Through injury and inconsistencies, the Washington Nationals dreamed of a week like this, when their offense would be whole and churning all at once. Against the lowly Chicago Cubs, who traded away their best starting pitcher 24 hours before he would face the Nationals, Washington’s potent lineup plowed through Jeff Samardzija’s replacement and cast him aside, then did the same to his relief and another.
While Gio Gonzalez extended his scoreless innings streak to 22, the Nationals’ offense throttled the Cubs in Saturday’s 13-0 win, the most lopsided victory of the season. Jayson Werth continued his hot start to July with three hits and drove in two runs. Ryan Zimmerman added four hits and three RBI. Anthony Rendon smashed a career-high three doubles. Every starter had a hit, including Gonzalez. The Cubs found no breathing room in the Nationals’ lineup.
“It’s pretty exciting to see it all click,” Rendon said.
An early rout turned into a mess and then devolved into utter silliness. Already leading 9-0 in the seventh inning, the Nationals added four more runs. They pumped out season highs of 19 hits and 13 runs. Eight of the hits were doubles, a single-game team record. The mercy rule doesn’t exist in Major League Baseball, but it felt needed Saturday.
“For me right now, it’s not easy to pitch to this lineup,” said catcher Wilson Ramos, one of five Nationals with multiple hits. “[From] leadoff to the eighth guy, everybody can hit the ball well. Right now it’s hard for them to face us because those guys are swinging the bat pretty well. That’s amazing for us.”
The Cubs, on the other hand, mustered only four hits against Gonzalez. In his fourth start since returning from a shoulder injury, Gonzalez had another dominant outing. He fought through early inefficiency and delivered eight scoreless innings on 109 pitches, his longest outing of the season.
Even with a fastball a touch slower than before, Gonzalez kept the Cubs in check with sharp change-ups and curveballs. His scoreless innings streak is the longest of the season for any Nationals pitcher. Over the past two weeks, Gonzalez has been the team’s best starter. As he walked off the mound following the eighth, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He still wanted to pitch the ninth.
“I didn’t want to push him certainly at 110, but the fact that he can go 110 and use all his pitches is a great sign,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said.
Before the Nationals even stepped on the field on a pristine Saturday afternoon, they were handed a head start by the Cubs. Late on the Fourth of July, the Cubs and Athletics pulled off a blockbuster trade that sent two of the Cubs’ best pitchers, Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to Oakland. Hammel, who has dominated the Nationals in his career, beat Washington on Friday. “A day late,” Williams said with a grin. But fate intervened and the Nationals avoided Samardzija, Saturday’s originally scheduled starter, and instead faced a long reliever.
Slow-working right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva took the mound, and the Nationals took no pity. Left-handed reliever Chris Rusin also was hit hard. Since Bryce Harper’s return on Monday, the lineup has scored 33 runs in five games.
“[We’re] just trying to get back into a rhythm with each other,” Rendon said. “We like that.”
Denard Span led off the third inning with a single, and Rendon capped a nine-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off three straight pitches with an RBI double to left field. Werth followed with an RBI double off the center field wall to make it 3-0.
Zimmerman’s double down the right field line off Rusin made it 4-0. Ian Desmond added an RBI single, and Ramos hit a deep RBI single off the right field scoreboard. The only outs in the inning were Harper’s strikeout, Gonzalez’s sacrifice bunt and Span’s groundout in his second at-bat of the inning. Nationals coaches had urged players to hit the ball the other way against Villanueva and Rusin, and it worked. “The approach was really good,” Williams said.
The Nationals scored two runs in the sixth and then four more in the seventh, even as backups were cycled in. The crowd, including Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, applauded Gonzalez’s single to left as he became the last Nationals starter to notch a hit.
Rendon then made the Cubs’ miserable day even more wretched with an RBI double, his third of the game. Kevin Frandsen and Zimmerman drove in more runs. The endless buzz saw of the Nationals’ lineup simply wouldn’t let up, regardless of the score.
“Ever since we’ve gotten some of the guys back and now that we have everyone back, the offense is kind of slowly but surely getting better,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously this isn’t going to happen every day, but the types of at-bats we put together today, even [though] the game was out of hand, [it] was good to see everyone grinding it out.”