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Nationals 8, Cubs 4: Kris Bryant injured in dull defeat

As if the team didn’t have enough trouble.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A tumultuous, busy day in the life of the 2017 Cubs got busier in a bad way when, in the fifth inning of the team’s 8-4 loss to the Nationals, Kris Bryant sprained his ankle [VIDEO].

I have watched this video multiple times and I still don’t understand how that injury happened. It was the routiniest of routine plays, a popup near third base, and Bryant stepped awkwardly on the edge of the base after he caught the ball and somehow, gave himself that ankle sprain. He couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and had to be helped off the field. In the photo at the top of this recap you can see Jake Arrieta and Jason Heyward waiting for the training staff to help Bryant into the dugout; those two players walked with Kris to the clubhouse.

The Cubs are putting brave talk on this:

Sure, let’s hope Joe Maddon is right and Bryant’s ankle is not seriously injured and he’s well enough to play by perhaps Friday or Saturday. What I hope does not happen is what’s occurred with some other players — have them sit around for a few days hoping things get better, then when they don’t, only then is the player placed on the disabled list. Meanwhile, the Cubs wind up playing a man short for several days, or, as in the case of Ben Zobrist, have him try to play through the injury, play poorly for quite some time, and then go on the DL.

Get better soon, Kris. He was actually starting to heat up at the plate. He had two doubles in this game before the injury and over his last nine games was hitting .300/.459/.533 (9-for-30) with four doubles, a triple, a home run and six walks. To state the obvious, the Cubs need his bat in the lineup.

The rest of this game was depressingly familiar. Yet another first-inning run scored, which makes 66 first-inning runs allowed in 78 games. That’s 26 more runs than Cubs pitching has allowed in any other inning, and the run came after John Lackey retired the first two hitters without incident.

Then the home runs came, two of them (Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters) before the Cubs could even get on the board. By the time Willson Contreras homered in the fourth inning with a runner on base, the Cubs were trailing 6-0.

Sure, you can have a look at Willson’s homer [VIDEO].

At 6-2, there was a glimmer of hope that the Cubs could get back in this game, and even a bit more after Ryan Zimmerman’s error in the fifth allowed Albert Almora Jr., who had doubled, to score to make it 6-3.

Those hopes were quickly quashed by Lackey, who served up his third home-run ball of the night, to Daniel Murphy, in the fifth. Lackey now leads the major leagues in home runs allowed with 24, and his season ERA went up half a run during this mess, from 4.74 to 5.24. That’s now the worst ERA for any pitcher in the major leagues this year who’s thrown as many innings as Lackey (92⅔). I don’t know what’s wrong with Lackey. Whether it’s age or injury or a combination of the two, he seems like he might be just about done. He hasn’t been the same pitcher since he left a game last August with shoulder issues.

And Lackey’s bad outing helped produce these numbers:

Beyond the team’s lack of RISP hitting this year, that comparison is likely the single biggest reason the 2017 Cubs are a .500 team, mediocre starting pitching. Looking past the starters’ ERA that’s nearly two runs higher this year, the starters have allowed 22 more home runs and thrown 66⅔ fewer innings, almost a full inning less per game. That’s put tremendous pressure on the bullpen, with mostly predictable results.

The Cubs put one final run on the board in the eighth inning when Anthony Rizzo sent this baseball into orbit [VIDEO].

Fun to watch, but ultimately meaningless, as Rizzo’s 18th homer of the year simply made it a four-run deficit instead of a five-run deficit.

Good news, I guess: Brian Duensing and Justin Grimm combined for 2⅔ innings of scoreless relief. Duensing struck out four among the five outs he recorded. Since his recall, Grimm now has allowed one earned run in 14 innings, has an 0.429 WHIP and 18 strikeouts.

Summing up: It wasn’t going to be easy to win this one even if Lackey had been good. Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 Cubs in seven innings and overall the Cubs K’d 15 times. And the good news for the now-.500 Cubs is that the Brewers lost yet again to the Reds, so the Cubs still remain just one game out of first place in the Comedy Central.

I called for a split in this series and with Jon Lester facing Joe Ross in the series finale Thursday, there’s still a very good chance the Cubs can do just that. A reminder that Thursday’s game is an afternoon affair at 3:05 p.m. CT. The game preview will post at 1 p.m. CT.