The Washington Nationals (20-16) were reminded once more what a difference an error can make as they fell 8-2 to the Chicago Cubs (14-22) Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park.
Stephen Strasburg (L, 1-5) looked the best he’s been all season to start the game, retiring the first 11 batters he faced in a row before giving up a single to Anthony Rizzo in the fourth.
Washington bats remained quiet, however, against former National Edwin Jackson (W, 1-5), who has struggled since signing a $52 million, four-year contract with the Cubs. He retired the side in the bottom of the first and pitched out of the second without giving up a run despite a one-out double by Ian Desmond. The Nats failed to get a runner on base in both the third and fourth innings and, in the fifth, the Cubs ran away with the opportunity.
Nate Schierholtz lined out to center to lead off before Luis Valbuena attempted to stretch a double to the right-field corner into a triple, unsuccessfully.
With the Nats sitting pretty, Welington Castillo chopped one to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for would-be out three, but Zimmerman threw off balance to first for his sixth error of the season.
And, boy, did the inning continue.
Darwin Barney drew a six-pitch walk and Jackson himself caused Strasburg’s first headache of the day with a two-run double to center.
David DeJesus walked and Starlin Castro singled to set up Rizzo for a two-run single to make it 4-0 Cubs before out three. Wilson Ramos’s throw to second beat Rizzo on the steal attempt to end the top of the fifth at last.
When all was said and done, Strasburg had earned a final line of: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K.
Desmond continued his hot streak with a lead-off homer to start the bottom of the inning and put Washington on the board at last. Then, Zach Duke took the mound in the sixth to relieve Strasburg—and did quite the opposite.
Former National Alfonso Soriano led off with a hard-hit double off Duke’s 73 MPH curveball to start things off. Schierholtz followed up with a single and, with Cody Ransom batting, Duke hurled a wild pitch, allowing Soriano to come home safely.
Ransom himself doubled in Schierholtz and Duke drilled Castillo with a misplaced four-seam fastball before the first out of the inning was even made.
With two outs, DeJesus singled, bringing home Ransom and Castillo to make it 8-1 Cubs in the sixth before Ryan Mattheus took the mound to stop the bleeding.
The Nats earned one more run in the bottom of the inning after Roger Bernadina and Zimmerman earned back-to-back walks and Adam LaRoche singled to load the bases. Desmond, of course, took matters into his own hands once more—this time with a single—to bring home Bernadina and make it 8-2 Cubs.
The Cubs failed to score again in the remainder of the game, but that didn’t spell the end of Zimmerman’s fielding woes. In the top of the seventh, after Rizzo singled, Soriano reached on a force attempt and a botched fielding play by Zimmerman. Mattheus retired Schierholtz on a fly ball to left before forcing Ransom to ground into a double play to prevent any additional runs.
Steve Lombardozzi earned the triple that Desmond was looking for to complete the cycle in the bottom of the seventh, but he remained the Nats’ last base runner for the rest of the game.
THE GOOD: Ian Desmond, for the second night in a row, got within a triple of hitting for the cycle against the Chicago Cubs.
THE BAD: To date, Stephen Strasburg’s only win this season remains his victory against the now 11-25 Miami Marlins… on Opening Day.
Zach Duke had an even worse day – he lasted just 0.2 innings and gave up four hits and four earned runs.
THE UGLY: Ryan Zimmerman’s fielding woes. Because of his botched throw in the fifth inning, the Cubs tallied four runs against Strasburg—all of which were unearned. One has to assume he’ll find his groove and make fewer botched throws to first, but twice the Cubs had opportunities handed to them… literally.
THE STATS: 2 R, 6 H, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 2-for-10 RISP, 6 LOB, 2 errors (Zimmerman, throw, fielding)
NEXT GAME: RHP Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.97 ERA), Sunday, 1:35 p.m. at Nationals Park.