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Nationals 6, Cubs 5: Rafael Ortega, your table is ready

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The Cubs didn’t win, but their center fielder had himself an afternoon.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs didn’t win Sunday — losing to the Nationals 6-5 — but they might have found themselves a regular center fielder, at least for the short term.

Rafael Ortega, almost the definition of “journeyman ballplayer” — he’d played briefly in the big leagues for the Rockies, Angels, Marlins and Braves and also had time in the Padres and Rangers organization — had himself a career day Sunday in DC, going 4-for-4 with three home runs.

This from a guy who had three total home runs in 447 MLB plate appearances with the four aforementioned teams before this year, and who is 30 years old and came to the Cubs on a minor-league deal and only getting playing time because of the Cubs’ fire sale.

I’m not sure I have any comp for what Ortega is doing right now and I have no idea whether he can sustain this long enough to, say, provide the Cubs a “bridge” center fielder until Brennen Davis is ready. But you can bet the Cubs are going to find out.

Over the last week Ortega has hit .458/.500/.958 (11-for-24) with four home runs and eight runs. Even with Joey Votto’s demolition of the Cubs at Wrigley this past week, that ought to put Ortega in consideration for NL Player of the Week honors. Votto’s week: .375/.448/1.250 with seven home runs. It’s a close call.

Ortega led off this game with a home run [VIDEO].

Unfortunately, it was another one of “those” games for Adbert Alzolay. It wasn’t horrible — but he got touched up for three runs in the fourth and another in the fifth, issuing four walks along the way, and the Nats had a 4-1 lead after Adbert’s outing was done after five innings. Beth and JD discussed on the broadcast how Alzolay might wind up being shut down for the season at some point, and though I’d like to see Alzolay turn things around, in a few more weeks that might be a good idea.

In the sixth, new Cub Andrew Romine singled to lead off the inning and then Ortega brought the Cubs within one [VIDEO].

But Kyle Ryan gave the Nats one of those runs back in the seventh, a solo homer by Yadiel Hernandez.

Ortega, though, wasn’t done dominating this ballgame. With one out in the eighth, Willson Contreras batted for Ryan and walked.

Then Ortega went deep for the third time [VIDEO].

That gives Ortega six home runs in 124 plate appearances this year. Absolutely remarkable, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this, not in Cubs history, anyway. Journeymen like Dioner Navarro, Brant Brown, Tuffy Rhodes, Moose Moryn and Lee Walls all had three-homer games for the Chicago Cubs, but every single one of those guys had more MLB experience and more homers than Ortega coming into their three-dinger games. Ortega becomes the first lefthanded Cub to have a three-homer game since Brown June 18, 1998, and the first to do so on the road since Rick Monday did it in Philadelphia May 16, 1972. (Note: Navarro, a switch-hitter, hit two of his three homers May 29, 2013 batting righthanded.)

The third dinger of the day from Ortega tied the game 5-5.

The game went to the last of the ninth still knotted at 5, but Manuel Rodriguez, who had thrown so well in his MLB debut Friday, served up a walkoff homer to Hernandez, his second of the day, and that was that.

One last note: Ortega’s day was just about the sum of the Cubs offense Sunday afternoon. The only other Cub to have a hit was Romine, and just three other Cubs reached base, two on walks and one on catcher’s interference. So Ortega, basically by himself, kept this game close. Too bad Rodriguez couldn’t have sent it to extras, Ortega was the fourth scheduled hitter if it had gone to the 10th.

The Cubs head to Denver to spend their off day in Colorado before beginning a three-game series against the Rockies Tuesday evening. Zach Davies will start for the Cubs and Kyle Freeland is the scheduled starter for the Rockies. Game time Tuesday is 7:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.