Cubs shut down Nationals as winning streak reaches four

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs pitching continues to be the storyline of the early season as the numbers are plummeting for the starting staff. And now they’re doing it against marquee opponents.

On Thursday, Kyle Hendricks shut down the Washington Nationals' offense that one day earlier scored 13 runs against the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. In throwing six scoreless innings in a 5-2 win, Hendricks helped lower the rotation’s ERA for the season to 2.12, best in the majors. He gave up two hits and two walks, facing little danger in becoming the ninth straight Cubs starter to allow two or fewer runs.

Hendricks is No. 5 in the rotation and was recently skipped in favor of keeping stars Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on normal rest. No worries. He simply took the ball and outpitched the Nationals starter, Joe Ross, who owned a lower ERA (0.79) than even Arrieta coming into the game.

But Ross couldn’t keep the Cubs off the board as Ben Zobrist singled home two runs in the fourth inning, then hit a two-run homer off reliever Felipe Rivero in the eighth.

Hendricks probably could have kept going but Cubs manager Joe Maddon decided to pull him after 87 pitches, allowing the bullpen to throw the final three innings. Some might wonder why Hendricks was taken out. How good could the Cubs bullpen be with a starting staff like that? Well, they came into the game on top of the National League in ERA as well. They hit a bump when Travis Wood gave up a two-run homer to Jayson Werth, but Hector Rondon got the last out to seal the win.

The best starting staff and the best bullpen in the league are big reasons the Cubs are 21-6 with four consecutive wins against top NL opponents including the Pirates and Nationals.