WASHINGTON – Deep inside Nationals Park, the thumping dance music could be heard on the other side of the clubhouse walls, the Cubs whooping it up with another postgame celebration.
The Cubs sent a message with Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Washington, taking this four-game series from a trendy pick to win the World Series, a franchise using a similar blueprint to build a perennial contender.
“It just validates,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve been saying all along: I know we can play with the big boys in this league. But you got to prove it.”
This road trip, which continues with another big test on Tuesday night in Detroit, has been a microcosm of the season, the Cubs going 1-for-3 against the dysfunctional Miami Marlins before going 3-for-4 against the no-longer-in-first-place Nationals.
“We have played less effectively against teams that have been struggling this year,” Maddon said. “We’ve been playing well against teams that are going well. And we got to stop that. We got to play well against everybody.”
The Cubs (30-25) didn’t play a perfect game, but they did beat Jordan Zimmermann, wearing out the Nationals (30-27) with 14 hits. They squeezed five innings out of Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.96 ERA) before Maddon started pushing the bullpen buttons.
With Hector Rondon struggling and Pedro Strop unavailable, Jason Motte became the third different Cubs reliever to notch a save during this series. Rondon worked the eighth inning and for now it looks like this team will go without a set closer.
“I wanted him to get less stressful work,” Maddon said. “It’s still a three-run lead and you got three really good hitters coming up, (but) it’s not the mental thought of the ninth inning.
“He did exactly what we talked about. He worked on some things, and he was outstanding.”
Rondon shrugged off the demotion and it looks like there will be plenty of high-leverage moments to go around for a team that’s 15-10 in one-run games.
“I’ll come into any situation,” Rondon said. “It doesn’t matter.”
The concentration sometimes comes and goes – Starlin Castro made his 13th error – but the Cubs have definitely shown their potential. They swept the first-place New York Mets out of Wrigley Field after a four-game series last month. They have gone 6-4 against the Pittsburgh Pirates – a playoff team two years running – and 2-4 against the last-place Milwaukee Brewers.
“We definitely have that competitive edge,” Hendricks said. “We want to beat the good teams. That’s definitely part of it. But at the same time, we can’t take (teams lightly). All teams in this league (have) major-league hitters and major-league pitchers.
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“You got to get up for every game, and I really don’t think we have a problem with that. We come to play every day.”
Maybe some of this can be written off as youth and inexperience, but the Nationals know the Cubs won’t be pushovers anymore.
“It’s hard to explain that – I guess you could say maybe playing to the level of your competition,” said Kris Bryant, who singled, doubled, tripled and walked. “It’s good to beat a team like that.
“They’re going to go deep in the postseason and we sure hope to be there playing against ‘em. But to go out there and put (up four) runs off of a guy like Jordan Zimmermann, it definitely gives us that confidence going forward.”