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Nationals 6, Cubs 5: A slam, then a bullpen meltdown

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The Cubs had a nice lead in this game. And then, they didn’t.

There were happy times in this game. And then, there weren’t.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As someone who tries to look at the positive side of things, let me present you with this: In the last year that the Cubs were swept in a doubleheader, they won the World Series.

That’s right, the Cubs were swept by the Padres in a DH — at Wrigley Field! — May 11, 2016, the year they won the World Series.

Not to say that Saturday’s sweep at the hands of the Nationals will have the same end result, but the sweep certainly isn’t the end of the Cubs’ 2018 baseball world, even though right now it might feel that way.

No sugarcoating it: The Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Nats in Game 2 of their doubleheader was a bad, bad loss, ruining another good start from Cole Hamels and a grand slam by Victor Caratini. Those two things made it look like the Cubs would cruise to a split, but a whole bunch of walks and a rare bad outing from Justin Wilson gave the Nats the win.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Hamels looked dominant early. So did Nats starter Jefry Rodriguez.

Javier Baez helped out Hamels with this Javy doing Javy catch [VIDEO] on the very first pitch Cole threw.

Báez makes terrific running catch

Every day a new Javy highlight. #ElMago

Posted by Chicago Cubs on Saturday, September 8, 2018

Every time you think Javy can’t top himself with another slick play, he does so.

Then, in the fourth inning, Kris Bryant led off with a walk off Rodriguez. One out later, Javier Baez doubled KB to third. The Nats opted to intentionally pass Kyle Schwarber to pitch to Caratini.

Boom! [VIDEO]

Caratini's grand slam

Grand Victor. #EverybodyIn

Posted by Chicago Cubs on Saturday, September 8, 2018

That ball: Crushed!

It was just the third home run of Caratini’s career, but at the time it looked like it would give the Cubs victory. Four runs on only one hit, Hamels cruising...

The Nats made it 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth. Bryce Harper walked and two outs later, rookie Adrian Sanchez hit a ball just out of the reach of Albert Almora Jr. for an RBI triple. That’s a ball that Almora usually catches; this time, he just didn’t.

The Nats made it 4-3 in the bottom of the sixth. Anthony Rendon homered off Hamels, the first long ball he’d allowed as a Cub. Then he issued a pair of walks, uncharacteristic for him, and Sanchez hit a double into the stands. Sanchez just wore out Cubs pitching in the doubleheader, going 3-for-7 with a double, triple and walk. That was it for Hamels, just the second time he failed to complete six innings as a Cub. Carl Edwards Jr. entered, issued a walk, then struck out Spencer Kieboom to end the inning.

The Cubs gave themselves what appeared to be an important insurance run in the seventh. Tommy La Stella singled, batting for CJ, his 22nd pinch hit of 2018. Two outs later, Bryant doubled in pinch-runner Terrance Gore (who had stolen two bases in the meantime) to make it 5-3.

Steve Cishek replaced Edwards. About this time it had started to rain lightly. Cishek struck out Adam Eaton. Trea Turner hit a soft ground ball down the third-base line that died in the wet grass for a single, then Rendon doubled him in to make it 5-4.

Bryce Harper was the next hitter, so Joe Maddon summoned Justin Wilson to throw to him. Wilson, as you know, has been very good lately — no runs or walks over his last 14 appearances prior to Saturday. He hadn’t allowed a run since August 2.

Welp. Harper is a good hitter, and he took Wilson deep for a two-run homer, giving Washington the lead.

It was the right move. It just didn’t work this time.

By the time the Cubs came to bat in the eighth, it was pouring, eventually hard enough to stop the game for almost 90 minutes. Jesse Chavez then got through the last of the eighth scoreless, and Greg Holland came on to save the game for the Nats. He hit Willson Contreras to lead off the inning, but Ian Happ hit a harmless fly ball and Ben Zobrist hit into a game-ending double play.

Would it have made a difference if this hadn’t happened?

The game was supposed to start at 7:45 p.m. CT, 45 minutes after the end of Game 1. The first pitch was thrown at 8 p.m. CT, 15 minutes later. Would 15 minutes have been enough to finish before the really hard rain came? Would it have made a difference in the Cubs eighth inning, when they were trying to hit in a downpour?

Moot questions, really. The Cubs didn’t hit when they needed to (except for Caratini and Bryant) and didn’t throw the pitches they needed to.

Thus with the Brewers winning Saturday evening, the Cubs’ lead was cut to 2½ games. Hopefully, the Giants (with Madison Bumgarner going Sunday) can take one from the Brewers and the Cubs can win Sunday to increase that to 3½ games going into the series against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field beginning Monday evening.

Mike Montgomery is scheduled to throw for the Cubs and Erick Fedde for the Nationals in the series finale, but at this point I would be surprised if they can play Sunday, given this weather forecast for the Washington area:

Today

Rain. The rain could be heavy at times. High near 69. East wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 24 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Tonight

Rain. Low around 64. East wind 10 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 24 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible.

I suppose they’ll wait it out a while, but it’s getaway day for both teams (the Nats are headed to Philadelphia), and it looks like there is no proverbial “window” to play. The teams are both off this Thursday, but I’m pretty sure the chances of the Cubs approving a trip to Washington in the middle of a homestand to make up a rainout, which would make them play on 30 consecutive days, are pretty much zero. If this game is rained out, it would be held until the end of the season and played only if it has bearing on playoff positioning.

Which, of course, we hope it won’t. Here’s hoping the Cubs right the ship, whenever they play next, and clinch the division title and the league’s best record (which they still hold) long before September 30.

If Sunday’s game is played, game time is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago. There’s also a national broadcast on TBS (announcers: Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling) which will be available everywhere except the Chicago market. The game preview will post at 11 a.m. CT, unless things have been called off before then.