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Cubs-Nationals Preview

AP - Sports

All season, Washington's formidable rotation has garnered much of the attention for the team's success.

The Nationals are showing they have quite an adept offense, too.

Coming off its second straight six-homer game, NL East-leading Washington looks to continue to pound Chicago's pitching and sweep its first four-game series from the Cubs in 15 years on Thursday.

The Nationals (84-52) likely would not own a 7 1/2-game lead over second-place Atlanta if not for a pitching staff that has an NL-best 3.27 ERA. As expected, their pitchers have limited the offensively challenged Cubs (51-85) to seven runs in the first three games of the series, but the bigger story has been their bats.

One night after setting a season high with six homers in an 11-5 victory, the Nationals matched that total in Wednesday's 9-1 win. Adam LaRoche has three of those 12 home runs and has gone deep five times in the last five contests.

"It's just one of those stretches that nobody can explain," said LaRoche, who has team highs of 28 homers and 90 RBIs. "They don't happen too often."

The Nationals have won four in a row, and with Wednesday's victory, the franchise amassed its most wins since the 1996 team won 88 games. The team hasn't swept a four-game series from Chicago since June 6-9, 1997, in Montreal.

"I don't think anybody's satisfied where we're at right now,'' Bryce Harper said. "We don't want to let down to anybody.''

The 19-year-old Harper hit two homers Wednesday for his second multihomer game, joining Mel Ott and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only teenagers to accomplish that feat. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina also went deep for the Nationals, who've plated at least eight runs in six of eight games.

"This is by far the best team we've played all year,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It's like an American League lineup, too. Guys that hit the ball a long way."

Next up against Washington's potent lineup is Justin Germano (2-5, 6.30 ERA), who has done a decent job of keeping the ball in the park but has been still been getting knocked around plenty in losing his last three starts.

Since beating Houston on Aug. 15, Germano has a 10.43 ERA while permitting 24 hits - only two of them home runs - over 14 2-3 innings. This will be the right-hander's first start against Washington since 2007, when pitching for San Diego.

The Nationals counter with Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 3.01), who is hoping an outing against the lowly Cubs can help him break out of his funk.

After leading the NL with a 2.38 ERA on Aug. 14, Zimmermann has a 9.88 ERA in his last three starts. Against St. Louis on Saturday, he was shelled for a career-worst eight runs in a season-low 3 2-3 innings in a 10-9 loss.

"When it was going good, it felt like I could go up there and threw anything and it would be a strike or a groundball,'' the righty said. "I'm trying to do the same thing I've been doing all year and they're just putting the ball in play and hitting it a little harder.''

Zimmerman had little trouble against the Cubs in his season debut, yielding two runs and six hits in seven innings but was the tough-luck loser in a 4-3 final. That is Washington's lone defeat in six games against Chicago this year.

The Cubs, who have the second-fewest runs with 508, plated their only run Wednesday on Anthony Rizzo's ninth-inning homer. Rizzo is batting .357 with two home runs in his last seven games.

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