GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Two streaks converged as the Nationals and Cubs met on July 4. Washington entered with a season-high five-game winning streak, but an even longer stretch with no success against Chicago's starter Jason Hammel. In the hopes of generating rare offensive fireworks against the veteran righty, Nationals manager Matt Williams made a slight, but notable tweak to the batting order involving Bryce Harper. Against Hammel, it might not matter if Babe Ruth batted if he wore at Nationals jersey,
Jayson Werth homered and Wilson Ramos added an RBI single, but otherwise the Nationals lacked punch against their pitching nemesis, once again. Washington managed only five hits versus Hammel (8-5). He improved to 8-0 lifetime with a 3.11 ERA in 10 starts against Washington with wins in seven straight appearances including two in the last seven days.
Speaking of adversaries, perhaps Tanner Roark should just stop pitching against Chicago. Single runs in each of the first three innings plus another in the fifth led to the second loss in as many starts for Roark (7-6). Both of those outings came against the Cubs, who finished with 14 hits. Adding injury to insult, Hammel smacked a liner directly off Roark's lower back with two runners on and two-out in the second inning. The ball veered into left field, allowing a run to score for a 2-1 lead. The Cubs never trailed again.
Last Friday, Hammel gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings in Chicago's 7-2 win over the Nationals. This time he held Washington to only two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts in six innings plus a batter.
The Nationals' bullpen ended hopes of a ninth-inning rally by allowing allowed three runs in the top of the inning.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Werth made up for an errant throw in the top of the first that helped set up Chicago's first run by absolutely hammering a solo homer about dozen rows over the left-field wall in the bottom of the frame. He also doubled in the eighth with Washington trailing 4-2. Werth has homered in consecutive game and now has five extra-base hits in July after just six for the entire month of June.
Otherwise, not much to celebrate on one of the nation's most celebratory of days. Anthony Rendon's leadoff double in the seventh ended Hammel's day and he scored on Ramos' RBI hit versus reliever Neil Ramirez.
Harper and Rendon switched spots in the batting order, hitting second and sixth respectively. The left fielder went 0 for 4 including two strikeouts after batting sixth in his first three game since returning from the disabled list. Harper stuck out to end the fifth while representing the tying run with two runners and the Nationals' trailing 4-1.
Exactly one week ago, Roark allowed four runs and 10 hits in a loss to Chicago. On Friday, he gave up four runs and nine hits in seven innings. This marks the first time all season he's allowed at least four earned runs in consecutive starts. The nine hits allowed is only surpassed by the 10 he gave up to Chicago last week.
Justin Ruggiano led off the third with an opposite-field homer to right and Anthony Rizzo's RBI groundout made it 4-1 in the fifth. Chicago turned two singles - and some spotty defense by Werth - into a first inning run.
Ruggiano's third hit, an RBI single off Aaron Barrett, started the ninth-inning scoring spree.
KEY STAT: The Nats' all-time record on July 4 dropped to 6-4, 6-3 at home. The announced crowd of 41,274 represents the largest for a home game on Independence Day.
UP NEXT: Another day game, another strong pitching matchup. In his second matchup with the Cubs in as many starts, Gio Gonzalez (5-4, 3.93) faces Jeff Samardzija (2-7, 2.83) with first pitch at 4:05. Gonzalez tossed seven shutout innings, allowed two hits and struck out seven in Washington's 3-0 on June 28 in Chicago.