One of the biggest success stories of this year’s disappointing Chicago Cubs ball club has been the consistency of its relief corps. However, Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals got to right-hander Pedro Strop for a run in the bottom of the eighth with two out and Chicago couldn’t rally in the ninth as the Cubs dropped the series finale in the nation’s capitol, 2-1.
Denard Span led off the inning with a soft liner over the head of a leaping Anthony Rizzo at first. The speedy Nationals outfielder headed toward second, sliding in just under the tag of Starlin Castro. Ricky Renteria challenged the bang-bang play at second, but the initial call was upheld and Washington (48-39) had itself a leadoff man to start the frame.
Strop (1-4, 3.03 ERA) retired Anthony Rendon for the first out of the inning before setting down Jayson Werth swinging for the second out of the inning. The Cubs (38-48) opted to walk first baseman Adam LaRoche in favor of pitching to the right-handed hitting Ryan Zimmerman. However, the move backfired, as the Washington third baseman lined a ball between Castro and Luis Valbuena at third, scoring Span and giving the Nationals a 2-1 advantage.
Rafael Soriano entered in the top of the ninth, setting the Cubs down 1-2-3 for his 21st save of the season.
The late rally and lack of offense led to another start by right-hander Jake Arrieta falling by the wayside. The 28-year-old tossed six innings of one-run ball, making it six straight starts dating back to June 8 in which he has lasted at least six frames. He allowed four hits, striking out three and walking five in the start, which lowered his earned run average on the season to 1.78 – tops amongst Cubs’ starters and among the best in the National League.
Washington opened the scoring early against Arrieta, plating a run on a groundout off the bat of Werth in the bottom of the first inning. Chicago didn’t answer back until Castro scored Chris Coghlan on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.
Chicago tallied ten hits in the contest, with two coming from Justin Ruggiano, Anthony Rizzo and John Baker – but went just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Surprisingly enough, that clip was better than the Nationals’ 1-for-11 mark in such situations.
The Cubs will head to Cincinnati to open a five-game series played over the span of four days at Great American Ballpark on Monday. First pitch for the series opener is slated for 6:05 p.m. CT. Edwin Jackson is set to take the ball for Chicago and will be opposed by right-hander Mike Leake.