WASHINGTON -- July 4 usually represents an artificial deadline that separates the playoff contenders from the pretenders leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline.
The Cubs had a 24-19 record since May 17 and had won five of their past seven days as they faced the Washington Nationals in the opener of a three-game series Friday morning.
But manager Rick Renteria wasn't about to look back and wonder how much better the Cubs would have fared had they had Jake Arrieta, their hottest pitcher, available for the first month of the season.
"The most daunting task I have is here today," Renteria said.
The Cubs provided some early relief by scoring runs in the first three innings and adding three more in the ninth to pull away to a 7-2 victory for their fourth consecutive win.
Jason Hammel, pitching in front of scouts from the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners, helped his cause by hitting a line drive off pitcher Tanner Roark that caromed into shallow left field to score Nate Schierholtz and snap a 1-1 tie in the second.
Justin Ruggiano hit an opposite-field home right field to extend the Cubs' lead to 3-1 in the third, and Chris Coghlan hit a double and scored on a grounder by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth.
Hammel (8-5) pitched six-plus innings of five-hit ball while striking out seven and keeping his ERA at 2.98.
Jayson Werth hit a homer with two out in the first off Hammel.
But the Cubs pulled away in the ninth on a single by Ruggiano and a two-run single by Starlin Castro.
Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Brian Schlitter held the Nationals scoreless over the final three innings.
The Cubs (38-46) have won seven of their past eight road games and are 25-19 in their past 44 games.
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