WASHINGTON—Carlos Zambrano, the latest in a long line of injured Cubs players, said Sunday he wasn't sure why he and so many of his teammates have gone down over the last two seasons.
"I don't believe in the Billy Goat [curse]," Zambrano said before returning to Chicago for an MRI on his right elbow. "But people may think that. This team has been through injuries, injuries, injuries
National League, but things happen. Someday we'll have healthy Cubs and we'll see what we're capable of doing."
A couple of hours later, third baseman Aramis Ramirez was scratched from the starting lineup with back spasms.
And so it goes for the Cubs, who lost 5-4 to Washington on Sunday to lose the series and drop a season-high 71/2 games behind Central Division-leading St. Louis.
Washington scored an unearned run in the sixth off reliever Cliff Bartosh, taking advantage of two errors by second baseman Neifi Perez to take the lead for keeps.
"The errors we made cost us two runs, and that was the difference in the game," manager Dusty Baker said.
Baker said the infield was "a little chopped up," adding, "Neifi doesn't miss balls."
But Perez wasn't buying that.
"No excuses," Perez said. "If I'm playing, I have to make those plays."
Greg Maddux wasn't at his best, yielding four runs on seven hits in five innings and leaving with a no-decision after being lifted for a pinch-hitter.
The Cubs grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first off Nationals starter John Patterson on two walks, a wild pitch and a two-run single by Michael Barrett. Jose Macias' run-scoring single in the fourth put the Cubs up 3-1, and it looked like they were ready to roll.
But the Nationals added a run in the fourth on a single by Vinny Castilla, a stolen base, a throwing error by Barrett and a groundout by Brian Schneider, then took a 4-3 lead on Nick Johnson's two-run homer off Maddux in the fifth.
The field was damp from early-game sprinkles, and Maddux had complained to plate umpire Tim Tschida about the wet mound immediately before walking Jose Guillen in the inning. He then served up the two-run shot to Johnson on a 3-1 pitch.
"The grounds crew did a super job of fixing it," Maddux said. "It's always nice to have excuses when you screw up, but that wasn't one of them.
"It was a bad four pitches to Guillen and a bad three pitches to Johnson that put me in the hole. I wanted to throw the pitch I threw. I might have thrown it a little higher than I would have liked to, but he got me.
"Hopefully you learn from it and don't make the same mistake twice."
Jason Dubois' RBI double in the sixth tied the game 4-4, but the Cubs left the bases loaded when Corey Patterson popped to third on the first pitch from reliever Hector Carrasco, a recurring theme for the offense. Entering Sunday's action, the Cubs were hitting a combined .188 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Perez dropped a slow roller off Ryan Church's bat to start the sixth, and then booted another routine grounder by Cristian Guzman to let Church score from second with the go-ahead run.
The Cubs managed only a harmless single in the final three innings against relievers Luis Ayala and closer Chad Cordero, going down with a whimper.
They rank 11th in the NL in runs scored despite being first in home runs.