I'm going to try to take some positives out of the Cubs' 7-5 loss to the Nationals Friday night, even as I have a minor complaint about Joe Maddon's managing (more on that later).
The Cubs went down 5-1 after the fourth inning. Tsuyoshi Wada just didn't have it Friday night. Of the nine hits he allowed in just 3⅔ innings, four were for extra bases and one was a long three-run homer by Danny Espinosa. After just 62 pitches, Maddon had mercy on Wada and lifted him. Wada's ERA jumped from 2.30 to 4.19; by Game Score (22) it was the worst start of his major-league career.
Entering the sixth inning still down by four, it looked like it was one of those "We'll get 'em tomorrow" type of games. But Anthony Rizzo smashed a two-run homer, his second of the game and 11th of the year, and Miguel Montero followed that with his sixth of the season, and suddenly the Cubs were down by just one run.
Here's where I have my quibble with Maddon. Edwin Jackson had relieved Wada and retired Anthony Rendon to finish the fourth inning. He threw just three pitches. With two out and a runner on base in the top of the fifth, down four runs, Mike Baxter batted for Jackson. You could predict the result: strikeout. Why not let Jackson throw more than three pitches?
All right, so he didn't, I can understand up to a point why you'd bat for Jackson in that situation, but the Cubs simply have to have a player better than Mike Baxter on this roster for situations like that. Baxter really isn't a major-league player and I think it's time Arismendy Alcantara replaced him.
Travis Wood then came into the game and threw two really nice innings, and batted for himself in the top of the seventh, bouncing a single into left field. He had thrown only 25 pitches in the two innings. Why not let him stay in the game? Why did Maddon feel the need to get Justin Grimm and Zac Rosscup into this game instead of saving them, considering Wood had kept the game close and is still likely stretched out from starting?
Grimm and Rosscup gave up a run each, and those turned out to be important as the Cubs scored a ninth-inning run off Drew Storen, just the third run Storen has allowed in 24 appearances this year. Would Wood have held the Nats down and had that run tie the game? It's possible, but in this case I think Maddon misused his bullpen.
The Nats also helped themselves with a couple of good defensive plays. Right after Rizzo's first home run, Kris Bryant nearly matched it with a ball that hit the left-field wall maybe two feet short of a homer. It bounced so quickly back to left fielder Michael Taylor that Taylor was able to throw Bryant out at second base. Normally a ball hit that far ought to be a double, but Taylor played it perfectly. The play was close and Maddon challenged it, but it was pretty clear Bryant was out. Would the Cubs have scored more runs in that inning? Maybe.
Rizzo just barely missed hitting a third home run off Blake Treinen in the eighth inning. The ball didn't quite have the height in left-center field and Denard Span made a spectacular leaping catch against the wall. Credit where credit is due, that was a fantastic play.
More credit where it's due, give the Cubs some for coming back in a game that appeared lost early. Last year's team (at least the one of the first half of 2014) wouldn't have been able to do even that. The Cubs have shown they can match up pretty well with the Nats, a team many (including me) picked to win it all this year.
You might have noticed this recap is posted a bit earlier than usual. That's because Saturday's game is earlier than usual, starting at 11:05 a.m. Chicago time. Russ' Heroes & Goats will be along at 8:30 a.m. CT and the game preview for Saturday's contest will post at 9:30 a.m. CT. Jason Hammel gets the call for the Cubs against Joe Ross, who will be making his major-league debut.