Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs
- These teams will be meeting for the first time this season. Washington has won its last three games at Wrigley Field, recording at least 11 hits on offense in each game. Overall, the Nationals went 4-3 against the Cubs in 2013.
- Doug Fister is 6-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his last eight starts. Fister's 1.01 walks per nine innings ratio is the best in the National League since May 14 (minimum 40 IP).
- In 76 games this season, Starlin Castro has already surpassed his home run and RBI totals from 2013. He has 11 homers and 45 RBI in 2014 compared to 10 home runs and 44 RBI in 161 games last season.
- Travis Wood has not allowed more than three earned runs in seven starts at Wrigley Field this season. Despite only possessing a 3-2 home record on the year, five of his seven outings have been quality starts.
- The Nationals are hitting .280 against left-handed pitching this season -- third best mark in the majors. They hit only .232 against righties on the campaign. That +.048 batting average differential (lefties better than righties) is the highest in the majors.
- The Cubs are one of just six major-league teams to use only six starting pitchers this season. No team has used just five on the year. The Nationals are part of a group of seven MLB teams to use seven starters in 2014.
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By JON PALMIERI
(AP) -- The Washington Nationals have played well lately despite managing little offense. Fortunately, they haven't needed much of it when Doug Fister takes the mound.
Fister has an opportunity to win for the seventh time in eight starts Thursday night when the Nationals open a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Despite missing the first five weeks of the season due to a strained back muscle, Fister (6-2, 2.65 ERA) is only one win off the team lead and has been everything the Nationals hoped for when they acquired him in the offseason from Detroit.
The right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.03 ERA in eight starts since struggling in his season debut and has walked six while striking out 34 over 53 1-3 innings during that stretch.
He held an opponent scoreless for the second time in three starts Saturday, tossing five-hit ball over eight innings in a 3-0 victory against Atlanta.
"He controlled the strike zone," manager Matt Williams said of Fister, who allowed two hits in the first inning but just three over his final seven. "He wants to stay in rhythm. He works fast anyway. Just because somebody gets on, he doesn't want to change that."
The Nationals (41-36) have supported Fister with only 10 runs in his last four starts, but that limited offense has become a trend for the NL East leaders. Washington failed for the fourth time to win a season-high fifth straight, falling 9-2 Wednesday at Milwaukee.
Ian Desmond had the only two hits for Washington, which is batting .216 with 16 runs in those five contests.
Offense has been even harder to come by on the road for the Nationals, batting an anemic .167 with 13 runs scored in their last seven away games.
Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 3 with a walk after his two-run homer in the 16th inning Tuesday lifted Washington to a 4-2 victory. Zimmerman is in a 5-for-29 slump (.172), but he's 7 for 15 with a homer and two doubles in his last three games at Wrigley.
The Cubs (32-44) sunk deeper into the NL Central cellar with their fourth loss in five games, 4-1 to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
"The story for us has been that we're not scoring enough runs for the starting pitchers and for this bullpen," catcher John Baker said. "It's frustrating for us position players."
Starlin Castro was again a bright spot, accounting for two of the team's six hits and the lone RBI. He's batting .357 (25 for 70) in his last 18 games with four homers, nine doubles and 16 RBIs. Castro has 45 RBIs, one more than he had in 161 games last season.
Travis Wood (7-6, 4.55) tries to bounce back from a disappointing performance for Chicago. After going 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA in his previous two starts, the left-hander allowed three runs, four hits and three walks over 4 2-3 innings Saturday in a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh.
A poor start at home was a rare occurrence for Wood, who is 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in seven starts at Wrigley, compared to a 4-4 record and 6.07 ERA in eight road outings.
He didn't receive a decision in his only appearance against Washington, yielding four runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings in a 5-4 loss Aug. 22.
The Nationals have won 14 of 21 overall against the Cubs, scoring 20 runs during a three-game win streak at Wrigley.
Updated June 26, 2014