The Cubs and their hot-hitting first baseman will try to make sure the Nationals lose their sixth straight three-game series when the teams complete their set on Sunday.
Chicago had dropped two in a row, including the series opener in Washington on Friday, but the Cubs (16-8) still haven’t dropped three straight this season after winning 7-0 on Saturday behind seven stellar innings from Carlos Zambrano.
Entering that game, the Cubs had been just 4-7 in Washington since the Nationals moved from Montreal before the 2005 season, with Lee going 2-for-32 in those games. He was hitless in his last 20 at-bats in Washington entering this series.
But Lee was 2-for-3 with a double, two walks and three RBIs - his first in the nation’s capital - on Saturday, continuing his torrid start. He also doubled Friday, and in his last 15 games, he’s hitting .410 with a .705 slugging percentage, knocking in 15 runs over that span.
Lee’s team-leading seven homers and 21 RBIs have helped spark the Cubs to their best start since they also opened 16-8 in 1995. Four of their five starters have ERAs under 4.00, and they’re second in the majors with 145 runs.
“Last year, we got off to a slow start, and that’s tough to overcome,” Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “We did it last year; we don’t want to want to be in that position again. We’re doing everything right. We’re hitting and we’re pitching pretty good.”
One Cub who’s not hitting, however, is catcher Geovany Soto. The rookie is hitting .316 this season, but he’s now 0-for-8 with eight strikeouts in this series after fanning five times on Saturday.
“I’ve never seen a guy strike out eight times in eight at-bats,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella - who has been a major league player or manager since 1969 - told his team’s official Web site. “This is a first.”
Meanwhile, the Nationals (8-17) were shut out for the fourth time this year on Saturday, tying Detroit for the league lead. Washington had won three of four after losing 15 of their previous 17, but they managed just six hits - five of them singles - against the Cubs.
They split a pair of two-game series with Atlanta and the New York Mets this week, but they haven’t won a three-game set since their first series of the year at Philadelphia.
Sunday, they’ll face Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly, who is coming off his best outing of the year. After going 0-3 and throwing just 18 2-3 innings in his first four starts, Lilly (1-3, 7.30 ERA) finally won on Tuesday, allowing just one run and four hits in six innings of an 8-1 win over the New York Mets.
The left-hander has won both of his starts against Washington the last two seasons, allowing just one run on eight hits in 13 innings.
Nationals starter John Lannan has that exact line in his last two appearances. Lannan (1-2, 3.42) dropped his first two starts, but struck out 11 in six innings against the Mets on April 17, then tossed seven shutout innings against Atlanta on Tuesday, beating Braves pitcher John Smoltz - who notched his 3,000th career strikeout in that game.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to Lannan,” Smoltz said. “He outpitched me.”
Lannan has never faced the Cubs.