Nats manufacture runs, but not enough to beat Cubs

More than two months into the season, the Nationals have established their ability to hit the ball out of the park. They lead the National League with 87 homers in 65 games.

They have not yet, however, established their ability to manufacture runs. There have been glimpses, as there were tonight against the Cubs. But they haven't quite been able to get over that hump on a consistent basis.

This 4-3 loss before a boisterous crowd of 41,955 - largest of the season to date - underscored the issue a bit. Yes, the Nationals did plate three runs via sacrifice flies, a hallmark of run manufacturing. But they came up short several times when just one more hit would have driven in the run or runs that might have won a game very much there for the taking throughout.

Ben-Revere-at-bat-white-sidebar.jpg"That's how you win games," center fielder Ben Revere said. "Look what the Royals did last year. They aren't a home run team; past two years they went to the World Series. They kill you with singles, sac flies, any way to get that run in. We've got a good pitching staff of our own. We had a lead going in, we could've come out with a victory ourselves."

Not that this was a bad game from the Nationals' standpoint. Facing baseball's best team so far this season, and facing a savvy veteran hurler in John Lackey, they scratched and clawed their way through a tense battle. Down 3-1 much of the evening, they rallied to tie it up in the eighth, only to see Chicago push across the winning run in the ninth on a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI double.

But there was an opportunity to do more, to pull off what would have been a particularly impressive win that would have ensured a series victory and a shot at a sweep Wednesday afternoon. Instead, the Nationals will need to win yet again behind Stephen Strasburg to take two of three from the Cubs before heading out on their first West Coast trip of the year.

"We played a good game," manager Dusty Baker said. "We just came up on the short end."

The Nationals loaded the bases twice in the bottom of the third yet came away with only one run (via Jayson Werth's sac fly), with Daniel Murphy's hard line drive to right quashing that rally. They had runners on second and third with nobody out in the seventh but again plated only one run on Revere's sac fly, with Wilson Ramos and Werth each striking out with men in scoring position. And they had two on with one out in the eighth, ultimately settling for the game-tying run on Anthony Rendon's sac fly, with Danny Espinosa striking out to end the inning.

"You've got to take what they give you," Baker said. "If the ball's away, you've got to take a single to right or up the middle. ... I just thought with a low-scoring game like that, that it was to our advantage."

The Nationals have been better at manufacturing runs in recent days. Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Phillies featured several high-quality at-bats late, including RBI singles by Espinosa and Werth. Monday's win over the Cubs featured RBI singles by Espinosa and Revere.

But they haven't yet shown they can be counted on to do this night in and night out. And so on nights when they don't hit the ball out of the park, the Nationals are still trying to perfect the art of station-to-station baseball.

"That's the way the game goes," Revere said. "Had a bunch of opportunities. Hit the ball hard right at people, guys in scoring position. Just the way we battled back, (I'm) impressed by this group."

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