The Cubs changed directions again Sunday with a lineup that included Corey Patterson on the bench instead of in the leadoff spot, ending a brief experiment.
But the results weren't any different for the floundering Cubs, who rallied twice to tie Washington, in the ninth and 11th innings, only to fall back to .500 with a 5-4, 12-inning loss.
The Nationals swept the series and handed the Cubs their fourth straight loss.
"If we keep playing the way we did, good things will happen," closer Ryan Dempster said. "We're definitely positive. It was a tough series, a tough homestand."
Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer off Nationals closer Chad Cordero tied the game 2-2 with two outs in the ninth, and the Cubs climbed back from another two-run deficit in the 11th on Jerry Hairston's solo homer off Hector Carrasco and a two-out, broken bat, RBI double by Todd Hollandsworth off Joey Eischen.
But the Nationals took the lead for good in the 12th on Brian Schneider's two-out homer off Sergio Mitre.
"As disappointing as it is, we can build on it," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Cubs trailed 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Jeromy Burnitz singled on an 0-2 pitch, bringing up Ramirez, who had just been selected to his first All-Star Game. On a 2-1 pitch, Ramirez crushed a game-tying, 365-foot, two-run homer to left. The homer snapped Cordero's franchise-record saves streak at 26.
Todd Walker's throwing error on a potential double-play grounder in the 11th led to a two-run double by Brad Wilkerson off Glendon Rusch before clutch hits by Hairston and Hollandsworth rescued the Cubs one more time.
Hairston went 3-for-6 in the leadoff spot after Baker told Patterson he would be giving him a couple of days off. "I've been entertaining that in my mind for a while, but just hoping that things would be different," Baker said.
Baker emphasized he was not "benching" Patterson, saying it was only for "a couple days."
"A lot of times when you're struggling and trying to figure out things, sometimes one day [off] isn't enough," he said. "Just like in [anyone's] life sometimes, you needed a day off and came back to work a day too soon. He's not off off. He's just not starting."
Patterson pinch-ran in the 10th and was thrown out stealing, adding to his troubles.
"Everybody has gone through it," Hairston said. "I don't care who you area two-time batting champ like Nomar (Garciaparra), one of the best hitters in the game, went through it a little before he got hurt. Corey is going to get out of it. He's too good of a player."
Entering Sunday's games, the major-league average in the leadoff spot this season was .279. The Cubs began Sunday with a .251 average in the top spot. During the Cubs' division championship season in 2003, their leadoff hitters, including midseason pickup Kenny Lofton, combined to hit .297.
"In baseball, that's probably the most [watered-down] spot in the batting order," Baker said.
But Patterson is the antithesis of the "Moneyball" type of hitter, eschewing on-base percentage and patience. He has taken only 43.6 percent of his pitches, second lowest in the National League, and just ahead of Neifi Perez (45.4 percent). Patterson also swings at the first pitch 46.3 percent of the time, most of any NL hitter, and his .268 on-base percentage as leadoff man is second worst in the NL, just behind Perez's .264 OBA in the leadoff spot.
Hairston's .379 on-base percentage as leadoff man is fifth in the NL. Baker also inserted Walker into the No. 2 hole, where he went 0-for-6.
"The main thing is, whoever is up in front needs to get on base for Derrek [Lee]," Walker said. "The year he's having, you hate to waste that."