The Cubs defeated the Nationals 4-2 Thursday night, taking three of four at Washington, which bookended beautifully with events in Pittsburgh, where the woebegone Pirates beat the Brewers 6-3, completing a three-of-four series win against your National League Central leaders.
The second-place Cubs, who have won four consecutive series, are now just 4 1/2 games in back of Milwaukee.
Thursday night’s starting lineup included Daryle Ward, starting in place of homer-hungry Derrek Lee, and Jacque Jones, who lately has been doing double duty as an unsuccessful pinch-hitter and unloved trade prospect. Ward responded to the opportunity with two hits, a sac fly and two RBI; Jones, starting his first game since June 19th, smacked a pair of doubles and didn’t strike out even once.
Sean Marshall lost a chance to earn his fifth win of the season when he coughed up a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning, with the Nationals tying the game on RBI by Dmitri Young and Austin Kearns. But the Cub bullpen—in this case consisting of Will Ohman, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol, and Bob Howry—held the home team scoreless over the last 3 2/3 innings, yielding just two hits and a walk. Mike Fontenot’s seventh-inning RBI single and Ward’s sacrifice fly provided the Cubs with their winning margin.
Now it’s on to Pittsburgh, where the Cubs will attempt to end the Pirates’ three-game winning streak Friday night and creep ever closer to the Brewers. Paul Maholm, who is 15-22 lifetime but 3-0 against the Cubs, will start for the Pirates against Jason Marquis.