Aug. 24 MLB Preview — Washington Nationals (71-57) at Chicago Cubs (69-59)

(Adam Eaton photo courtesy Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Aug. 24, Wrigley Field, Chicago, Ill., 2:20 p.m. EDT.

If the Chicago Cubs thought they were catching a break by missing Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin in their series against the Washington Nationals, they are sorely mistaken.

Joe Ross looks to keep the Nationals rolling Saturday when they look to add more distance between themselves and the Cubs for the first wild-card spot in the National League.

Ross looks to pick up where he left off after comebacker cuts sharp outing short

Ross (3-3, 5.48 ERA) was in line for a fourth consecutive winning start Monday night at Pittsburgh, where he cruised through the first 3 1-3 innings and was backed with an 11-run lead. Then Josh Bell hit a one-hopper off his right shin, and after consulting with the team trainer, the right-hander left the game as a precautionary measure.

Ross threw his normal side session Thursday and reported no discomfort, and all systems appear to be go after playing catch today. The right-hander has contributed to the Nats’ surge to the top of the NL wild-card standings by going 3-0 with a 0.42 ERA in four starts, conceding one run in 21 1-3 innings.

He made a relief appearance against the Cubs on May 17, retiring one batter and not giving up a run in Washington’s 14-6 defeat. Ross will be trying to follow up a stellar outing by Anibal Sanchez to start this series as the Nationals (71-57) cruised 9-3 on Friday.

Sanchez carried a shutout into the ninth as the Nationals starters completed a rotational turn in which they posted a 0.59 ERA over the last five games and permitted only two earned runs in 30 2-3 innings. Washington has a two-game lead over Chicago for the top wild-card spot and entered Friday night 3 1/2 games better than the third-place New York Mets.

Adam Eaton, who belted a solo homer, is 14 for 38 (.368) with five homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine games.

Cubs turn to red-hot Quintana to get back on track

The Cubs (69-59) are looking to bounce back with their hottest pitcher of the moment in Jose Quintana (11-7, 3.91 ERA), who is looking to extend his career-high winning streak to eight games.

The left-hander is 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA over his last nine starts, which includes four wins in as many starts at home with a 4.13 ERA as the Cubs have backed him with 29 runs in those games. Quintana had his best start of the current run Sunday at Pittsburgh, scattering five hits without a walk in seven innings of Chicago’s 7-1 romp at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa.

“Today was really special,” said Quintana, who is from Colombia, to the Cubs’ official website. “I remember when I was a kid, trying to one day be here in Williamsport.”

The southpaw’s spot in the rotation did not come up when the Cubs were in the nation’s capital in May, and this will be his first appearance against Washington. Brian Dozier has plenty of experience from their days in the American League and is batting .212 (11 for 52) with four homers in their matchups.

Notable Trends

 

*****5-Star Pick*****

UNDER 9 runs (-110)

The number has come in on the high side of expectations, giving confidence in the under given the form of both starters. The under is 5-3-1 spanning Quintana’s last nine starts and slipped to 5-2 between the teams with Friday’s result.

The under is 5-1 in Ross’ last six starts and 7-1 in his last eight, with that over hitting solely because of Washington’s offense.  The under is 4-1 in Quintana’s last five starts versus NL East teams and 6-2-1 in his last nine against above-.500 teams.

The under is also 12-5-3 in Washington’s last 20 road games against teams with winning records and 11-4-1 in Ross’ last 16 such starts.

****4-Star Pick****

UNDER 5.5 runs first 5 innings (-152)

The hook makes this a strong pick given the starting pitchers’ respective forms. The under would have been 5-0 in Ross’ starts had the Nationals not pasted the Pirates for 11 runs early, and the expectation is he will keep the Cubs bats in check.

The five-inning over is 7-2 during Quintana’s unbeaten streak but he has held opponents to two or fewer runs in five of them.

***3-Star Picks***

Cubs -1.5 runs (+121)

Though Ross makes this a challenging pick, the hedge is Quintana who is able to extend his run of solid pitching. The Cubs have not lost back-to-back home games in nearly two months, and while they seem to swing wildly in terms of momentum from match to match, the expectation is the pendulum swings back to the win column behind their left-hander.

Quintana OVER 5.5 strikeouts (+115)

Quintana making his first career start against the Nationals plays into this pick, as the unfamiliarity should help the left-hander. He also has struck out seven or more in his last three starts, highlighted by his 14-K performance at Philadelphia on Aug. 13.

Quintana has averaged 7.45 strikeouts per nine innings in his 12 starts at Wrigley this season, and Washington hitters have fanned eight or more times in 10 of the team’s last 14 games.

Nationals +0.5 runs first 5 innings (-106)

This is a confidence pick in Ross’ form as he has not allowed a run over the first five innings of his last four starts (though the last one was 3 1-3 innings) coupled with the Nationals owning a 12-1-4 record at the midway point of their last 17 games. While Quintana has been good, he has not been overpowering during his nine-start unbeaten run. That offers the Nationals a chance with the half-run.

Draw 3-way ML first inning (-108)

Another form pick based on the pitchers. Quintana has not allowed a first-inning run in his last nine starts and has held opponents off the scoreboard in the top of the first in 10 of his 12 starts at Wrigley. After giving up two runs to Atlanta in his first start, Ross shut down his rivals in the last four.

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