I first came back."

The Cubs will attempt to pull out a series victory Sunday before they look ahead to a short two-game series in the coming days against the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.

Chicago continues to play without third baseman Kris Bryant, who remains out with a shoulder injury. Bryant reiterated before Saturday's game that he is confident he will return this season and provide the Cubs with a presence that has been missing while they've struggled with inconsistency.

There is still no definite timetable for Bryant's return, but he told reporters he doesn't want to rush things and put himself in further danger of making the injury worse. He said the key will be take easier swings in the batting cage, which he believes may have hindered his recovery.

"It's going slow, but that seems to be the smart thing to do," Bryant said Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Cole Hamels will make his third start for the Cubs on Sunday. Hamels (7-9, 4.38) has been effective since being acquired from the Texas Rangers and has allowed one earned run in his two Chicago starts. Hamels is coming off a six-inning outing against the Kansas City Royals, when he allowed one run and seven hits in six innings.

Hamels is 16-9 with a 2.67 ERA in 35 career starts against the Nationals.
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