Once owners of the worst road record in the majors, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to secure their longest win streak away from home in nearly four years Saturday.
They might have had a good shot with their ace scheduled to take the mound, but Jeff Samardzija was traded in a blockbuster deal late Friday night. Plus, the Cubs will be facing red-hot Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who produced another scoreless effort against them last weekend.
This game comes less than 24 hours after Chicago (38-46) dealt Samardzija and team wins leader Jason Hammel to Oakland for three top prospects. The biggest prize of that group is shortstop Addison Russell, who comes to the Cubs along with outfielder Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily.
None of them will be in uniform for this game, and it's possible they are all headed to the minors.
The strong pitching of Samardzija and especially Hammel was among the reasons the Cubs (38-46) had been playing better lately. They were a big league-worst 12-25 in road games on June 14, but they've since won seven of eight and five in a row. After producing 19 hits in a 16-9 win in Boston on Wednesday, the Cubs had another 14 in a 7-2 victory in Friday's opener in the nation's capital.
Justin Ruggiano had three hits and homered for the second straight game. He also drove in two runs after recording a career-high five RBIs on Wednesday.
Ruggiano is batting .444 with seven extra-base hits in his last seven games.
"Hitters go through this every now and then," he said. "You get hot, seeing the ball well. I've been doing some things mechanically to stay on top of what I want to do at the plate. It's good though, I don't want to lose it."
Starlin Castro extended his road hitting streak to 11 games by going 2 for 5 with two RBIs. He is batting .435 with 11 RBIs during that streak and .472 in his last eight road games.
The Cubs will seek their first six-game road win streak since an eight-game run Sept. 13-28, 2010, and a season high-tying fifth consecutive overall victory.
However, they also have a streak of 21 straight scoreless innings against Gonzalez (5-4, 3.93 ERA). That span has stretched three starts, in which he's allowed 10 baserunners and struck out 22.
His latest domination of Chicago came last Saturday, giving up two hits in seven innings of a 3-0 victory. It was his second straight game without allowing a run - he went six innings in a 3-0 win at Milwaukee on June 23 - and his third start since a month-long stint on the disabled list for inflammation in his throwing shoulder.
"From the last start to this start, it's just building confidence and velocity," Gonzalez told MLB's official website. "Today, it was good to see some high numbers in the velocity, and it shows that it's just building strength. Obviously coming from the DL and trying to work your way back, it's going to be a process."
Ruggiano and Castro were a combined 0 for 5 versus Gonzalez last weekend after previously going 8 for 21 (.381).
The Nationals (46-39) had a season-high, five-game win streak snapped Friday but likely have a better chance to bounce back with Carlos Villanueva starting instead of Samardzija.
Villanueva (4-5, 5.91) will make his first start since April, when he was 1-3 with a 9.68 ERA in four starts. He's since made 16 relief appearances and won his most recent one despite struggling in two innings, giving up two runs and just his second homer of the season in a 16-9 win at Boston on Wednesday.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 13 games against the Nationals.