Nats now need doubleheader sweep to split Cubs series

Nats now need doubleheader sweep to split Cubs series
June 27, 2014, 7:00 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On the heels of a frustrating loss in the fog, the Nationals returned to Wrigley Field today hoping that blue skies would produce a happier result. Instead, they dropped another game to the last-place Cubs, this time in unsightly fashion.

The Nats were held to two runs by Jason Hammel, who retired 10 in a row at one point. Tanner Roark gave back both of those runs (and two more) during six labored innings. And then Jerry Blevins poured gasoline on the fire in the bottom of the seventh, turning a 4-2 game into a 7-2 rout.

Just like that, the Nationals have lost three straight and now face a daunting prospect: They'll need to sweep Saturday's day-night doubleheader just to salvage a 4-game series split here in Chicago.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nationals had their chance to take out Hammel early. They got a single, a double, a walk and a wild pitch to open the top of the second, yet somehow managed to score only one run in the process. The two rally-killers? Ryan Zimmerman went on contact on a grounder to third and easily was thrown out at the plate for one out. Danny Espinosa also struck out on three pitches with runners on second and third and one out, a situation that demanded contact above all else. Though they led 1-0 at that point, it felt like a missed opportunity. And it proved to be one by day's end.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Take your pick. Roark was not particularly sharp, serving up 10 hits in only six innings of work while pitching in front of a bunch of friends and family from his nearby hometown of Wilmington, Ill. Blevins, meanwhile, took what still was a competitive ballgame and turned it into a rout in one fell swoop. Pitching the seventh inning with his team down 4-2, the left-hander gave up a double, then uncorked a wild pitch, then walked two batters (one intentional), then served up a 3-run double to the .160-hitting John Baker. Blevins now sports a 5.34 ERA in 35 appearances, having struggled to adequately fill the much-needed left-handed specialist role in the Nationals' bullpen.

KEY STAT: From the left side of the plate, Espinosa has a .578 OPS and is striking out in 38 percent of plate appearances. From the right side of the plate, his OPS is .830 while he strikes out 24 percent of the time.

UP NEXT: This 6-day road trip ends with a day-night doubleheader. It's Gio Gonzalez against right-hander Dallas Beeler (making his MLB debut) in the 1:05 p.m. EDT opener. Then Blake Treinen gets called back up from Class AAA Syracuse to start the 7:15 p.m. nightcap against Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija.