The Chicago Cubs have done plenty of celebrating in the last month leading up to Independence Day.
In their first visit to the nation’s capital on the Fourth of July, the surging Cubs look to win six straight over the Washington Nationals’ franchise for the first time in more than 16 years on Wednesday.
Chicago (42-40) defeated the Nationals 3-2 on Tuesday, improving to a season-best two games over .500 and pulling within 5 1/2 games of first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
The Cubs have won 10 of 11, and are a major league-best 20-9 since June 3.
“I do know we’re playing good aggressive baseball and it’s translating into wins for us,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella told the team’s official Web site. “If you do those things, you should win with a little more consistency, and we have been playing with a little more consistency.”
All-Star Alfonso Soriano, who batted leadoff for Washington (33-50) last season, went 2-for-4 with two runs and a stolen base on Tuesday. Soriano is 8-for-24 with five runs in five games against his former team this season.
The Cubs, who swept the Nationals at Wrigley Field May 4-6, won Monday’s series opener 7-2. They have not won six straight over the Washington franchise in a single season since May 24-June 2, 1991.
Rich Hill (5-5, 3.49 ERA) looks to lead Chicago to another win and bounce back from yet another forgettable start when he takes the mound on Wednesday.
Hill was tagged for five runs - all in the first inning - and five hits on Friday against Milwaukee, and was pulled after three innings. The Cubs’ offense and bullpen bailed Hill out, though, as Chicago won 6-5 on a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth from Aramis Ramirez.
The left-hander has yielded five runs in two of his last three starts, and has not won since June 7. After beginning the year 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his first six outings, his struggles started after facing Washington on May 5.
He limited the Nationals to one run and six hits in six innings of a 5-3 victory, but is just 1-4 with a 4.79 ERA in 10 starts since.
Hill has pitched his best on the road lately, allowing just two runs over 19 2-3 innings in his last three starts away from Wrigley, but has only one victory in those games.
Chicago has played more contests on July 4th than any other day of the year, going 115-92, but has lost its last two Independence Day games.
The Nationals have played at home on the Fourth of July each of the first two years the franchise has been in the nation’s capital after relocating from Montreal, splitting those games.
Washington has lost 13 of its last 17 overall, scoring three runs or fewer in its last 10.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was hitless in four at-bats on Tuesday, and is 10-for-50 with no RBIs in his last 13 games.
Matt Chico (3-5, 4.74) seeks his first win in nine starts when he takes the ball on Wednesday.
Chico is coming off the best start of his brief career, but he still hasn’t won since May 17. On Friday, he allowed six hits in six shutout innings, but did not receive a decision in Washington’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
The 24-year-old left-hander started the year 3-4 with a 5.44 ERA in his first nine starts, and is 0-1 despite posting a 4.03 ERA in his last eight outings.
This will be his first career start against the Cubs.