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Series Preview: Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs

Here come the Cubs, doo do doo do...

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals have secured a .500 record on their road trip of doom, after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis and taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Now, the Nationals will face the only team that has ever received more hype than the Nationals have this decade, the Chicago Cubs, who, thus far, have lived up to the preseason projections.

The Cubs' hitting has been stellar - Chicago already has 159 runs and thirty home runs. The pitching has backed up the high power offense, only giving up sixty six runs, putting the staff at a 2.32 ERA.

Jake Arrieta has continued his dominance from last season, already with one no-hitter, and has only given up four runs in 43.0 innings.

Arrieta will start on Sunday, matching up against Tanner Roark on Mother's Day.

Roark, although not as dominant as Arrieta, has also impressed this season, pitching to a 2-2 record with a mere 2.35 ERA.

Tonight, Joe Ross will pitch against Kyle Hendricks, coming off of a brilliant performance in St. Louis, in which he went six innings while only allowing one run and two walks.

"I'm impressed. I'm not surprised, because I heard that he has as good stuff as anybody on the staff. I just hadn't seen it," Dusty Baker told the media after Ross' win at Busch Stadium.

"I urged our organization to let us have a chance to see him and Mike Maddux to work with him and if he's as good as reported, there's nothing finer than a young pitcher that gets confidence, and knows that he belongs here... he's not intimidated by being in the big leagues."

In fact, almost all of the Nationals' pitching has been stellar thus far, with just one caveat, Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon pitched twice against the Royals, coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday presented no issues for Papelbon, but Wednesday was much rougher, as the closer blew a save opportunity and gave up a walk-off hit to Lorenzo Cain.

"I blew the game," said Papelbon.

"I didn't execute some pitches. That's what it boils down to. Execution."

Even so, Dusty Baker wasn't concerned.

"He's our closer. There are a lot of closers that don't miss bats - it's a matter of location more than anything," Baker noted after the Nationals' loss.

On the other side of the ball, the Nationals' offense will look to stay competitive against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which may start with Bryce Harper, who recently broke out of his slump with a single and a home run on Wednesday.

"It was great to see [Harper].", Dusty Baker said. "He blooped that single in there early, and that's what got him going, and he hit a home run... sometimes, that's what you need to get you going."

Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy continued his dominance on offense, putting his average on the year at .398 after nearly hitting for the cycle on Wednesday, coming up just a triple short in his 4-5 day.

"Murph has an idea. He has a heck of an idea of what he's looking for. He splits the plate," Baker noted. "He's rarely fooled. Murph has an idea on what he's doing up there, and he's going to get better and better."

"He doesn't seem to be getting tired. You get tired making right turns going back to the dugout, tell you the truth."

The Nationals are heading into Chicago hotter than nearly every team in baseball, the Cubs being one of the few exceptions.

"People know we've got a good team," said Dusty Baker. "You've got to go out there and do it. The next four days of the road trip are the toughest, because we haven't been on a ten-day road trip this year."

The Cubs and the Nats are the top dogs of the NL, and the series is going to prove to be interesting. Every team that was supposed to trouble the Nationals, they rolled through.

Every team that the Cubs were supposed to struggle with, they demolished. Both teams are in search of a challenge, and likely, they'll find it in each other.

The Nationals' offense will need to match the Cubs nearly run for run if they want to win, which should be a struggle against Arrieta and the Cubs' pitching staff - and it should be almost as hard for the Cubs to go head to head with the Nationals' offense.

"Hopefully, our bats will stay hot through Chicago," said Baker. "Cause we've got a tough series there."

The Nationals know themselves a lot better then when they started the trip, but still don't have a complete idea of who they are.

The Cubs, who present the ultimate challenge for the Nationals, should help that process along by a lot. It should be tough, but Baker and the Nationals are ready to roll ahead as the end of the road trip nears.

"You've got to finish strong," said Baker.

Here's what to watch for at Wrigley Field

Oh my Arrieta
Jake Arrieta was absurdly good last season. This year, he's matched his totals, and may look even better. Arrieta is 6-0 with an 0.84 ERA thus far, but he seems to get better with every start. Sunday could be a tough day for the Nats' bats.

Harper homer watch
Harper, who hit his first home run in more than a week on Wednesday, had a great series at Wrigley Field last year, hitting two home runs while hitting .300.

Daniel Murphy returns to scene of NLCS crime
During the 2015 NLCS against the Cubs, Murphy went off. In the Mets' four game sweep, the second baseman hit .529 with four home runs, a double, six RBI, and six runs scored. This week, he'll look to repeat his success at Wrigley Field.

Thursday, May 5th: Nationals vs Cubs - 8:05 PM (MASN2, WJFK)
Probable Pitchers: Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79 ERA) vs Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.91 ERA)

Friday, May 6th: Nationals vs Cubs - 2:20 PM (MASN, MLB Network, WJFK) 
Probable Pitchers: Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.55 ERA) vs John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA)

Saturday, May 7th: Nationals vs Cubs - 4:05 PM (MASN, FS1, WJFK)
Probable Pitchers: Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.15 ERA) vs Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA)

Sunday, May 8th: Nationals vs Cubs - 2:20 PM (MASN 2, MLB Network, WJFK)
Probable Pitchers: Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.35 ERA) vs Jake Arrieta (6-0, 0.84 ERA)