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For Cubs, they’re tough Nats to crack

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers

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The facts: 6:05 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.09 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (1-3, 2.50).


Saturday: 3:05 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Edwin Jackson (0-5, 6.39 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.45).

Sunday: 12:35 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70) vs. Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.97).

Updated: June 11, 2013 6:47AM

It was the measuring stick for last year’s Cubs.

And the Washington Nationals beat the Cubs senseless with it for four days.

By the time that four-game sweep in Washington was finished last September, the Cubs failed to land a punch during the bench-clearing incident in the finale that started when Rule 5 pitcher Lendy Castillo nearly hit Nationals phenom Bryce Harper with a pitch.

“I think I’d be pretty [ticked] off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all week, too,’’ Harper, only 19 then, said at the time.

Ten weeks of regular-season baseball and 12 new faces later, the Cubs’ only trip to Nationals Park this season might be just as big a measuring stick for this year’s team.

“Absolutely,” reliever James Russell said. “You see how they did last year and what they’ve been doing the last couple of years, and it’s kind of what our organization is striving for. If we go in there and beat them around a little bit, that speaks highly of us and the direction our team is going.”

From 2010 to 2012, the Nationals went from last in the National League East to third to best record in baseball on the strength of high-impact homegrown talent such as Harper and Stephen Strasburg.

The Cubs spent four days last September talking about doing the same thing — even as they gave up 15 homers and got thrashed by a collective 31-9 score.

The fact is, nobody in baseball outside of a few people at Clark and Addison see any sign in the Cubs organization of that happening in the foreseeable future. The Cubs have no Harper or Strasburg — both considered once-in-a-decade No. 1 overall draft picks — in their system.

It’s what makes the development of Class A pitcher Pierce Johnson, a supplemental first-round pick last June, so important for the franchise. And next month’s No. 2 overall draft pick — likely Stanford pitcher Mark Appel or Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray — even more important.

How well Scott Feldman and Kevin Gregg keep pitching at the big-league level becomes a key part of the process for what they’ll be able to bring at the trading deadline in July.

Meanwhile, this weekend’s series in Washington is an important reference point — if not a source for counterpunch pride — for the half of the roster that remembers a series in Washington that manager Dale Sveum called “one of the biggest butt-whuppings I’ve gotten in my career, as a coach or a player.”

“I don’t think there’s any bad blood between us or anything,” pitcher Travis Wood said. “They’ve got an outstanding [pitching] staff and really an outstanding ballclub all around. Hopefully, we have a good series and win some games. . . . I don’t think there’ll be any tension between the teams or anything. It’s a new year.”

Outfielder David DeJesus pointed out the major turnover on the Cubs’ roster since last year and the fact the Cubs aren’t sending Class AAA pitchers to the mound three out of five days like they were last September. (Justin Germano started the fisticuffed finale).

“We feel like we’re a different team,” DeJesus said. “We have one of the best starting fives in the game, so we feel more confident going in there, that we’re going to keep the game manageable and hopefully come out with a couple of wins.

“That would mean a lot. It’d mean that we’re on the right path. . . . We don’t need to worry about symbolism. We just want to go out there and play good baseball and get a couple of wins.”

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