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Cubs finish homestand against contenders at 2-4 after loss to Nats

If the Cubs win the National League Central, they’ll almost certainly face the Nationals in the first round of the playoffs. And there’s also a possibility they could play the Diamondbacks in the NL Championship Series.

And to be successful against those teams in October, the Cubs have to be better than they were this week.

“We can play with anybody; we’ve just got to finish it off,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday after the Cubs lost 9-4 to the Nationals. “You have to play a complete game to beat them. You can’t show any signs of weakness.”

The Cubs’ bullpen was a glaring weakness, and it turned what would’ve been a respectable 3-3 homestand against two NL contenders into a lost opportunity at 2-4. The pen wasted two more homers from Willson Contreras and another from Kyle Schwarber. Leading 4-3 in the eighth, the Cubs allowed five runs, with Matt Wieters hitting a grand slam against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr.

Carl Edwards Jr. and Willson Contreras talk during the eighth inning. | AP

Walks have plagued Edwards recently, but they weren’t an issue this time. Edwards did hit Anthony Rendon with the bases loaded to tie the score, but then he allowed Wieters’ slam.

Left-hander Jon Lester said it looks like Edwards is “kind of battling himself a little bit.”

“His game is built around confidence,’’ Lester said, ‘‘and he may be doubting himself just a little bit now. Nobody in that clubhouse is doubting him in that role or anything else. Obviously, our manager and our team is right behind him or else we wouldn’t keep running him out there. He’s the guy in the right situation, and he’ll get back to being himself.”

To go far in October, the Cubs will need Edwards or somebody else in that role to step up. But for their part, the Cubs weren’t comparing themselves to the Nats or Diamondbacks. They say their concerns are centered on how they’re playing.

“I don’t really care how we stack up; we’ve got to worry about us,” said Lester, who allowed three earned runs and struck out seven in 6‰ innings. “Really, all it comes down to is getting in. Once you get in, it doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s about who gets hot, who plays the best.”

First baseman Anthony Rizzo echoed that sentiment.

“You want to worry about what we’re doing,” Rizzo said. “We do a really good job at that.”

Perhaps, but the Cubs know they can be better than they were. They made two errors and didn’t play the crisp game Maddon wants.

“We absolutely have to pick up our defense, whether it’s just turning double plays, throwing to the right bases, the cutoffs, all that kind of stuff,” Maddon said. “We are better than that. We’ve talked about it, we’ve worked on it, but it just has not been as tidy as it normally is.”

Contreras has been better than ever. He has hit five homers in his last four games, and his 10 since the All-Star break are tied with the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton for the most in the NL. He wasn’t ready to celebrate his accomplishments, however.

“We still lost the game,’’ Contreras said.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.


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