The Chicago Cubs had won 19-straight games that Jake Arrieta started, six straight games overall and three games in a row against the Washington Nationals heading into this afternoon's series finale in Wrigley Field.
Dusty Baker's Nationals needed to beat the defending NL Cy Young award-winner if they were to avoid a sweep in the final stop on their ten-game, three-city road trip.
If they did, it would be the first Cubs' loss in one of Arrieta's starts since Cole Hamels no-hit Chicago last July.
Clearly this was the perfect set-up for a reverse lock, right?
The Nationals got out to an early lead in the top of the third when Bryce Harper walked for the second time in two plate appearances (and the ninth time in the series) and scored from first on a "double" by Ryan Zimmerman on a hard-hit grounder to third that got by Kris Bryant. 1-0 Washington.
Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa hit back-to-back singles to start the fourth, and Arrieta misplayed a grounder to the third base side of the mound by Nats' starter Tanner Roark, loading the bases with no one out.
Ben Revere hit a sharp liner to left that was right at Jorge Soler for the first out of the frame, but a sharp, one-hop grounder to second by Anthony Rendon ate up Ben Zobrist, who had to settle for the out at first, 2-0 Nationals.
Daniel Murphy's second error of the season (and the Nats' 10th as a team) led to the Cubs' first run scoring.
Cubs' second baseman Ben Zobrist reached on the E:4 by Murphy, moved up two bases on groundouts and scored on a wild pitch by Tanner Roark to cut the Nationals' lead in half, 2-1 after four.
Murphy doubled to start the fifth, however, took third on a fly to right by Jayson Werth and scored on an RBI single to left by Wilson Ramos to give the Nationals their two-run lead back, 3-1.
• Jake Arrieta's Line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 Ks, 100 P, 64 S 7/2 GO/FO.
Roark worked around a bunt single by Anthony Rizzo and a misplay on a grounder to the mound by Addison Russell for a scoreless sixth in his final inning of work.
• Tanner Roark's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R , 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 110 P, 65 S, 8/1 GO/FO.
Oliver Perez blocked a liner headed for his head off Trevor Cahill's bat and issued a walk to Dexter Fowler, putting two on with no one out in the Cubs' 7th.
Jason Heyward bunted both runners over, so Nats' skipper Dusty Baker went to the bullpen for Yusmeiro Petit with Kris Bryant due up. Bryant hit a line drive single to center to bring both runners in and tie it up at 3-3.
It stayed that way until the thirteenth when Javier Baez hit a walk-off winner off of Blake Treinen. Cubs sweep. 4-3 final.
Nationals now 19-12
• NATS NOTES:
- The Cubs started the afternoon with a chance to sweep the Nationals, which, if they did, would be the first series sweep of the franchise (Expos/Nationals) in Wrigley Field since 1998.
- The Cubs scored 5+ runs in six straight games before today's series finale with the Nationals. Overall on the year, their 6.21 runs per game are the highest in all of baseball.
- Bryce Harper walked with one on and one out in the first today, taking the eighth free pass of the series against the Cubs. He walked the second time up too, nine walks...
- Daniel Murphy had the day off yesterday (illness), but he returned to the lineup this afternoon. On the season, before today, Murphy had hits in 24 of 29 games and multi-hit games in 14 of 29 with the Nationals.
- In today's Nationals-themed "Fun with Arbitrary End Points" segment, Jayson Werth is 10 for 37 (.270 AVG) with two doubles, three home runs, eleven runs batted in and eight scored... in his last nine games.
- Werth had also hit safely in eight of the last ten games going into today's series finale in Wrigley.
- Chicago's 23-6 start to the season, is their best start through 29 games since the 1907 Cubs started 24-5, and it's the best start by a National League team through 29 games since the 1977 Dodgers went 23-6.
- Through 30 games, the Nationals' pitchers, as a staff, have a 2.83 ERA, the third-lowest in the majors.
- In a bonus Nationals-themed "Fun with Arbitrary End Points" segment, the Nats' pitchers have collected a major league-best 140 Ks... since April 23rd.
- Washington, as a team, has committed just nine errors thus far this season, the fewest in the majors, and their .992 fld% before today was the major league's best as well, though they ranked second in the NL in "Defensive Efficiency" at .727, with "Defensive Efficiency" defined by Baseball Prospectus as "... the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs"... the Chicago Cubs are first in the majors (.749).
- Wilmington, Illinois native Tanner Roark started the day (3-2) with a 5.33 ERA in five games (four starts) against the Cubs in his career.
- In today's crazy Cubs' run differential update: Chicago has outscored their opponents 180-79 so far in 2016, +101 run differential, the best run differential through 29 games in the majors and the second-best in major league history since 1900, behind only the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates, who were at +113 through 29 games.
Nationals now 19-12