Cubs continue ‘curiosity series’ with Nationals

WASHINGTON — A potential playoff matchup is one term being used to describe the series this week at Nationals Park between the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the first-place Washington Nationals.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon, however, has another term for the four-game set that continues Tuesday.

“It is a curiosity series for me,” Maddon before Monday afternoon before the series began.

Maddon’s curiosity has more to do with his team than the Nationals (45-31), who appear to be coasting toward the National League East title.

The Cubs (39-37) are just 17-21 on the road after holding on for a 5-4 win over the Nationals on Monday. Maddon hopes his team can get healthy in time for second half of the season.

“I am not putting a lot of stock into it,” Maddon said of the series in Washington.

Tuesday could also be the best pitching matchup of the four-game set. Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (8-5, 2.09 ERA), who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his last start, will face Chicago right-hander Jake Arrieta (7-5, 4.36).

“Before you (face) Scherzer, it is always nice to win,” Maddon said after the Cubs yielded four runs in the ninth inning Monday before sealing the win.

Tuesday will feature the last two National League Cy Young Award winners, a pair of pitchers who each have two career no-hitters.

Scherzer had a no-hitter broken up on Wednesday in Miami and eventually lost the game 2-1 as he went eight innings in a complete-game defeat. Both runs he surrendered were unearned.

He threw two no-hitters in 2015 for Washington. In his first 80 starts with the team, Scherzer took a no-hitter into the sixth inning or later 10 times.

“I’m always (ticked) when they get a hit,” he told a team publication.

Arrieta is 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA in eight starts against Washington. The former Baltimore Orioles starter is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts at Nationals Park, the most recent on June 4, 2015.

He has allowed two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts against the Nationals.

In his last start on Thursday, Arrieta threw seven innings of one-run ball in an 11-1 win at Miami.

Scherzer is 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA in five career starts against the Cubs. He was 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA in two starts against the Cubs last year.

Anthony Rizzo, who figures to leadoff Tuesday, is 3-for-8 (.375) with a homer against Scherzer. Ben Zobrist has three homers against Scherzer, but the super utility player is on the disabled list.

The Nationals got some bad news Monday as manager Dusty Baker said left fielder Jayson Werth most likely won’t return until after the All-Star break. Werth was had been on the disabled list since June 5 with a left foot contusion after he fouled a ball of his foot against the Oakland A’s.

“I’m doing a lot better,” Werth said Monday. “It’s kind of getting going, looking at a schedule, maybe playing some rehab assignment. I’m not quite there, but definitely improving. It was something I knew was going to take some time. I had something similar in the past, but nothing this bad. This time was way worse, the MRI showed quite a bit of bone edema, and we knew it was going to be four to six weeks.”