WASHINGTON – The Cubs like to say they can play with anyone, but that could mean anything for a young team learning how to win and trying to get beyond survival mode at this level.
The Washington Nationals have already built The Foundation for Sustained Success, winning 98, 86 and 96 games across the last three years and coming into this season as World Series favorites.
The Cubs seem to get up for teams like Washington, knowing that’s what they want to become. They hung on for a 2-1 victory as Thursday night turned into Friday morning at Nationals Park.
“There will be times – and I think there has been times – where we’ve come out a little lackadaisical maybe all across the board,” Jake Arrieta said. “But those things have been tightened up. Especially when you play teams like this, (you) have to be on top of your game if you want to come out ahead.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
After a rain delay that lasted almost two hours, the Cubs jumped Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez for two runs in the first inning, with Junior Lake flipping his bat again after working a bases-loaded walk.
There were no fireworks as Arrieta sliced through Washington’s lineup, allowing one run in six innings, with eight strikeouts against zero walks, before turning the game over to the bullpen.
“We know who our opposition is,” said Arrieta (5-4, 3.04 ERA). “We know what they’re capable of bringing to the table, so that definitely will elevate our game.”
The Cubs (28-24) already took two series from the Pittsburgh Pirates and split another with a team that’s made the playoffs two years in a row. The New York Mets – the pitching-rich bizarro Cubs – got swept out of Wrigley Field in the middle of May.
The Cubs have also missed opportunities, losing two series to the Milwaukee Brewers in May – before and after they fired manager Ron Roenicke – and going 1-for-3 this week against the dysfunctional Miami Marlins.
“That’s not been lost on me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to do better, absolutely. We have to be better. I don’t want to be that team that plays to the level of competition. We got to bring our game every night.”
That’s why Anthony Rizzo didn’t want to read too much into his game-ending pick-off play at first base, or splitting four tight games with the Nationals since Memorial Day.
“I messed up on a bunt play,” Rizzo said. “We let a ball get by in the outfield. We tried to stab ourselves in the foot today, and we overcame it.
“We really just got to take care of the ball and the routine plays and manufacture runs better. (Then) we’ll be on our way. But we know we’re good.”