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Nationals 7, Cubs 5: Big boy baseball fail

The Cubs got swept by the Nats.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

When August began, Joe Maddon said that it was time for the Cubs to step up:

“I can’t be as aware, in a sense, as I was last year, in giving guys plate appearances and at-bats, developmentally speaking. We have two months to put our best foot forward. I will move guys in and out, but I don’t feel as compelled to do it as I felt last year.

”It’s big boy time.”

The Cubs didn’t play big-boy baseball all weekend, and Sunday’s long, grueling, depressing 7-5 loss to the Nationals capped a weekend of all-around bad play. The loss dropped the Cubs’ record in “big boy time” to 12-11.

The bottom line is this: When the Cubs got to the 11th inning tied, the choices out of the bullpen were down to Tyler Chatwood and Pedro Strop. Pedro’s been pretty bad this year, and so it was Chatwood, who has thrown mostly pretty well all season.

However. Until this series Chatwood had not thrown on consecutive days all year. He pitched in all three games of the Nats series, and the results in the 11th inning Sunday were thus predictable. The Nats showed the Cubs how far superior they are in just about every facet of the game, and that doesn’t bode well for the postseason even if the Cubs do get there.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of this game.

Cole Hamels threw three very good innings, matched by Stephen Strasburg. Hamels was helped out defensively by this nice diving grab [VIDEO] by Kyle Schwarber.

Anthony Rendon gave the Nats the lead with a leadoff homer in the fourth. That gave the Nats the first run of the game for the third straight time. Ballhawk Dave got the baseball:

Washington threatened in the fifth, but more good defense by the Cubs held them scoreless. One of those plays was this nice stop [VIDEO] by Kris Bryant.

Then, Addison Russell tied up the game in the bottom of the fifth [VIDEO].

Unfortunately, Hamels ran out of gas in the sixth. After a double and a single to begin the inning, David Phelps relieved Hamels. He got Kurt Suzuki to hit into a double play, but a run scored to make it 2-1 Nats.

In the bottom of the inning, the Cubs tied the game again. Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch to lead off, Nicholas Castellanos singled him to third and KB drove in run number 2 [VIDEO].

And then, two young relievers who have been quite reliable for the Cubs lately failed. Rowan Wick got in trouble with a pair of walks and a single, sandwiched around a couple of fly outs. Kyle Ryan entered and Juan Soto singled off him to make it 3-2.

Now, why was Brandon Kintzler not brought in to face Asdrubal Cabrera? A ground ball is what was needed, and Kintzler was ready to go. Ryan got the ground ball, but it got through for a two-run single and it was 5-2 Nats.

Kintzler got the final out of the sixth and a 1-2-3 seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, Victor Caratini brought the Cubs one run closer [VIDEO].

Check out the launch angle and height on that one, which hit the foul pole:

At 5-3, the game was within reach. After Javier Baez walked with two out in the eighth, Schwarber tied it up [VIDEO].

Well now. That put this game in the realm of “possible great comebacks.” Craig Kimbrel entered to throw the ninth, since he had not pitched at all in this series. He allowed a leadoff walk and a one-out single, but got out of the inning scoreless. The Cubs could manage only a two-out walk in the bottom of the frame, so on we went to extras.

Steve Cishek got some slick defense by Baez at short and Ian Happ at first base on a grounder by Suzuki and had a 1-2-3 inning.

And then it looked like Castellanos had won it with a deep fly to left-center... but it was caught by Victor Robles on the warning track. There wasn’t much wind by then; the ball simply didn’t carry:

You didn’t want to hear that and neither did I, but here we are.

Then it was Chatwood’s turn, and that’s where we came in, and I trust you don’t need to hear any more about his inning, in which he allowed three hits and two runs. Chatwood doesn’t seem like the kind of pitcher who could go three straight games, but at that point, what choice did the Cubs have? He had thrown 15 pitches Friday and 24 Saturday and this kind of outing was likely utterly predictable. The only other realistic choice would have been to ask Tuesday’s scheduled starter, Yu Darvish, to enter the game (he’d have been on three days rest) and go as long as possible, and then they’d figure out a starter for Tuesday later. That might not have worked, either.

With the Cardinals seemingly on their way to a four-game sweep of the Rockies (leading 11-4 late in the game, at this writing), the Cubs will drop to 2½ games out of first place. That is the farthest the Cubs have been out of first place since May 1, when they trailed by three games.

Props to Cubs defenders — if not for the plays noted above (and a couple of others for which I didn’t have video available), the Nats might have scored in double figures.

The only good thing about this weekend is that it’s over and we don’t have to look at the awful Players Weekend uniforms anymore. Something tells me we won’t ever see those again.

And now, the Cubs must go on the road for three games, and you don’t need me to tell you how poorly the Cubs have played away from Wrigley Field. All they can do is play well and hope that changes starting Tuesday. As noted above, Yu Darvish is scheduled to start for the Cubs. Marcus Stroman, who left his last start with hamstring tightness, is on the schedule to go for the Mets. Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT Tuesday with TV coverage on NBC Sports Chicago (and on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Mets market territories).

All is not lost, my friends. But the Cubs had better turn things around soon.