Cubs' losing streak reaches four as bullpen struggles continue
|Monday, April 17, 2017, 11:14 PM- -|
CHICAGO -- At the start of Monday night's game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs, the Cubs' bullpen boasted sported a pitiful 4.19 ERA. Combined with a home run-plagued start by John Lackey, the perpetuated woes of Chicago's relief pitching contributed to a Cubs loss tonight, the North Siders' fourth in a row and fifth out of their last six games. Catalyzed by three home runs, the Brewers (8-6) took care of business on the road to topple the National League Central rival Cubs (6-7) by a final score of 6-3.
The fireworks began early on this evening, with the Brewers scoring three runs in the first two innings on two long balls. Lackey, who has dealt with his fair share of early-inning woes since joining the Cubs, was victimized by the Brewers' bats from the start. Entering the game, the Cubs' starting pitchers led all of baseball with a 2.56 ERA, but that number was lifted when Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun crushed a two-run bomb to left. Braun finished the game 3-4 with three RBI.
Milwaukee catcher Jett Bandy hit the second homer of the game to lead off the second inning, sending another round-tripper over the wall in left. Déjà vu afflicted the Cubs in the ensuing inning, as Brewers first baseman Eric Thames slugged a home run to the bleachers behind left field in the first at-bat of the third. Thames, who incited the Brewers' offensive action by doubling off of Lackey in the first, went 3-4 on the night and tied a franchise record by hitting his fifth home run in as many games. With seven home runs and 12 RBI already, Thames is off to a hot start this year.
In the midst of the Brewers' team-wide home run derby, the Cubs added a run of their own in the bottom half of the first. Despite the slew of impressive homers hit by Milwaukee, the hit of the night came on a bunt single from Chicago left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Epitomizing exactly why manager Joe Maddon has put him in the leadoff spot, Schwarber laid down perhaps the most perfect bunt in the history of bunting in the Cubs' first at-bat of the game. Dribbling directly up the third-base line, the bunted ball tapped third base just before eking foul, dumbfounding onlooking Brewers players who were waiting patiently for the ball to roll foul. The early candidate for bunt of the year was Schwarber's only hit of the evening.
Schwarber's gutsy call paid off for the Cubs, as a passed ball enabled Schwarber to take second, and a two-out single to center by second baseman Ben Zobrist allowed him to score. Zobrist was 2-4 at the plate tonight, making up for a subpar performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend.
Trailing 3-1 in the third, the Cubs had their way with Brewers starter Chase Anderson, taking him for three consecutive hits to begin the bottom half of the frame. Right fielder Jason Heyward and catcher Miguel Montero hit back-to-back singles to spark the Chicago scoring threat, and center fielder Albert Almora capitalized off of it by driving both of them home on a double to left for his third and fourth RBI of the season.
Both teams' bats went cold thereafter, with the only genuine offensive excitement of the middle innings coming via a second bunt single by a Cub. This time, in the fifth, Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo stunned Brewers fielders by laying one down in the direction of third base. Surprisingly fast for his size, Rizzo proceeded to steal second, but his string of good base-running fortune ran out not long after that, as he was picked off at second. Rizzo's steal marked his second swipe of 2017, one fewer than he accrued all of last season.
Lackey departed after six innings of toeing the rubber, allowing seven hits and four runs, all coming by way of the home run ball. Anderson, meanwhile, lasted five innings, giving up seven hits and three runs while striking out five. Lackey's aforementioned departure, which, again, came after he allowed three homers in only six innings pitched, shockingly proved to be a detrimental move for the Cubs. Fitting with the theme of the Cubs' losing streak, the Chicago relief pitching gave the game away. Pedro Strop was solid out of the bullpen for one inning, but his replacement, Mike Montgomery, imploded.
Montgomery, famed for generating the winning out of the 2016 World Series, was far from a winning pitcher tonight, giving up a Thames single and an RBI Braun double to begin the eighth. Braun was next able to score himself, as Cubs catcher Willson Contreras committed a throwing error when attempting to catch Braun stealing third. Instead, his errant throw gave Braun a free pass to make it safely home, putting the Brewers up 6-3.
The Cubs failed to answer the bell with a valiant comeback attempt, as a promising first and second with no outs situation that unfolded in the ninth resulted in nothing more than heartbreak for the Wrigley faithful. Serving as the tying run at the plate, Almora choked by grounding into a double play. The Cubs' 6-3 defeat ended when first-inning hero Schwarber struck out swinging to extend the Chicago losing strike to a somewhat alarming four games.
Lackey, whose ERA now stands at 4.00, was named the loser of tonight's game, dropping him to 1-2 overall, and Anderson (3-0) was granted with the win. Also of note, Neftali Feliz, currently in his first season as a Brewer, collected the save, his fifth on the year.