With each club looking for improvement in the final 2 1/2 months, the Cubs and Nationals open a four-game series Thursday night in the nation’s capital.
Owners of the majors’ worst record, Washington (26-61) fired manager Manny Acta on Monday and replaced him with bench coach Jim Riggleman. Acta went 158-252 in 2 1/2 seasons with the Nationals, who lead the majors with 82 errors and have the highest ERA (5.21) in the NL.
“We feel that the team has underachieved,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We feel with a different voice and possibly a different feel in the clubhouse that we can have a more successful second half of the season.”
Riggleman, who replaced John McLaren as manager in Seattle in the middle of last season, has a 522-652 managerial record over nine seasons. He went 374-419 while managing the Cubs from 1995-99.
“Maybe coming from somebody else, maybe they’ll respond,” Riggleman said. “There’s a lot of season left. There’s a lot of opportunity to make a move in the standings.”
Coming off a 1-6 road trip, the Nationals try to open the Riggleman Era with a third consecutive victory at home, where they are a major-league worst 16-26.
Washington faces a Chicago (43-43) team that held a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central last season, but is 3 1/2 games out of first place this year.
“The goal is to win the division,” manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site. “There’s no other goal. No other goal whatsoever.”
Aside from dealing with a rash of injuries and being near the bottom of the majors in runs (355) and batting average (.247), the Cubs are 16-25 on the road. Chicago must improve in that area with 17 of its next 24 games away from Wrigley Field.
While Derrek Lee(notes) is batting .326 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs over his last 47 games, the Cubs need Alfonso Soriano(notes) (.233 average) and Milton Bradley(notes) (.243) to perform better at the plate.
“If we just produced like we’re capable of - we’re not asking for more than anybody has already done - I think we’d have a lot better offensive club,” general manager Jim Hendry said.
Lannan, who’s 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA versus Chicago, allowed five runs and 11 hits in five innings of a 9-4 loss at Houston last Thursday for his first defeat since May 31. The left-hander is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA in his last seven starts.
Chicago counters with Rich Harden(notes) (5-6, 5.47), who’s looking to avoid a third straight loss after giving up four runs and seven hits while walking four in five innings of an 8-3 defeat to St. Louis on Friday.
The right-hander, who’s allowed 11 runs in seven innings over his last two starts, allowed one and two hits while striking out 11 in seven innings of a 6-1 win over the Nationals on Aug. 24.
Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman(notes) and Adam Dunn(notes) are a combined 0 for 5 with four strikeouts versus Harden. Though Zimmerman was the Nationals’ lone All-Star representative, he’s 2 for 14 (.143) in his last three games.
Dunn, fifth in the majors with 23 homers, has eight home runs and 10 RBIs in his last 14 games versus the Cubs.
These teams split six games in 2008, but Chicago has won nine of the last 13 meetings.