Cubs bullpen disappoints again in loss to Rays
Nathan Ray Seebeck - USA Today Sports

Cubs bullpen disappoints again in loss to Rays

by - Senior Writer -

TAMPA BAY - Things haven't been easy for the Chicago Cubs (33-36), especially as of late as they have dropped eight of their last nine series. The only series win over that time was a breif two-game set with the White Sox where they had to come from behind in both games. At some point, heads need to start rolling inside this organzation as there is no fire from anyone right now.

Looking to secure their first series victory in over a month, the Cubs turned to their Ace Justin Steele as he took the ball against the Tampa Bay Rays (33-36) at Tropicana Field. Despite being the Cubs' best starter the past three weeks and posting a 0.72 ERA over that time, Steele has yet to pick up a win this season, as the Cubs have lost his last 15 starts dating back to last season.

Those struggles continued as Steele gave the Cubs six shutout innings on the mound with five strikeouts, only to have the bullpen blow their 15th save of the season in a 3-2 loss to the Rays. That makes seven starts this season and 15 straight decisions without a win for Steele, as something has to give with this entire Cubs team. Leave it to the Cubs to make some of the worst pitchers in the game look like Cy Young candidates as Taj Bradley came out dealing.

Entering the game with an ERA north of 5.50, you would never have guessed it based on how he looked in this one. Bradley not only tossed his best game of the season but also gave the Rays seven impressive innings as he allowed two runs on just three hits. He walked two and struck out 11 as his ERA fell to 4.23, with neither of those runs coming as earned runs. There is a reason why the Cubs have the second-worst record in baseball since April 27, and that's largely part of an offense scoring 3.6 runs per game as they can't seem to string anything together.

Take this recent seven-game road trip, for example, where the Cubs managed to go just 2-5. They failed to score more than four runs in any of those games, and apart from one big inning in Cincinnati, the offense was lackluster at best. It was more of the same tonight, as the first-inning single from Cody Bellinger was the Cubs' only baserunner through four innings, as they had no answers for Bradley.

Fortunately for them, Steele was equally as good, allowing just one hit through four and keeping the Cubs in a position to take the lead. They managed to do that in the fifth inning as they decided to turn back the clock about 20 years and play some small ball to make things happen. With Michael Busch and Nico Hoerner leading things off with a pair of singles, the Cubs offense was in business as the Patrick Wisdom bunt moved both runners up 90 feet.

Then came the game's first run off a Pete Crow-Armstrong fielder's choice, while a second bunt, this one coming from Yan Gomes, gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Apart from that rally, the Cubs' offense was quiet. They were held hitless the rest of the game, putting more pressure on Steele and the rest of their arms. For the most part, Steele delivered, but after allowing a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases in the sixth, you could see his night was ending as he finished off the sixth without any damage.

Forced to go with his bullpen again, Craig Counsell chose to go with his best arm in Mark Leiter Jr, and this wasn't one of his nights. Not only did Leiter surrender a leadoff single to Amed Rosario, but Jose Siri followed that up with a walk to put a pair of runners on and no outs. Leiter managed to bounce back with a strikeout to set up a potential inning-ending double play, only to have Josh Lowe come through with a massive single to make things 2-1.

Lowe stole second a few pitches later before the Ben Rortvedt grounder tied things up as the Cubs pen let another one get away. The Ray's offense wasn't quite done as Yandy Diaz came through with what will go down as the game-winning single, and just like that, the Rays pushed home their third run of the inning to take a 3-2 lead. Tyson Miller came on to finish the seventh before Colten Brewer was forced to pitch around a mini jam in the eighth to keep things close.

Staring at another series loss, the Cubs needed to come through with at least one run in the ninth and had to do so against the hard-throwing Pete Fairbanks. A one-out walk from Busch certainly helped the Cubs keep things alive, but as has been the case far too often this season, luck wasn't on their side as Nico Hoerner was robbed of a single up the middle by Taylor Walls, who turned it into a game-ending double play and the Cubs lost 3-2.

The Cubs will now head home for a crucial nine-game homestand, as this could be the make-or-break moment for the team the rest of the way.

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