- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2017

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has insisted, at some point, his team would start to click and there was enough time to turn things around. The defending World Series champions entered the All-Star break trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by four and a half games for first place in the National League Central.

Since then, the Cubs are rolling — going 14-5 after the All-Star break. The Washington Nationals head to Chicago for a three-game series, starting Friday.

And it’s likely to be a playoff preview.

The Cubs have a 1.5-game lead in the NL Central now, but if they keep their second half pace, they will face the Nationals in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers (76-32) will face the winner of the Wild Card game.

The Cubs lost their first three-game series of the second half, dropping two of three games to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But they have been rolling, in part, because of their starting pitching.

The Cubs went out and acquired Jose Quintana to shore up their starting rotation. In the second half, Chicago’s starters have a 2.97 ERA and an 11-2 record, a dramatic improvement over the 4.66 ERA from the first half.

As for the playoffs, both teams made moves before the trade deadline to shore up their bullpen. The Cubs traded for Justin Wilson, who the Nationals had targeted. Washington traded for a trio of relievers — Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have been consistent, though they are still battling injuries. Reliever Enny Romero (back) is the latest Nationals pitcher to go on the disabled list, and the Nationals called up Sammy Solis to take his place on the roster.

Against the Cubs, the Nationals will continue to piecemeal their starting rotation. Manager Dusty Baker told reporters Edwin Jackson and Erick Fedde will both get starts against the Cubs as Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer are both dealing with injuries. Gio Gonzalez will go on paternity leave.

Tanner Roark will get Friday’s start against Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks.

The Nationals and the Cubs are 2-2 against each other this season. They last played in an eventful series in June when the Cubs released backup catcher Miguel Montero after he criticized starter Jake Arrieta for being slow off the mound.

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