Nationals demolish Cubs, keep pace with streaking Braves

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals hitters wallop a depleted Cubs staff, while Ubaldo Jimenez and Pablo Sandoval live up to their reputations.

With their best two starting pitchers sent off to Oakland in a blockbuster trade just one day before, the Cubs likely knew they'd have a difficult time with the Nationals and their then +45 run differential on Saturday. But there's no way they saw the ensuing 19-hit, 13-run explosion, with nine separate Nationals reaching base with their bats and three separate players -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon -- belting at least three hits.

It wasn't just the Cub starters who struggled, however, as relievers Chris Rusin and Justin Grimm gave up 14 of the hits and nine of the runs surrendered by the Northsiders' dilapidated pitching staff. That this was preceded immediately by a quick hook for starter Carlos Villanueva after just six outs  -- and four runs on five hits, including a particularly brutal third inning where Villanueva simply couldn't buy a break -- should come as a surprise to no one.

Things went significantly better during the Nationals' time on the mound, with Gio Gonzalez striking out seven and giving up just four hits in eight innings, his third straight game with six or more innings pitched and no earned runs. And Gonzalez, who has rebounded brilliantly after three awful starts in May and June that saw his ERA rise two runs, isn't the only Washington ballplayer on the road to recovery who performed well in this game, with Bryce Harper adding a hit for the fourth time in his five games back from a DL stint to heal his injured thumb.

With the race between the Nationals and Braves reaching a fever pitch as Atlanta won their ninth straight, this explosion (and Harper's slow-but-steady return to form) could not have come at a better time. And considering that Nats manager Matt Williams told ESPN, "Bryce is a little tick off (his timing)," before the game, it's scary to imagine what the offense might be like when Harper gets his timing down.

Or, what would happen if they played the Cubs every game.

Ubaldo's near no-hitter

Panda leaves game

Pablo Sandoval was replaced in the bottom of the first inning with an injury to his right arm after being hit by a pitch that he, being Vladimir Guerrero's spirit animal, swung at initially.

Saturday's Final Scores

Indians 7, Royals 3

Brewers 1, Reds 0

Rockies 8, Dodgers 7

Braves 10. Diamondbacks 4

Rays 7, Tigers 2

Pirates 3, Phillies 2

Nationals 13, Cubs 0

Marlins 6, Cardinals 5

Mariners 3, White Sox 2 (F/14)

Twins 2, Yankees 1 (F/11)

Orioles 7, Red Sox 4

Giants 5, Padres 3 (10)

Rangers 5, Mets 3

Angels 11, Astros 5

A's 5, Blue Jays 1

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