Bullpen, fielding falter in loss to Mets as Cubs fall below .500 again

NEW YORK — Where is this Cubs team right now?

“We’re in New York,” Anthony Rizzo said with a smile.

Escaping from New York is another matter for the defending champs after an eighth-inning meltdown dealt them a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Wednesday night and another series loss.

It sent them into their day off in Manhattan wearing a losing record and talking again about getting on that run they’ve talked about all year without a rational explanation for how or why it might happen.

Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. reacts as Curtis Granderson rounds the bases after his go-ahead homer leading off the eighth.

After starting-pitching problems and hitting woes got them this deep into the season without looking like a playoff team, it was their season-long strengths of defense and relief pitching that was their undoing on this night.

An unearned run in the second inning, three mishandled balls and eighth-inning home runs by Curtis Granderson — the 300th of his career — and Lucas Duda doomed the Cubs, who lost for the 10th time in their last 11 road games.

The Cubs don’t know what they’re going to get on any given day they take the field this year.

Maddon pointed to some of the extreme youth on the roster for some of that — including three guys in the starting lineup (Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr.) and another who finished the game (Willson Contreras) — who have yet to spend a full season on an active major-league roster.

But he also said it’s no excuse.

“It’s been some unpredictability about us, there’s no question about that,” Maddon said. “That’s why we’re a .500 ballclub. That’s what happens when you’re .500. You don’t play that good game every day.

“But I’m by no means giving up on anybody.”

The Cubs already have made a habit this season of falling behind early because of spotty starting pitching that has only taken on water in the last week. Kyle Hendricks went on the disabled list with a hand injury, and Jake Arrieta continues to battle a friction-caused cut on his right thumb.

If the bullpen that ranked second in the National League entering the Mets series starts looking closer to average — starts giving up leads — then that streak Maddon, Rizzo and the rest of the Cubs keep talking about could be headed in the wrong direction when it shows up.

They’ve now trailed in 51 of their 65 games.

Rizzo, the shake-up-the-lineup leadoff man who has homered leading off the last two games, compared this season’s start to 2015, when the Cubs hovered just over .500 until taking off in August and finishing with 97 wins.

But this team doesn’t have a Kyle Schwarber card to play to offer a midseason boost of energy and power production. And Arrieta had a 20-start finish that year for the record books.

Kris Bryant loses his grip on a second-inning play that led to an unearned run.

On the other hand, the Cubs entered Wednesday only a half-game back of first in the worst division in baseball.

“This year the division’s not 15 games out of reach like it was in 2015,” Rizzo said. “That’s a silver lining for all of us. We’ve just got to keep playing.”

They’ve got to do more than that.

Having bullpen workhorse Mike Montgomery in the rotation to cover injury losses doesn’t figure to help hold leads such as the 4-1 edge the Cubs built against Matt Harvey.

“We’re developing guys and winning at the same time,” Rizzo said. “We developed guys last year and won the World Series. No team’s ever done that, I don’t think. You’ve got to take your lumps. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of adjustments at this level.

“The sun’s still going to rise tomorrow.”

And Maddon is still going to believe.

“We have a nice group, and I believe in our group,” he said. “But we have to prove it on the field.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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