Jordan Zimmermann appears to have picked up some momentum after a midseason lull.
That could mean bad news for the Chicago Cubs, who continue to struggle offensively at Wrigley Field.
Zimmermann again looks to re-assume his position as the NL's leader in victories Monday night as the Washington Nationals open a four-game set in Chicago.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last three starts. Zimmermann (14-6, 3.02 ERA) had endured a rough July, going 1-3 with a 7.18 ERA after not posting an ERA higher than 2.78 in any other month this year. His six homers allowed last month were as many as he gave up in May and June combined.
He held San Francisco to a run and six hits over seven innings of a 6-5 victory on Wednesday, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced.
"I had to battle the first four innings," Zimmermann, whose 14 wins were matched Sunday by St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, told the team's official website. "The last three was pretty easy. I kept the ball in the bottom of the zone."
Zimmermann hasn't seen the Cubs (53-70) this year but he was 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in a pair of outings last season.
He'll encounter a Chicago club that has repeatedly failed to produce at home. The Cubs scuffled again in a 6-1 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, going 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
They've been shut out five times in the last eight home games while hitting .197, and their 2.21 runs per game at Wrigley Field since the All-Star break are the majors' fewest at home.
Anthony Rizzo is 2 for 24 over his last seven contests overall while David DeJesus is 4 for 31 in his last nine.
Starlin Castro recorded his first hit in six games Sunday, rejoining the lineup after a costly defensive blunder prompted manager Dale Sveum to pull him from Saturday's contest.
"The way I look at it is obviously he had enough punishment - whether or not punishment is the right word - to be embarrassed," Sveum said. "These kind of things happen from time to time."
Castro is 15 for 38 (.395) in his last nine games versus Washington (60-63), but 3 for 13 off Zimmermann.
Chicago took the final two games in Washington in mid-May after Monday's starter Jeff Samardzija (6-11, 4.29) allowed seven runs and eight hits over five innings in the opener. He had posted a 1.48 ERA in his previous nine games against the Nationals.
Samardzija has issued 16 walks over 28 innings during a five-start winless stretch. Ian Desmond is 8 for 13 off him with three doubles and a homer.
Jayson Werth extended his hitting streak to 10 games Sunday as the Nationals fell 2-1 at Atlanta. Werth, 3 for 13 versus Samardzija, is hitting .487 during his streak with 10 RBIs while Washington had scored at least six runs in five of eight prior to Sunday.
The franchises have split the last 36 meetings in Chicago.
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