Apr 8, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; The Chicago Cubs celebrate a victory over the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Game 3: Cubs 4, Nationals 3

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So, I guess the Nationals will have to settle for a 161-1 record this year. Today the Nats fell to the Cubs by a score of 4-3 largely due to outstanding pitching by Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.

Apr 8, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol (49) is congratulated for picking up a save by starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (right) against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Samardzija held the Nationals to only four hits over 8.2 innings, and the Nats would once again see no early-inning scoring. Another motif of this series became the power ability of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche hit his second home run of the series today, but unfortunately it was not enough.

The scoring started in the fourth inning when Starlin Castro got a one-out single for the Cubs. Castro stole second and the advanced to third on a passed ball, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Alfonso Soriano. Stay tuned for more notes on this flyout, with defensive star Roger Bernadina making a cameo appearance.

The sixth inning saw both clubs trade runs, each tacking on one.

The Nationals score started with a Wilson Ramos single. After at-bats by Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond advanced Ramos to third, a Danny Espinosa single plated Ramos, tying the score for the Nats. However, after a Darwin Barney double at the bottom of the inning, Alfonso Soriano picked up his second RBI of the day on a single to left.

After Chad Tracy pinch-hit for Zimmermann, Ryan Mattheus came in to relieve him in the eighth. But the Nats now wish he hadn’t. Mattheus gave up two runs while recording only one out before being replaced by Sean Burnett. The first run came on a Castro double with David DeJesus on first, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead. After an intentional walk to Soriano, the next run came on an Ian Stewart single, giving the Cubs their fourth and final run.

But hey, these are the Nationals we’re talking about; they live for late-inning scoring, and today was no different. After back-to-back outs by Desmond and Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman would reach first base on a Castro throwing error, setting Adam LaRoche up beautifully for a two-out two-run homer to bring the Nats within one. Even though Jayson Werth reached base on a walk, Xavier Nady was unable to keep the rally going, and the Nationals would suffer their first defeat of the season 4-3.

What the team needs to take from this game is that late-inning scoring will not always work. They need to score early to put pressure on the opposing pitcher, and giving a cushion to their own starter, allowing him to go deeper into ballgames. Jordan Zimmermann set himself up to get the win today, but didn’t due to lack of run support. Hopefully a healthy return by Mike Morse in the coming weeks will help with the problem, but the Nats can’t wait that long.

Champ of the Game: Jordan Zimmerman, who went 7 innings allowing only 2 runs (1 earned), striking out four and not walking a single batter.

Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija also pitched phenomenally, going 8.2 innings allowing 3 runs (1 earned) in only his sixth career start. Samardzija also had no walks, and struck out 8.

Chump of the Game: This award is going to be split tonight. Ryan Mattheus gets a share of this award for ruining Jordan Zimmerman’s stellar pitching performance, giving up two runs in .1 innings of relief.
The Nationals offense also gets a share of this award for stranding five runners and once again waiting until late to score runs.

Marlon Byrd of the Cubs also deserves a share of this award, going 0-4 today while leaving 3 runners on base. Byrd has not performed admirably so far, with a .091 batting average after the opening series with Washington.

Unsung Heroes: Adam LaRoche’s home run and 2 RBIs may get overlooked since the overall offense was inadequate and the team lost today. LaRoche’s homerun was his second in as many days, and it looks like he’s bouncing back well from a disappointing, injuring-filled 2011.

*Roger Bernadina also gets a share of this award. Bernadina made a terrific catch during the fourth inning today on a flyball by Alfonso Soriano that would have been at least a double. Though a run did score on the play, Bernadina was
certainly not to blame. You can see Bernadina’s catch here.

*Third baseman Ian Stewart made a spectacular play for the Cubs today on a groundball by Jayson Werth, saving what would have been at least a single, if not a double.

Carlos Marmol’s save may also get overlooked due to Samardzija’s great outing today. Though a one-out save is not that impressive, the fact that Marmol was able to bounce back from rocky outings in the first two games of this series is a big deal.

*Both Bernadina’s and Stewart’s plays were featured on Baseball Tonight’s daily “Web Gems” segment. Bernadina’s catch was named second best play, while Stewart’s was named third.

Next game: Monday, vs. New York at Citi Field.  Edwin Jackson vs. Mike Pelfrey, Game Time: 7:10 p.m (EST).

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