Gio Gonzalez looks to become baseball's first 18-game winner on Wednesday night when he takes the hill for the Washington Nationals in the third contest of a four-game series versus the Chicago Cubs.
Gonzalez is 17-7 with a 3.10 earned run average in 27 starts this season and is coming off his first career shutout and second complete game of his career, a 10-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. The left-hander scattered five hits and three walks while striking out eight over his gem.
"I was just trying to do my best to try to minimize the damage as much as possible, but our defense made some great plays," Gonzalez said. "The offense came alive. Ten runs is a pretty good cushion."
Gonzalez is one of four hurlers tied for the MLB lead with 17 wins. One of those starters -- New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey -- is also in action on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old is just 0-1 with a 10.38 ERA in two previous encounters with the Cubs, yielding 10 runs over 8 2/3 frames, but might not need to be at his best tonight if Washington can carry over Tuesday's power surge.
Adam LaRoche went 4-for-4 and hit two of the Nationals' six home runs in the game, powering an 11-5 victory.
Ian Desmond added a two-run homer and matched a career high with four RBI, while Tyler Moore hit another two-run shot. Jesus Flores and Ryan Zimmerman connected on solo homers as Washington won its third straight and for the sixth time in seven games.
"What a great win," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "It was fun to watch. We're in a pretty good place right now offensively."
The victory pushed Washington's lead over the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East to 7 1/2 games.
Alfonso Soriano ripped a solo home run and drove in three for the Cubs, who lost two of three at the Nats at home back in April and have now dropped four in a row overall.
Chris Rusin, recalled from the minors earlier on Tuesday, took the loss after allowing five runs on eight hits and two homers while recording just three outs. He failed to retire any of the four batters he faced in the second frame.
"I just couldn't keep the ball down," Rusin said. "When I missed my spots they capitalized. You have to give them credit. This is the big leagues and you can't miss your spots here."
Chris Volstad has been on point as of late for the Cubs and he seeks to follow up his epic 24-start winless stretch with a third straight victory tonight.
The 25-year-old righty had gone 0-14 with a 5.54 ERA since a victory on July 10, 2011 before winning consecutive starts against the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants. Volstad has allowed two runs, eight hits and six walks over 12 1/3 total innings in that span.
"Since he's been back, he's done a pretty good job," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said about Volstad. "There haven't been no big blowups. He's been pitching fairly deep into the games and shutting guys down pretty good."
Volstad now sits at 2-9 with a 6.06 ERA in 15 starts this season, and the former Florida Marlin is 5-3 with a 4.77 ERA in 14 previous encounters with the Nationals.