I look at Wednesday’s 4-3 Cubs loss to the Nationals this way — if you had to pick one game in this series that the Cubs would have a tough time with, it was the one facing Max Scherzer.
The Cubs actually did pretty well against Scherzer, knocking him out of the game after five innings, but came up just short in a ninth-inning rally and the team’s three-game winning streak came to an end.
It’s one of those games where you have to tip your cap to the other guy.
Let’s rewind to the beginning.
Jake Arrieta matched Scherzer pretty well for two innings and then the Cubs put a run on the board to take a 1-0 lead.
David Bote singled with one out and one out later advanced to second on a walk by Eric Sogard. Nico Hoerner was the next hitter [VIDEO].
Bote scored and when the ball was fumbled a bit in center field, Willie Harris sent Sogard. I thought it was a good send, in the second inning with a lead and Jake scheduled to be the next hitter. As you can see, it was a close play.
The Nats, though, plated two against Arrieta in the second while Scherzer got his strikeout pitch together. He had struck out just one in the first two innings, but K’d five Cubs in the third and fourth, while the Nats were increasing their lead to 4-1 with single runs in the fourth and fifth. During this time Jason Heyward left the game, replaced by P.J. Higgins, who then moved to first base with Kris Bryant heading to right field. Here’s what happened:
Cubs: Jason Heyward exited with left hamstring tightness.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 20, 2021
Heyward seemed to run off the field all right, but one inning later Higgins batted for him.
In the bottom of the fifth with one out, Arrieta was allowed to take the at-bat even though it seemed pretty clear he’d be lifted (Tommy Nance was warming up even in the top of the fifth). Jake singled — just the fifth hit by a Cubs pitcher this year. Cubs pitchers are hitting .091/.123/.091 in 2021 (5-for-55) with 28 strikeouts.
Adbert Alzolay was sent to run for Jake. Joc Pederson singled and Kris Bryant walked to load the bases, and Ian Happ made it 4-2 [VIDEO].
Scherzer threw 32 pitches in that inning and was at 100 after five, so Dave Martinez lifted him. This might have been a good thing for the Cubs, but Nats relievers shut them down pretty well in the sixth, seventh and eighth, in those three innings allowing just one hit, a one-out double by Joc Pederson in the seventh.
In the top of the seventh, everyone got some unplanned entertainment when Nance struck out Trea Turner but the ball got away from Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
Gotta give Davey credit there. He got his money’s worth, he was tossed and certainly will be fined for that performance after Turner was ruled out for running out of the baseline. I can imagine the Cubs dugout, filled with many players quite familiar with Martinez, got some good laughs out of that. The crowd certainly did.
The Cubs bullpen also did a good job of holding the Nats scoreless — four innings, two hits and a walk and five strikeouts. Nance, again, was impressive, with three of those five K’s. He’s earned a look in higher-leverage situations.
So the game went to the last of the ninth 4-2 and Nats closer Brad Hand in the game.
With one out, Javier Baez — who hadn’t started the game — made it a one-run affair [VIDEO].
Where that ball landed, in the basket, was reminiscent of Javy’s homer in the 2016 NLDS against the Giants:
Also, if you’ve been complaining about Javy’s season, it’s actually looking pretty good right now:
For all the weirdness of Javy's offensive season to date, he now has a 121 wRC+ (meaning he's 21% better than MLB average as a hitter). That was his 10th blast of the year. pic.twitter.com/L93yWEy5aS— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 20, 2021
Hand struck out Pederson, but Kris Bryant singled and stole second.
Matt Duffy, who’s been solid all year and who generally gives a quality at-bat, pinch-hit for Dillon Maples.
Not sure I agree with Nats announcer Bob Carpenter that the ball was “right down the middle,” but it was definitely in the zone. Duffy generally has good strike-zone awareness, but he simply got fooled. It happens.
The loss dropped the Cubs back to .500 — for the ninth time in 2021 — at 21-21. Coupled with a Brewers loss, the Cubs remain in second place in the NL Central behind the Cardinals, though now 3½ games back.
The Cubs will go for the series win Thursday afternoon in the homestand finale. Trevor Williams is the scheduled Cubs starter and Joe Ross will go for the Nats. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Nationals market territories).