CHICAGO -- When Dave Martinez took the Nats' manager job this offseason, one of the things he was most excited about was the prospects of his lineup, which on paper was set to be one of the deepest in the National League. Through a combination of injuries and underachievement, the
CHICAGO -- When Dave Martinez took the Nats' manager job this offseason, one of the things he was most excited about was the prospects of his lineup, which on paper was set to be one of the deepest in the National League. Through a combination of injuries and underachievement, the lineup has struggled to produce runs consistently this season, but perhaps the Nationals' bats have finally started to hit their stride.
Washington tagged left-hander Jonathan Lester for nine runs (eight earned) and knocked him out of the game in the fourth inning in Saturday's 9-4 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice and matched a career high with six RBIs while Daniel Murphy added three hits and a homer to back a strong start from Tanner Roark.
"I think since the All-Star break we've been swinging the bats well and putting some good at-bats together, grinding out at-bats a little better than we were before," Zimmerman said. "Our lineup's getting longer and deeper than it's been all year."
The victory pulls the Nationals to within five games of the Braves and Phillies, who are tied for first in the NL East.
Ever since Zimmerman returned from the disabled list on July 20, he has been one of the team's hottest hitters while settling into a platoon at first base with Matt Adams. He got the Nats on the board in the first inning with a two-run homer -- his first homer at Wrigley Field since 2013 -- and added a sacrifice fly in the third. His three-run homer in the fourth served as an exclamation point for a six-run inning and drove Lester from the game.
After Anthony Rendon was scratched from the lineup with a left wrist contusion, Martinez bumped Zimmerman up in the lineup to hit cleanup.
"Zim, when he's good, he's a cleanup hitter," Martinez said. "He's been that guy. … It gives the opposing manager something to think about if he has to make a pitching change. What a day he had, too."
Murphy continued to punish the Cubs as he has so often in his career. That he did so from the No. 7 slot in the lineup and Matt Wieters reached base five times from the No. 8 spot underscored just how deep and dangerous this lineup can be.
Roark never appeared during the NL Division Series between these two teams 10 months ago, something that bothered him during the offseason. He got his chance to finally take the mound at Wrigley Field on Saturday and twirled another strong start. He gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, sealing his fourth straight strong start.
"There's still definitely things I need to work on and just maintain," Roark said. "And keep building off each and every start and having the confidence in myself and everybody on the team to do their job and go out there and win."
After collecting three hits Saturday, Murphy now owns a lifetime average of .327 in his career against the Cubs, the fourth highest among all active qualified players.
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Michael A. Taylor was subbed into the game to start the seventh inning to give Bryce Harper a breather, and he instantly made an impact, chasing down a line drive from Kyle Schwarber for a stellar diving catch. Taylor ran 41 feet in 3.1 seconds before he dove and robbed Schwarber of a hit on a ball that had just a 35-percent catch probability, as measured by Statcast™, which rated the play as a four-star catch.
Max Scherzer will be on the mound for Sunday night's series finale against Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels. In six career starts vs. Chicago, Scherzer owns a 2.92 ERA. He's won his past five decisions. First pitch is at 8:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.