CLEVELAND -- With the Cubs' offense on a roll going into Wednesday's finale of a two-game set vs. their 2016 World Series opponent, the Indians, manager Joe Maddon was curious to see his team's plate approach against a hot pitcher like Tribe starter Trevor Bauer, who took a 2.67 ERA into the start and has a deep repertoire.
Suffice to say the roll did not continue in a 4-1 loss at Progressive Field. Bauer had his off-speed stuff working, and the Cubs did not mount much of a threat on a night in which staff ace Jonathan Lester was touched for three solo shots.
"Their home runs were fair," said Maddon, "our home runs were foul, and they win."
After scoring 45 runs over their previous five games, the Cubs stranded seven runners in the game's first six innings. A two-out RBI single from Anthony Rizzo in the fifth was a good sign for the slow-starting first baseman, but it was the only damage done off Bauer, who allowed one run on four hits, with three walks and eight strikeouts, in 6 2/3 innings.
"I didn't think we were up there just swinging without a plan," Maddon said. "But [Bauer] is on top of his game right now. They kept coming back [to the dugout] saying, 'He is throwing the ball exactly where he wants to.'"
Lester was nearly as good in his seven innings of work. But Brandon Guyer got to him with a fifth-inning solo shot that evened the score at 1. And in the sixth, Francisco Lindor hit an opposite-field shot and Edwin Encarnacion golfed a four-seamer below the strike zone to give the Indians a 3-1 lead.
"The only pitch that was a bad decision on my part was to Guyer," Lester said. "I threw him a cutter hoping he'd hit it on the ground, and it got enough of the plate where he hit it out. The other two, Lindor goes oppo and you tip your hat, and then a ball on the ground that Encarnacion hits out. That's the game, unfortunately."
Unlike the '16 World Series, this was one 3-1 deficit the Cubs could not overcome vs. the Indians. They had a runner aboard with two outs in the seventh when Tribe reliever Andrew Miller left with a hamstring injury after just two pitches to Rizzo. But Tyler Olson came in to retire Rizzo on a fly ball to center.
They threatened again in the eighth, when Willson Contreras drove a leadoff double to center, then moved to third on a Victor Caratini groundout. But Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell struck out in succession. The Indians then added another run in the bottom of the frame on a Rizzo throwing error.
The Cubs settled for a split at the scene of their 2016 triumph. But they still found positives with their 3-2 record on a tough trip to Colorado and Cleveland, especially with basically three games played without Kristopher Bryant in the lineup.
"I feel like we're just kind of at that point where we need to put like three games together," Lester said. "I feel like we're just trying to get over that hump with that third game, and it's kind of rolling from there. We've been playing well, but we've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Lester finishes 7th: It didn't affect the result, but Lester became the first Cubs starter this season to complete the seventh inning, one night after Tyler Chatwood became the first to pitch into the seventh. That's a positive sign for a rotation that had a rough start to the year.
"I really believe our guys are going to [pitch deep into games] often," Maddon said.
The Cubs averaged 9.5 runs per game in their 11 wins and 1.7 runs per game in their 10 losses this season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In an otherwise frustrating night, there was a fun moment in the seventh, when Javier Baez legged out an infield single despite a nice defensive stop from his friend and fellow Puerto Rico native Lindor. After reaching safely, Baez playfully wagged his finger at Lindor.
"It was a great play … but I beat him," Baez said with a smile. "And I let him know. If he would have made that play, I would have said something to him."
HE SAID IT
"Whoever says solo homers can't beat you is full of it." -- Lester, after getting beat on three such homers Wednesday
On the MLB Network Showcase Game, the Cubs welcome the division-rival Brewers to Wrigley Field for the first time in 2018 with Thursday's 7:05 p.m. CT opener of a four-game wraparound set. Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 4.09) will oppose Chase Anderson (2-1, 3.25), and the Cubs hope to get Bryant, who was struck in the helmet by a fastball Sunday in Colorado, back into the lineup after his checkup with the team doctor.