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Cubs begin defense of title at Nationals

STATS/TSX

WASHINGTON -- Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was in the midst of a record-setting season when he was hit by a pitch by Pedro Strop of the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on June 29.

The pitch broke the right wrist of Turner, who missed 51 games before returning Aug. 29. The speedy Florida native still set a franchise record with 46 steals and he ranked third in the National League in that category despite playing in just 98 games.

Turner will lead off for Dusty Baker and the Nationals when they host the Cubs on Friday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

Chicago's Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts against Washington, will face Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52), who is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five career starts against the defending World Series champion Cubs.

"You have to pay attention to the running game," Hendricks said Thursday. "They are one of the best lineups in this league."

Said Strasburg: "This isn't pressure. This is a game. You know, there's a lot of people that deal with a lot harsher things in their life that is legitimate pressure."

The playoffs are not about revenge for Turner, who hit .284 with 11 homers this year. He said he has no extra motivation about facing Chicago.

"I think it's important for me to just get on first base whether it's an error, walk, hit, whatever it may be. I think that helps us a lot and changes the game," Turner said. "Speed in general is important in the playoffs."

Turner stole four bases in one game against Chicago at home June 27 and that led to former Cubs catcher Miguel Montero blasting pitcher Jake Arrieta for failing to hold on runners. Less than 12 hours later, the Cubs parted ways with the catcher.

Also on that June visit to the nation's capital, many of the Cubs visited President Trump at the White House. Todd Ricketts, part of Cubs ownership, was quoted as saying about the Nationals come October: "You'll see them crumble."

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo grew up in Chicago.

"We think we match up well with the Cubs. They are the champs (but) we don't fear them," Rizzo said.

Rizzo said Strasburg has been an elite pitcher for a long time.

"He matured and felt more comfortable in the big leagues," Rizzo said.

The Nationals have won the National East four times -- in 2012, 2015, 2016 and this year -- but they have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Washington was beat by the St. Louis Cardinals at home in Game 5 in 2012, on the road by the San Francisco Giants in 2014 in a four-game series, and at home in Game 5 last year by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Washington won two of three games at home against the Cubs from June 27-29.

Max Scherzer beat Arrieta 6-1 on June 27 and Strasburg got the best of John Lackey 8-4 the next day.

The Cubs salvaged the third game 5-4 in a battle of the bullpens. The loss went to Blake Treinen, who less than a month later was traded to the Oakland Athletics.

The Nationals also won two of three in Chicago from Aug. 4-6 as Washington pitcher Tanner Roark, a University of Illinois product, won the opener 4-2 over Hendricks.

Lackey got the win in Game 2 -- 7-4 over Edwin Jackson, part of the Washington rotation in 2012. The Nationals won the third game 9-4 as Matt Wieters hit a late grand slam off Carl Edwards Jr.

The Cubs will start Jon Lester in Game 2, Jose Quintana in Game 3 and Arrieta in Game 4, if necessary. The Nationals have not announced who will pitch Game 2, but most likely it will be Scherzer (16-6, 2.51) or Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96). Gonzalez threw a bullpen session Thursday.

"This is what you live for," Hendricks said. "This is the time of year that you want to be playing, and we're ready for it."

Scherzer, like Arrieta, has been dealing with a hamstring injury. He threw a few minutes on flat ground Wednesday but did not throw off the bullpen mound. Washington manager Dusty Baker said Thursday that if Scherzer doesn't pitch Game 2 on Saturday, he will start Game 3 in Chicago.

How did the stoic Strasburg respond when Baker told him he would start Game 1?

"He had that same look," said Baker, with a grin Thursday.

Strasburg had not allowed an earned run in six of eight starts since he came off the disabled list in August.

"Strasburg has been good the last month," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's a good athlete."

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