As the Cubs and Nationals wrap up a weekend series in the nation's capital Sunday, the rebuilding Cubs merely need to look across the field to see what they hope to become.
It'll be lefty ace Gio Gonzalez on the mound for the Nationals and right-hander Scott Feldman taking the ball for the Cubs in the finale of a three-game set, each team having taken a game so far.
For Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, the Nationals provide a glimpse at the type of success his club is trying to find in the near future. Relying on strong Drafts, smart trades and careful free agent acquisitions, the Nationals have developed into one of the strongest organizations in the Majors.
"You look at the Reds, you look at the Cardinals, you look at [the Nationals] and we're not there from a talent standpoint," Hoyer said Saturday. "Some of these clubs offer a nice blueprint. You look at [the Nationals] as to where they were in '08, '09, '10, and where they are now, and it shows you the value of young talent, and they've done a nice job mixing veteran guys with that [young] talent."
Of course, the last-place Cubs aren't just in town to admire the Nationals. As evidenced with their 8-2 victory Saturday, they're in town to win ballgames.
"Right now, I want to see us compete with these guys on the field," Hoyer said. "You look at how they built their team but at some point; I want to beat them."
After a lackluster April, the Nationals came out strong in May and had a five-game winning streak snapped by the Cubs. Washington heads into Sunday's finale one game behind Atlanta, which also lost Saturday.
The Cubs, meanwhile, remain in last place in the National League Central, and their victory Saturday was their third in their last nine games. They're now 7-18 against teams that had winning records last year.
Cubs: Feldman on a roll
One start, he pitched his first career complete game. The next, he pitched seven strong innings against his former team, the Texas Rangers.
So Feldman heads into Sunday's start on a definite roll, having gone 3-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 23 strikeouts in his last four starts after a rough couple of outings to begin the season.
"That's really encouraging to see -- that's three or four really good outings in a row, especially two very impressive outings in a row," Sveum said after Feldman's win over the Rangers. "He's got a feel for [his cutter] right now and it's impressive, especially to go along with his two-seamer."
Nationals: Gio gets an extra day
After a 2012 season in which he elevated his game to NL Cy Young Award contender status, Gio Gonzalez has been trying to find a groove in 2013, and he will continue to do that Sunday on extra rest.
Gonzalez will be making his sixth start with the Nationals on six days' rest, having gone 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA in his first five starts under those circumstances.
His last start out, Gonzalez had a rough first inning, but allowed only one run and recovered for a sharp six innings of work. He is 1-1 with a 5.74 ERA in three outings against the Cubs, and he pitched seven shutout innings the last time he faced them last September.
The Nationals head into Sunday's game hoping to deliver the 300th victory over the Cubs in franchise history, dating back to when the club played in Montreal. The Nationals/Expos hold a 299-274-1 edge in the all-time series.
Following Sunday's game, the Nationals embark on a 10-game road trip to the West Coast, meeting the Dodgers, Padres and Giants. The Cubs head home for a three-game set against the Rockies as they continue a stretch of games in which 16 of their 19 games are at home.
The Nationals and Cubs will meet again for a four-game set Aug. 16-19 at Wrigley Field.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.