Cubs, Nationals to play doubleheader due to rainout

WASHINGTON — Not too many things have gone as planned for the Washington Nationals this season.

Expected to contend for a third straight National League East title, the Nationals instead are closer to elimination than a playoff berth.

Right-hander Max Scherzer, however, has been a constant for Washington. Every fifth day Scherzer (16-6, 2.28) gives the Nationals a chance to win.

“Watching him, he’s the best. He really is. Watching him prepare on a daily basis has been incredible,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He competes every day. His work ethic is far beyond what I’ve ever seen. The mental part, the physical part of it.

“For four days, he puts his body through a lot and his mind through a lot to get ready for his opponents on the fifth day.”

Scherzer, seeking his third straight NL Cy Young Award, enters Saturday atop the National League in wins (16), strikeouts (260), innings pitched (193.2) and opponent’s batting average (.179), and third in ERA (2.28).

He’s allowed as many as four earned runs in only two starts this season, the last on July 7. Last time out he surrendered three runs in seven innings of a no-decision in a game against the Cardinals that Washington won. He struck out 11 and walked one.

The Nationals are 20-9 in games Scherzer has started.

Scherzer, 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts against the Cubs, will start the first game of what is now a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 3:05 ET.

Friday night was frustrating for everyone who dared venture to Nationals Park. The game was delayed 81 minutes by rain before it started.

Then, with two outs in the top of the second inning, the rain and lightning returned. After two hours and 55 minutes, with the rain having stopped, the game was postponed by Major League Baseball.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the day he was hoping to get the game in.

“It’s supposed to rain here for three days,” Maddon said. “We can plow through. We’ve done that already this year so many times. We’d rather plow through this than a doubleheader and a make-up game. We’re going through 23 in a row, so we need to play this.”

Left-hander Jaime Garcia (3-6, 5.93) will pitch the first game for the Cubs. His contract was purchased from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. Garcia is 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in nine career starts against the Nationals.

Chicago right-hander Cole Hamels (4-0, 1.00 since joining the Cubs) was originally scheduled to oppose Scherzer in Saturday’s game, but now with the doubleheader, he’ll pitch the nightcap. The Cubs acquired Hamels from the Rangers at the July trade deadline and have gone 6-1 in his starts.

Hamels has fanned 43 and walked 12 in 45 innings for Chicago and has let to allow a home run. He was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for August. Last time out, he gave up two runs in six innings against the Brewers.

The former Philadelphia Phillie is 16-9 with a 2.63 ERA in 36 career starts against the Nationals.

Washington did not immediately name its Game 2 starter.

The Nationals on Friday activated left-hander Sean Doolittle from the 10-day disabled list. The Washington closer missed 54 games with a stress reaction in his left foot.

Doolittle is 3-2 with a 1.45 ERA. His 22 saves (in 23 chances) are tied for eighth best in the National League.

“It’s tough mentally for different reasons to have to be on the sidelines and watch kind of the way the second half of the season unfolded for us and not being able to contribute, not being out there with the guys was really tough,” Doolittle said.