WASHINGTON -- The Cubs needed five pitchers to defeat the Nationals, 6-3, in front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon. It ended up being a great weekend for Chicago, which took three out of four games from Washington. The Nationals have lost their last three series after winning nine straight.
The Nationals find themselves in second place by a half-game behind the Mets. Shortstop Ian Desmond seems to know what is wrong with the team.
"We have to get consistent," he said. "We score runs one day, we don't score runs another day. We don't pitch well, we play good defense. We are going back and forth. We are having trouble finding that rhythm. This is a good ballclub."
Kris Bryant and Chris Coghlan were the hitting heroes for Chicago. Bryant collected three hits, scored two runs and was a home run short of a cycle, while Coghlan drove in two runs.
"I've been saying it all along, I know we can play with the big boys in the league," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "But you've got to prove it. We've played less effectively against teams that have been struggling this year. We've played well against teams that are doing well."
Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann wasn't at his best, losing his third game of the season by pitching five innings and allowing four runs on 10 hits.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cog in the wheel: Coghlan doubled and scored the Cubs' first run in the second inning, but his biggest impact came in the fifth frame. With the game tied, the bases loaded and no outs, Coghlan lined a shot to right field off Zimmermann. The ball was temporarily impeded by the glove of first baseman Tyler Moore, but continued on its way to right field. The knock put Chicago up, 4-2.
"To go out there and put four or five runs off of a guy like Jordan Zimmermann, who's one of their better pitchers, it definitely gives us that confidence going forward," Bryant said.
Better safe than sorry: Insurance runs are key against any team, specifically any team with Bryce Harper on the roster. The Cubs extended their lead from one to three in the sixth inning against Nationals reliever Blake Treinen. Anthony Rizzo's double was followed by two walks to load the bases, and then Rizzo scooted home on a slider that bounced away from catcher Wilson Ramos. Starlin Castro singled in Bryant to make it a 6-3 game, but Miguel Montero was gunned down at the plate by left fielder Michael Taylor to end the inning.
"Just getting more comfortable, seeing more pitches," Bryant said. "It just comes along when you're playing at this level. You feel more comfortable up there, and I definitely feel more comfortable up there." More >
Not one of Zimm's best outings: Zimmermann, who threw 92 pitches, never had an easy 1-2-3 inning. Zimmermann's worst inning was the fifth when he allowed two runs on Coghlan's single.
"I just wasn't locating, leaving the ball over the middle," Zimmermann said. "My breaking pitches were terrible. That's going to happen when you don't have all of your pitches. I just wasn't sharp today."
Stagnant on offense: Desmond gave Washington a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer in the second inning, but the Nationals collected six hits the rest of the way and whiffed seven times overall. The Nationals had the game-tying run at the plate in the seventh, but Harper flied out to left field to end the threat.
"Not to say these games are do or die, we have to start playing a little better. We have to start swinging the bats, me including. I'm at the top of the list," Desmond said.
Manager Matt Williams said he is not concerned about the team's recent slump.
"What we need to do is play every day. It's the same team that was really good in May," Williams said. "It has been a little rough on us recently, but there is no reason that we can't pull out of that, too."
"How's like, 'Be ready to pitch in the last three innings'? If you're keeping score, you know when the seventh, eighth and ninth is popping up. I've been through that. I think it's a product of millennials. It's that generation that needs definition consistently." -- Maddon on defined roles at the back end of the bullpen.More >
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In their last 10 games, the Nationals are hitting .232 with five home runs, 27 RBIs and a .298 on-base percentage.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: The Cubs are off Monday, then continue their road trip Tuesday in Detroit. Jon Lester will start Chicago's first game in an American League stadium this season at 6:08 p.m. CT. Lester had a scorching hot May, but lost his first decision of June after allowing six runs in five innings.
Nationals: They have the day off Monday, then start a two-game series against the Yankees on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The last time these two teams met was the middle of May with the Nationals taking both games of the series at Nationals Park. For Game 1, which starts Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET, Max Scherzer will take the mound for Washington. He ranks among Major League pitching leaders in ERA, strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings.
Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.