Quintana, Cubs can't shake mound struggles

April 6th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- walked off the mound at Miller Park on Friday night with his hands on his hips, looking down and shaking his head over another outing gone wrong. Soon, shortstop Javier Baez was alongside the reliever, throwing a supportive arm around him.

On a night that could have been a boon for the Cubs’ confidence, it was more of the same for a pitching staff that has been spinning its wheels on this season-opening road trip. The rival Brewers capitalized and continued their hot streak, ambushing starter , piling on against the reeling relief corps and dealing Chicago a 13-10 loss that felt more disheartening than any early April defeat should.

That last fact -- that this remains early April -- was the reaction that Chicago's players clung to in the visitors' clubhouse.

"I'm disappointed," third baseman said. "It's not what we talked about in spring, where we wanted to get off to a great start, but it's going to make our story that much better. There's no time to put our head down or sit here and complain or whine or whatever. We've got so many games left. It's kind of important to stay together here."

With only seven games in the books, though, the Cubs (1-6) are already 5 1/2 games back of the National League Central-leading Brewers (7-1). Chicago has not been that far off the division lead since July 15, 2017. Now, it bears reminding that the '17 club won the division by a six-game margin over the Brewers. And this Cubs team has a three-month advantage over that team in terms of making up ground.

The Cubs have not even played a home game, yet.

Given how last season ended -- with the Brewers claiming the Central crown in Game 163 and the Cubs exiting the October stage one Wild Card Game later -- it is easy to overreact to what is happening thus far. Another layer of worry is added when considering the '19 NL Central landscape is daunting. And even another layer of concern is draped on top of that when the preseason pitching concerns are what have hurt the Cubs the most to date.

"I get the fans' outlook, but I think for us, we've just got to keep on plugging away," Bryant said. "We're just not playing good baseball right now. It's early in the season and we don't like it. It's easy to see. You're 1-6 and the other team is 7-1. It's like, 'Oh my gosh. That's a lot of ground to make up.' … It's easy to kind of get caught in the trap."

It would also be easy for the position players to feel a bit demoralized given the nature of these early losses.

Friday was another example of an overwhelming offensive showing from the Cubs: Three home runs, 10 runs, 15 hits. Overall, the lineup has an .890 OPS and is averaging 6.6 runs per game. And yet, Chicago is 1-2 in games in which it scores at least 10 runs and the team has dropped six in a row for the first time since May 2017. This is the first time since 1997's 0-14 start that a Cubs team has lost at least six of their first seven games.

"It's just the bullpen and the pitching," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've got to make sure we get that right."

Between Quintana (eight runs allowed in three innings) and the bullpen, Friday's loss pushed the Cubs' season ERA up to 7.85 in 57 1/3 innings. The staff has issued an MLB-high 46 walks in that span and the 59 runs allowed are the most in the first seven games of a season for the franchise since 1901, when the club was called the Orphans.

"It's really tough this time," Quintana said. "It's not fun. I feel really bad. I tried to pick up my teammates. We've had a couple really bad games."

The Cubs cut the Brewers' lead to 8-5 by the fifth, aided by homers from Daniel Descalso and Willson Contreras, when Edwards entered with one out and a runner aboard. He promptly surrendered a two-run, gut-punch homer to Orlando Arcia. Brandon Kintzler -- one of the few bright spots out of the bullpen early on -- later yielded a three-run shot to pinch-hitter Eric Thames. Those setbacks made the Cubs' five-run push across the final two frames feel hollow.

What matters now is how the Cubs come back from this over the next several days, weeks and months.

"I can see us really hitting the panic button if it was the All-Star break or later on in the season," Bryant said. "But, we still have a lot of time. A lot of ground to make up, but I believe in this team. We've got a good nucleus, good players, all the talent in the world. So, there's no worry on my end."

Up next

Left-hander Cole Hamels and the Cubs will try to get on track when they take on the Brewers at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday in a divisional clash at Miller Park. Hamels allowed five runs in five innings in a no-decision against the Rangers on Sunday.