The Chicago Cubs’ playoff hopes hinged on their performance in a stretch of games against below-.500 teams, and things are off to a shaky start after a 7-5 loss to the Washington Nationals on Monday night.
Drew Smyly gave up five earned runs in dropping to 7-7 on the season, and even with late home runs from Patrick Wisdom and Ian Happ, the Cubs’ offense couldn’t quite finish off the comeback as they slipped further in the National League Central standings.
Former Cub Jeimer Candelario hit his 14th home run of the season, and Keibert Ruiz’s seventh-inning home run off of Daniel Palencia proved to be the winning margin as the Cubs dropped their third contest in four games since the All-Star break.
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The Nationals opened the scoring in the first with Candelario’s home run to left field off of Smyly, which gave the visitors an early 2-0 lead.
The Cubs got a run back in the second inning when Christopher Morel drove in Cody Bellinger with an RBI single to make it 2-1, but the Nationals added two more runs in the fourth inning on a groundout by Dominic Smith and a single by Luis Garcia.
Garcia added a sacrifice fly in the sixth to give Washington a 5-1 lead, but the Cubs began to mount a comeback attempt in the bottom of the frame when Happ lashed a two-run shot off the top of the brick wall in left field to cut the lead to 5-3.
The Nationals responded with a Ruiz two-run home run to right-center field to make it 7-3, and then Wisdom came through with a two-run home run of his own to make it a 7-5 game after seven innings.
The Cubs had a shot to tie the game in the eighth when Yan Gomes reached on an infield single to put two runners on with only one out. Morel then struck out swinging, and then pinch-hitter Mike Tauchman laced a line drive to center field, only to watch it die in Alex Call’s glove to end the threat.
A Miguel Amaya single in the ninth was wasted as Wisdom, Nico Hoerner and Seiya Suzuki all struck out to end the game.
The 43-50 Cubs will hope to rebound on Tuesday when they send Jameson Taillon to the mound against Patrick Corbin.