Happ smacked two homers in the close loss (Geoff Burke - USA Today Sports)
Happ smacked two homers in the close loss (Geoff Burke - USA Today Sports)

Happ's two homers not enough as Cubs fall to Nationals


by - Senior Writer -

WASHINGTON D.C. - When you looked at this recent road trip for the Chicago Cubs (47-67), you had to like their chances at the very worst to come away with a winning trip. Things got off to a solid start against the Reds, where the Cubs took the first two games of the series only to drop the series finale.

With a new three-game set against the Washington Nationals (39-78) at Nationals Park, the Cubs had another great chance to win against one of the worst teams in baseball. Not only that, but the Nationals have one of the worst home records, so everything was tilting in the Cubs favor.

Well, that is why they play the game, as the Cubs wasted an early 3-0 lead by allowing four runs in the fourth inning, which also spelled the end of the night for Marcus Stroman, who continues to struggle. The Cubs did manage to battle back and tied things up, only to see the ageless wonder Nelson Cruz deliver a game-winning homer in the eighth inning of Brandon Hughes to give the Nationals a 5-4 win.

Stroman continues to struggle in his first season as a Cub, and some fans are wondering what it will take for him to turn it around. The most frustrating part if you are a fan is seeing how quickly everything changes as he gave the Cubs four scoreless frames to start the game before coming unglued in the fifth. That has been a common occurrence for him all season as he allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings of work, although none of them were earned.

Josiah Gray was opposing Stroman and facing the Cubs for the second time in a week, as he was looking to duplicate his performance last time. Despite a hard-luck no decision, Gray was as good as ever on the mound as he not only got through six innings, but allowed just three runs while striking out 10 batters in the process. He will be a big part of their future going forward and could become the ace of their staff.

Most of the damage Gray allowed came in the first inning when the Cubs offense came out with a mission. That all started with a two-out homer from Ian Happ, who recently set a club record with six consecutive seasons of at least 10 homers. Seiya Suzuki followed that homer up with a single before racing around the bases on the Franmil Reyes triple to put the Cubs up 2-0 early.

That seemed like more than enough offense in the early stages for Stroman, as he did give up baserunners, but managed to limit the damage by pitching out of all of those jams. Leading 2-0 in the fifth, it was more two-out magic for the Cubs, with Happ doubling down and unloading for a long homer and his second of the game to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

This was when everything changed, or in reality, the first batter in the bottom of the fifth as Lane Thomas reached base via an error that opened up the flood gates. That was followed by singles from Ilderamo Vargas and Cesar Hernandez, as the Nationals had the bases loaded with no outs. Following a quick strikeout, the Nationals got on the board with an RBI fielder's choice before the Yadiel Hernandez single made things 3-2 and saw Stroman's night come to an end in favor of Mark Leiter Jr.

David Ross admits he made the wrong decision bringing in Leiter Jr when he did, as Cruz greeted him with an RBI double that put the Nationals in front 4-3. For the most part, Leiter Jr was solid in his 2 1/3 innings of work as he didn't allow an earned run and threw 22 of his 27 pitches for strikes to help keep the Cubs in the game.

Even after wasting a scoring opportunity in the sixth, the offense battled back in the seventh, with Nick Madrigal getting things started with a one-out double. Happ managed to keep the inning alive with a two-out walk which set things up for Suzuki, who came through with a game-tying RBI single to make things 4-4. As the Cubs bullpen has continued to be one of their bright spots in the second half, you had to like their chances of winning this game.

However, the Nationals and, in particular, Cruz had other ideas as the 42- year old DH connected off of Hughes for the game-winning homer in the eighth inning that saw the Nationals take a 5-4 lead. That score would hold up for Washington as Kyle Finnegan retired the Cubs in order in the ninth to secure the save. Happ and Suzuki led the way with two hits as they also combined for three of the four RBIs. Madrigal, Nico Hoerner, and Reyes also had hits in the loss.

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