The Nationals disappointed in 2013, unable to win the National League East crown that many analysts practically handed them during Spring Training. A slow start hampered Washington as the club fell behind Atlanta in the standings in April and never recovered.
The Nats play their 81st game of this season Saturday night with a record close to their 41-40 mark at the halfway point a year ago. Washington, which won Game 1 by a 3-0 score, hopes to improve to 43-38 in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Even if the Nationals drop Game 2, they will remain above .500 through 81 games despite being without three major pieces in Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman for significant periods.
Most importantly, the club remains tied for first in the NL East as both the Nats and the Braves won the first halves of doubleheaders on Saturday afternoon.
Washington turns to Blake Treinen, called up from Triple-A Syracuse as the club's 26th man, to face Chicago ace Jeff Samardzija, who has surrendered only seven runs in four starts since a disastrous eight runs allowed against the Brewers on June 1.
Samardzija gave up only run in six innings against the Reds in his most recent turn Monday, marking the 12th time he has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 16 starts this season. It was also the right-hander's 12th quality start.
But the gem went unrewarded as Samardzija received his eighth no-decision of the season in a 6-1 loss. Afterward, he was more frustrated by his popped up bunt in the third than the fact he has only two wins in his 12 quality starts.
"It's just frustrating -- you've got a guy like [Chris] Coghlan, who has been swinging well, [batting] behind you and a leadoff double, and you really want to get that guy over, and [Coghlan] comes up and hits a perfect sac fly," Samardzija said. "I get frustrated when I don't do my job."
Cubs: Lake OK after collision with wall
• Outfielder Junior Lake finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader after he was forced to leave in the second inning of Thursday night's 5-3 win over the Nationals.
He suffered bruising on his head and left leg, but had no concussion symptoms after a head-on collision with the metal doors along the right-field wall at Wrigley Field.
Lake, who exited the game for precautionary reasons, was available off the bench in Friday's 7-2 win, but he didn't see any action. He played Saturday with no issue.
"I went too fast into the wall," Lake said Friday. "When I looked again, I was too close to the wall, and when I dove, I hit the door. That's crazy. But I'm feeling good."
Nationals: Williams not concerned about Desmond, Werth
• If there was an Ironman competition in the clubhouse, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Jayson Werth would be the front-runners.
Desmond has played in 79 of Washington's 80 games, while Werth has played in 77 after getting Game 1 off Saturday. Manager Matt Williams said that both look fine physically.
The duo will get to rest when the club has a rare off-day Sunday and another Thursday following a three-game set against the Rockies in Washington.
"They're all in the same boat," Williams said. "They'll get one on Sunday, they'll get another one on Thursday, and hopefully that allows them to get some rest."
• The Nationals recalled left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno from Triple-A Syracuse for Saturday's doubleheader, optioning Taylor Hill back to Syracuse. Cedeno has a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings in Triple-A this season.
• Ramos, who returned from the disabled list Thursday, returned to his spot as the sixth hitter in the Nationals' order during Friday's 7-2 loss after batting seventh against the Cubs in the series opener. Ramos went 1-for-3 with a walk before getting the first half of Saturday's doubleheader off to rest.
"Just wanted to take a look at Wilson last night," Williams said Friday. "Any time somebody comes back from a rehab start, we want to make sure we ease him in, but he looked good last night, swinging the bat well. We put him back in a little bit of a normal spot, a little bit more speed at the bottom of the order."
Daniel Popper and Joe Morgan are associate reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.