Early lead vanishes as Cubs swept by Crew
MILWAUKEE -- There will be a point later this year when the Cubs can look back on the past three days in Milwaukee and evaluate the overall impact. In the immediate picture, it was a disastrous stretch with damaging consequences.
"I don't think this series is going to make or break our season," said Cubs manager David Ross, sitting in the visitors' dugout at American Family Field on Wednesday morning. "We've got a long ways to go."
Those comments were made before the Cubs absorbed a gut punch of a 15-7 defeat to the National League Central-leading Brewers. The truly disheartening aspect of the loss is the fact that -- playing short-handed -- Chicago had a seven-run lead in the first inning.
Per ESPN Stats and Info, the Cubs joined the Giants (April 26, 1976) as the only teams in the past 50 seasons to score seven runs in the first inning, only to lose by seven or more runs.
As Cubs starter Jake Arrieta put it: “It should've been a pretty easy task to complete. It was all frustrating.”
Now the Cubs head into Thursday's off-day six games back of the Brewers in the division. Ross called that "a big number" for his 42-39 team at the season's midpoint. And the ramifications of this season-high six-game losing streak could linger to the July 30 Trade Deadline, if Chicago is unable to right its ship.
"I know the Trade Deadline is on the [mind] of the outside world," Ross said. "But I really think we're focused on the day-to-day process. And we'll continue to get guys back and play good baseball. I think we've got, still, things to work on, as I say a lot. I think we're a good team."
After all, it was just six games ago that the Cubs and Brewers shared the top slot in the division, following Chicago’s combined no-hitter against the Dodgers last week. The issue, of course, is that Milwaukee has not lost, and Chicago has not won, since that historic night in L.A.
Adding to the frustration for the Cubs is the fact that the club was, as Ross said, “weathering the storm” of its June gauntlet full of top-tier opponents and a grueling road schedule. With an injury-riddled roster, Chicago arrived in Milwaukee with a 12-13 ledger in June despite one of the worst monthly offensive showings (.187 team average after Wednesday) in franchise history.
Over an 18-game stretch starting on June 5 through the June 24 no-hitter, the Cubs were tied atop the division 13 times, up or down by a half-game three times and up by a full game twice. Then, the bottom gave out -- as it did in Wednesday’s bruising by the Brewers.
“First place can go up and down a few times before September, so I'm not worried about that,” Javier Báez said. “We've played against really good teams and that's what it's all about. You've got to compete.
“It's not just going to come to us. We've got to work. We've got to work and we've got to do our homework, too, to do better and to win and to be in first place.”
After being gifted with a 7-0 lead, Arrieta labored with his command, issued four walks (one to force in a run in the first) and lasted only 1 2/3 innings. That strained an already-fatigued bullpen, which turned to utility man Eric Sogard for the eighth inning, his second appearance in the series.
“You've got to pound the zone. You've got to attack hitters,” Ross said. “They're waiting for a reason to give up when you give up seven in the first. You can't put guys on base.”
In a world where the Cubs are buyers at the Deadline, rotation help would be on the team’s wish list. Not only have there been health setbacks within the group, but Arrieta has struggled to the tune of a 7.13 ERA in his past nine turns.
Complicating matters, Arrieta made a throwing error in the second that not only allowed to a pair of Milwaukee runs, but it led to first baseman Patrick Wisdom (filling in with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo banged up) exiting with a left eye contusion and neck tightness.
“This one's on my shoulders," Arrieta said. "There's no way around it.”
It has reached the point where Arrieta’s job security was broached with Ross after Wednesday’s loss.
“We're going to reset this off-day and go from there,” Ross said. “I don't know who we would replace him with.”
Arrieta added that “everything that can go wrong, has” for the Cubs over the past week. The veteran was quick to point out, however, that the team rallied in May after an abysmal start to the season, too.
“We've gotten out of it,” Arrieta said. “We've overtaken first place and we were there for quite a while. We'll be back in that situation again. As difficult as this may seem, it's going to be short-lived.”
As the front office contemplates whether to buy or sell at the Deadline one month from now, the Cubs will hope Arrieta’s prediction proves correct.