Cubs visit White House before losing to Nationals

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[June 29, 2017]  WASHINGTON -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it was a favor to co-owner Todd Ricketts that several members of the team paid a visit to the White House on Wednesday.

Ricketts invited President Trump to see his team play the first-place Washington Nationals as the series comes to an end Thursday.

"We're going to run into these guys in the playoffs, and you'll come down and you'll see them crumble," Ricketts told Trump of the Nationals, according to published reports.

That was certainly not the case Wednesday, as the Nationals led by five runs after two innings and defeated the defending World Series champions 8-4 as Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 Cubs in seven innings while dealing with back spasms.

"My arm feels really good. I am just taking it one start at a time," said Strasburg (9-2), who is pitching out of the stretch this year even with no runners on base.

The Nationals hit three homers and four doubles in support of Strasburg, who appeared to get negative feedback from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras at one point.

"I don't know what he was talking about," Washington manager Dusty Baker said of Contreras.

It was not a good day for the Cubs, who designated veteran catcher Miguel Montero for assignment before the game then saw reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant leave the game in the fifth inning after he rolled his ankle on third base following a catch in foul territory.

Bryant has a moderate right ankle sprain. X-rays were negative, according to a team spokesman.

Maddon said Bryant will not play in the series finale Thursday, and that he "obviously" will stay off his feet a few days.

"I was watching closely. It was more painful than you would think," Maddon said. "I wanted to get him off the field quickly and get it iced as quickly as possible."

The losing pitcher was John Lackey (5-9). He gave up a season-high eight earned runs on nine hits (three homers) with two walks, a wild pitch and hit batter in 5 1/3 innings.

"I think it was a matter of location and lack of execution," Maddon said.

Anthony Rendon was 3-for-3 with a homer and Bryce Harper was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. They helped Washington score in five of the first six innings.

"He is a very good player," Harper said of Rendon. "He plays a great third base."

Harper, good friends with fellow Las Vegas product Bryant, had an RBI double off reliever Brian Duensing in the sixth to give the Nationals an 8-3 lead.

Chicago's Anthony Rizzo hit a long homer to right off reliever Enny Romero to trim the lead to 8-4 in the eighth, but Matt Albers got the last three outs in the ninth.

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Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) celebrates with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) after hitting a two run home run in the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Trea Turner also had two hits for Washington (47-31), and Ryan Zimmerman drove in two runs.

The Cubs (39-39) are at .500 for the first time since June 18.

One night after the Nationals stole seven bases, Washington used a more standard approach to score early.

Zimmerman had an RBI single in the first inning with two outs to score Harper, who had doubled to right-center field.

Washington scored four earned runs in the second against Lackey to make it 5-0.

Rendon and Matt Wieters hit back-to-back homers to start the inning. It was the 15th homer for Rendon and seventh for Wieters.

Harper then walked with the bases loaded to force in Strasburg, who had singled with one out. Turner scored with the bases loaded as Zimmerman got credit for an RBI when he reached on an error by Bryant at third to make it 5-0.

Rendon doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael A. Taylor in the third as the Nationals forged ahead 6-0.

Contreras hit a two-run homer off Strasburg to trim the Cubs' deficit to 6-2 in the fourth.

Albert Almora Jr. doubled and scored in the fifth when Zimmerman couldn't come up with a grounder at first to pull the Cubs within 6-3.

Washington's Daniel Murphy led off the sixth with a homer for a 7-3 advantage.

The series finale is Thursday, and Baker would like to see more Nationals fans in the stands.

"We relish and need sellouts, and if the Cubs fans weren't here, we would probably have a half-filled stadium," said Baker, who estimated 40 percent of the crowd of 31,072 was Cubs fans.

NOTES: To replace C Miguel Montero, who was taken off the roster one day after he blasted RHP Jake Arrieta for not holding runners on well, the Cubs called up C Victor Caratini from Triple-A Iowa. He was retired as a pinch hitter in the ninth. ... Cubs LHP Jon Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) will face Washington RHP Joe Ross (4-3, 5.40 ERA) in the series finale Thursday. ... A source confirmed that RHP Wil Crowe, a second-round pick by the Nationals earlier this month, signed with the club. He was drafted out of the University of South Carolina.

[ 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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