CHICAGO -- The Nationals did not have many scoring chances in Thursday night's 5-2 loss against the Cubs, but one that loomed particularly large was a missed opportunity in the eighth inning.
Washington was trailing by just two runs when the first two batters reached base to start the inning -- Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch and pinch-hitter Clint Robinson drew a walk. That brought up Michael Taylor, who has struggled at the plate to start the year, with two on and none out.
Perhaps manager Dusty Baker could have called for Taylor to bunt, especially with the heart of his order to follow, but Baker allowed Taylor to swing away against Cubs right-hander Pedro Strop. Taylor felt like he had a pitch to hit, but fouled a hanging slider straight back, then struck out on a fastball.
"I've got to shorten it up right there and put the ball in play" Taylor said.
The next batter, Anthony Rendon, grounded into a double play, leaving Bryce Harper in the on-deck circle and squandering the Nats' best scoring chance of the night.
"It's easy to say now, but do you play for the tie on the road or do you play for the win?" Baker said. "I went for the win."
Taylor is now batting .186/.222/.304 in 25 games this season, primarily as the leadoff hitter in place of the injured Ben Revere. However, Revere is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Friday, which should push Taylor back to the fourth outfielder role.
That missed chance in the eighth inning was magnified after the Cubs scored three in the bottom of the inning off the Nationals' bullpen, which has been surprisingly strong all season. Ben Zobrist hit a two-run homer, two of his four RBIs in the game, off Felipe Rivero, and Shawn Kelley allowed a run-scoring double to Addison Russell.
Jayson Werth's two-run homer in the ninth capped the scoring and broke up the shutout.
Baker called it one of the worst overall games his team has played this season.
"That's uncharacteristic," Baker said. "Not our kind of game."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.