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Cubs lose series to Giants, brace for NL-best Nationals

Alfonso Soriano follows flight his three-run blast fifth his 25th homer year. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Alfonso Soriano follows the flight of his three-run blast in the fifth, his 25th homer of the year. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 4, 2012 6:19AM

Their weekend series against the San Francisco Giants was the latest reminder of how far the Cubs have to go.

It won’t get any better this week against the best team in the ­National League, the Washington Nationals.

‘‘We haven’t been very good on the road,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the second-worst road record in baseball (17-48). ‘‘We’re playing two really good teams [the Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates] and then Houston.

‘‘We’ll see the best lineup in baseball the next four days. Even though we won’t face [Stephen] Strasburg, they still have some great arms and a great lineup.’’

Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings Sunday in the Nationals’ 4-3 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the Nats’ 81st win. The Cubs, meanwhile, lost their 82nd game, giving up two runs in the ninth inning to fall to the Giants 7-5.

Carlos Marmol (2-3), who had been perfect in his last 16 consecutive save opportunities, entered in a non-save situation with the score 5-5. He walked Xavier Nady to start the inning, then Brandon Crawford walked with one out. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro followed with run-scoring singles.

‘‘Just a bad day,’’ said Marmol, who allowed one earned run in August. ‘‘You won’t be perfect all the time.’’

The National League West-leading Giants won the series and maintained a 41/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, but for the Cubs, there have to be other measuring sticks.

‘‘We came up short in two games, but for the most part guys had more good at-bats against the best pitching in baseball,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s good for our young guys to look across and see these are championship teams that we somehow have to put together, too.’’

He found promise in starter Travis Wood rebounding after a three-run third inning. Two runs were unearned because of Anthony Rizzo’s throwing error.

‘‘He wasn’t that sharp in the beginning, but he settled down and did a nice job [52/3 innings, seven hits, two earned runs].’’

Wood took heart in that, too, as well as in his teammates’ approach.

‘‘We’re doing everything we can, grinding out every at-bat,’’ Wood said. ‘‘The wins will come. We’re a young team.’’

Wood said he has learned to be a different pitcher this season.

‘‘I’ve always been a guy who says, ‘Here it is,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve learned how to use my other pitches, work both sides of the plate. So it’s definitely been a learning year.’’

Wood had a 5-3 lead after a four-run fifth against Giants starter Matt Cain, highlighted by Alfonso Soriano’s three-run blast. Soriano now has nine consecutive seasons with 25 homers, including four as a Cub.

‘‘The season isn’t over, and we have to teach the young guys how to win,’’ said Soriano, who also made a highlight-reel catch at the left-field wall to end the fourth. ‘‘I love this game, and that’s how I play this game, with my heart. We faced a good team in the Giants, and we will face another first-place team now. It’s a good test for our young guys to teach them how to play hard.’’

The Giants tied the score in the sixth after two outs on a double by Nady, a triple by Brandon Belt and a wild pitch by Manny Corpas.

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