Cubs shellacked by Nationals as Lester's struggles continue

by - Senior Writer -
Despite getting dominated by the Nationals, the Cubs tallied 11 hits on the day. However, 10 of those hits were singles. (Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite getting dominated by the Nationals, the Cubs tallied 11 hits on the day. However, 10 of those hits were singles. (Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — An unfortunate trend for the Chicago Cubs over the course of the past month or so has been starting pitcher Jon Lester's downfall. Devolving from a Cy Young favorite to a liability, Lester suffered another bad start on Saturday against the Washington Nationals. Getting taken for nine runs on 10 hits and one walk in 3.2 innings pitched, Lester saw his ERA rise to 3.89 in a 9-4 Cubs defeat, and he remained winless since the All-Star break.

Going up 9-1 in the fourth inning, the Nationals never faced much of a threat from the Cubs on Saturday. Several Nats sluggers experienced stellar plate performances, including veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who hit two home runs off Lester as part of a six-RBI day. The Nationals finished with just two more hits overall than the Cubs, but the three homers hit by Washington made the difference. As for the Cubs, 10 of their 11 hits were singles.

Zimmerman set the tone with a two-run bomb in the opening inning and then put the Nationals up 3-0 with a sacrifice fly in the top of the third. The longtime National went 2-3 at the dish. He was one of five Nationals to tally multiple hits in the contest. Starting on the mound for the Nationals was Tanner Roark, who entered with a deceptive 6-12 record.

Unlike Lester, Roark has been pitching his best baseball of the season lately. Prior to Saturday's game, he won his three previous starts and gave up a combined two runs in that stretch. Roark pitched another gem on the afternoon, lasting 7.2 innings. Giving up nine hits, Roark was taken for just two runs, and he struck out seven batters en route to moving to 7-12 with the winning decision.

Before the game got out of hand, the Cubs tabbed a run against Roark in the bottom of the third, in which Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo achieved a major milestone. Following a leadoff single by center fielder Albert Almora, Jr., Rizzo collected a base knock for his 1,000th career hit. Interestingly, Rizzo's first career hit, which occurred when he was a member of the San Diego Padres, also came against the Nationals. After Rizzo's hit, with Almora, Jr., on third, Chicago second baseman Javier Baez garnered his 89th RBI on a sacrifice fly that brought Almora, Jr., home.

Trailing 3-1 at that point, the Cubs quickly fell out of contention when Lester imploded in a six-run fourth inning. Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy, who went 3-4 with the bat, drilled a two-run dinger early on in the inning to put his club up 5-1. Washington later brought four more runs across with two outs. Shortstop Trea Turner scored catcher Matt Wieters with an RBI single, and, following a single by superstar slugger Bryce Harper, Zimmerman drilled his ninth home run of the year to score three and give the Nationals an eight-run edge.

Lester boasts a woeful 7.51 ERA in his last nine starts, dating back to June 26, and he was handed a losing decision for the third time in his last five starts to drop to 12-5 on the year. The Cubs' bullpen managed to pitch well after Lester's struggles, though, as Washington was held scoreless in the final 5.1 innings. Recent Cubs acquisition Jorge De La Rosa made his Chicago debut in a relief spot, and he recorded all four of his outs via the strikeout. Mike Montgomery, whose next start is being skipped, also appeared out of the bullpen for the Cubs, and he pitched a scoreless sixth inning.

The Cubs scored three late runs to make the final score more respectable. Chicago catcher Willson Contreras ended Roark's start with a two-out RBI single that scored pitcher Tyler Chatwood in the eighth. Then, in the ninth, Ben Zobrist made the most of a pinch-hitting appearance by attaining the Cubs' lone extra-base hit of the game with a two-run double to deep right-center. Zobrist's two-bagger scored Addison Russell, who went 3-4 at the plate, and Victor Caratini.

Falling 9-4, the Cubs dropped to 67-49 overall in the second game of a three-game series at Wrigley Field versus the Nationals, who now stand at 60-57 overall. The Cubs have not lost a home series since they were swept by the Cleveland Indians in a two-game set at the Friendly Confines in late May, and they will aim to keep that trend alive in their rubber match with the Nationals tomorrow night.

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