Chicago Cubs, Game 49: Cubs Lose it Late in Series Opener

The Chicago Cubs began a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, and they ended up dropping the series opener by a score of 6–5. The Cubs lineup was hot early on as they hit three home runs in the first three innings, but they cooled off fast and tallied just one run over the last six innings of the game. They also got a quality — yet rocky at times — start out of Kyle Hendricks, but the bullpen was unable to close the door on the Reds.

Photo Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

Despite this loss, the Cubs will remain in first place by the end of today’s slate of games. The Milwaukee Brewers can get as close as a half-game back of the division lead if the win their game against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight, but if they lose they will remain 1 1/2 games back. As of this typing the Pittsburgh Pirates (3 GB) and St. Louis Cardinals (4 GB) sit in the third and fourth spots in the division standings, respectively, and the Reds — who now move to 6 1/2 GB — are still in the picture.

Here is how today’s action went down:

The Offense

The Cubs continued to launch homers on Friday, as they went bridge three more times in this one. And, similarly to their game on Wednesday night, all of their runs came courtesy of long ball. The first one came off of the bat of Kyle Schwarber, as he led off the bottom of the first with a 449-foot leadoff bomb.

The last two homers came in the bottom of the third inning, as the founding members of the Bryzzo Souvenir Co. went back-to-back to push their lead up to a 4–0 mark at that point in the game. Bryant’s blast was a two-run homer that brought Schwarber (who had reached base on a walk) around to score, and Rizzo’s blast hit the right field video board — the second time that he has hit the board this week.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Photo Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

It was rough-going for the Cubs hitters in the middle innings. They failed to produce any runs in the fourth inning after loading up the bases, and in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings they only managed to put one runner on base (1 H). Of course, it was during this time that the pitching staff gave up the lead and allowed the Reds to tie the game.

Things did pick up again a bit in the eighth inning as they put three runners on base (2 H, 1 BB), and they were able to regain the lead thanks to an RBI single by pinch-hitter Willson Contreras. But the offensive mojo did not last long as the bullpen blew the lead in the top of the ninth, and the Cubs went down in order in the bottom half of the frame.

The Pitching

Kyle Hendricks took the mound for the Cubs in this game, and he posted his fifth quality start of the season (his fourth such outing in the month of May). It was not always smooth sailing for him in his six innings of work, but he still had moments when he showed his ability to dominate a lineup.

He ran into some trouble in the fourth and sixth innings, which hurt his final line, but overall it was still a solid performance from The Professor. Over his six innings of work he allowed six hits, three runs (all earned), and posted an extremely strong 9:1 K:BB.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Photo Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

The bullpen did not hold up today as Brad Brach (1 2/3 IP), Mike Montgomery (1/3 IP), Steve Cishek (blown save, no outs recorded), and James Norwood (1 IP) combined to allow three earned runs on five hits, two walks, and they did strike out four batters altogether. The most notable line of of this group belongs to Cishek, as he faced two batters and allowed both of them to score (one walk, one home run).

Cishek has been solid for the Cubs lately, and the two-run homer he gave up to Eugenio Suarez was the first time that he had allowed any earned runs to score in the month of May. He did have another blown save on May 8, but the run that scored was charged to Kyle Ryan instead. He has been solid for the Cubs since joining them last season, and he has proven in the past that he can handle the ninth inning when needed. His outing is no statement on his ability to close (he does have 129 career saves, with three seasons of 25+ saves). It was just a bad outing for him, and that’s part of baseball.

Coming Up

There are two games remaining in this three-game weekend set against Cincinnati. Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 1:20 PM CT, and will feature a starting pitching matchup between Yu Darvish (5.06 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) for the Cubs and Tyler Mahle (3.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) for the Reds.

Following Sunday’s series finale the Cubs will head down south to face the Houston Astros for a three-game series, which will mark the beginning of a week-long road trip.