Cubs blow 8-0 lead as bullpen melts down in loss to Padres
Orlando Ramirez - USA Today Sports

Cubs blow 8-0 lead as bullpen melts down in loss to Padres

by - Senior Writer -

SAN DIEGO - Normally, when a team starts a season 6-4, there is plenty to like about that team. After all, should you play at that pace all season, you would win 96 games, which is often good enough to win a division. However, 7-3 sounds much better than 6-4, which is the position the Chicago Cubs (6-4) were in on Monday as they began their west coast trip against the San Diego Padres (6-7) at Petco Park.

Over the course of an MLB season, there are some losses that stick with a team more than others, and this is one of those losses. With Yu Darvish on the mound for the Padres, the Cubs continued their patient approach at the plate and knocked him out of the game after just three innings. A lot of that had to do with Darvish not being at his best, but the Cubs pushed across four runs in both the second and fourth innings to open up an 8-0 lead.

I don't care how bad of a team you are; there is no way you should blow an 8-0 lead, and things were looking good for the Cubs until the sixth inning when an already struggling bullpen struggled as they allowed the Padres to score seven runs in that sixth inning to put themselves right back in the game. Then came the bottom of the eighth, where Adbert Alzolay saw his slider launched by Fernando Tatis Jr as the Padres came all the way back to shock the Cubs 9-8.

This was a shock to the system for everyone in the organization, and it took away another fabulous outing by Javier Assad, who continues to impress in the starting rotation. For the second straight start, Assad pitched into the sixth before running into trouble. He allowed two runs on just three hits in five-plus innings. He walked three and struck out a career-high tying seven as he continues to prove he belongs in the rotation.

A big reason why Assad was lifted midway through the sixth was his high pitch count, which was inflated due to a lengthy first inning that saw the Padres make him battle. He would eventually get through that inning without further damage, but it hurt his chances of going deeper into the game. On the other hand, Darvish mowed through the Cubs on just nine pitches in the first and worked around a one-out Seiya Suzuki double, but things unraveled for him quickly in the second.

What started with two easy outs to keep things rolling turned into a massive two-out rally as Nico Hoerner started things off with a double. Then came the patient approach from Mike Tauchman, who fell behind 0-2 only to battle back and work the walk while Miguel Amaya was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

This was an area where the Cubs struggled a season ago, but so far this season, that hasn't been the case as much. Ian Happ opened the scoring with an RBI single to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. The Cubs would extend that lead to 4-0 with a bases-loaded Cody Bellinger single as the offense continued to show why they lead the league in on-base percentage.

Throughout his brief career, Assad has been known to pitch into trouble, but has also been known to pitch out of trouble and limit the damage. That was the case again in the second as Assad worked around a pair of singles to keep the Padres off the board. With Darvish out of the game, it was time for the Cubs to go to work against Pedro Avila as they looked to break the game open even more.

A one-out single from Amaya certainly helped that, but walks to both Happ and Suzuki loaded the bases once again and had the Cubs threatening. Bellinger kept the line moving with a sacrifice fly with Christopher Morel adding an RBI double shortly after to make things 6-0. Dansby Swanson then came through with an RBI triple off the top of the wall as the Cubs tacked on their second four-run frame of the game to open up an 8-0 lead.

For as much criticism as the bullpen took in this one, and rightfully so, the Cubs' offense needs to take some blame as well. They didn't score the rest of the way and only had one hit. In a game where every run counts, the Cubs needed to add on, as the Padres have been known to strike fast and score with the best of them.

Holding their 8-0 lead in the sixth, Craig Counsell chose to send Assad out there for one more inning despite being close to 100 pitches. Anytime you walk the leadoff hitter, you're asking for trouble, and trouble proceeded as Jake Cronenworth took Assad deep for the two-run blast to make things 8-2. That was it for Assad as he was removed from the game in favor of Jose Cuas, which was when the nightmare began.

Cuas was good for a large chunk of the season last year, but his final 10 outings were awful. That trend has followed him into this season as Cuas allowed a Jurickson Profar single and Ha-Seong Kim triple, and just like that, it was an 8-4 game. Following an RBI groundout that made things 8-5, the hits kept coming against Cuas as he surrendered another hit to Jackson Merrill, forcing Counsell to go to his pen again as Luke Little entered the game.

You knew at some point the hard-throwing left-hander would allow his first career MLB run, but the Cubs were hoping it wouldn't be tonight with Xander Bogaerts turning on a 97 MPH heater and ripping over the left field fence to bring the Padres within 8-7. Little finished off the sixth and pitched part of the seventh, but the damage was done with the Friars now within a run.

With the Cubs' offense continuing to go quiet, it put more pressure on the Cubs' pen. Another shaky outing from Hector Neris has the Cubs and their fans worried about what is to come from him. Neris inheritted a pair of walks from Little in the seventh before escaping trouble, but after walking Merrill to begin the eighth, he was setting himself up for failure at that point.

Not willing to completely ruin his pen for the rest of the series, Counsell had no choice as he had to go to his closer for the five-out save. Coming off the season Alzolay had in 2023, he deserves the trust in Counsell for now, but after seeing how he has looked this season, his trust is slowly going out the window. Alzolay did his job by getting Bogaerts out, but with Tatis Jr at the dish, he went to the slider one too many times, and just like that, it was 9-8 Padres as Tatis took another Alzolay slider and sent it to the moon.

What seemed near impossible earlier in the game, the Cubs were suddenly down to their final three outs and needed a run to tie things up. Unfortunately, that run never came with Robert Suarez showing off his 100-mph heater and making quick work of Chicago for the 9-8 comeback win. This was the first time since 2002 that the Cubs blew an eight-run lead and lost with that game coming against the White Sox.

The Cubs had eight hits in the loss, and Michael Busch was the only regular without a hit. Chicago will not only look to bounce back on Tuesday but will also hopefully keep this loss from lingering for a long time as they face Joe Musgrove on Tuesday at 9 PM CDT.

Chicago hasn't announced its starter yet, but many expect it to be Ben Brown making his first career MLB start.

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