Cubs can’t produce in key situations in 2-0 loss

In the last 10 games, manager Joe Maddon has seen his Cubs score 17, 14 and eight runs.

But the stretch also has included two shutouts, two games with one run and one game with two runs.

“Hard to scratch a run across,” Maddon said. “We’ve gone through those moments before.”

The Cubs’ lumber fell into another slumber Friday in a 2-0 loss to the Brewers. The defeat reduced the Cubs’ lead to four games with 21 games left.

These aren't exactly the best of times for the struggling Cubs. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 700012366

It’s not as if Maddon’s squad lacked opportunities against Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson, who exited because of soreness in his right arm after five innings. Three times — in the second, third and fifth innings — the Cubs had runners on first and third with two outs. All three times, they failed to produce.

Javy Baez lined out to center to squander the first scoring opportunity. In the next inning, Ben Zobrist struck out looking.

In the fifth, Anthony Rizzo launched a towering blast to left-center field that would’ve cleared the fence for a three-run home run on many nights. A stubborn wind, however, pushed it back into play.

“It definitely was hit really well enough to go, but it was so high,” Maddon said. “That’s where the wind [got it].”

The team’s quiet night at the plate spoiled a strong performance by John Lackey, who has emerged in the last two months after a turbulent start. Lackey struck out nine in seven innings and allowed two runs, both came on Ryan Braun’s 300th career homer in the first inning.

Since the All-Star break, Lackey is 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA (23 earned runs in 56„ innings).

“I’m feeling pretty good physically,” Lackey said. “I’m throwing strong. I’m feeling a lot better than at this point last season. I was kind of grinding through a shoulder situation around this time last year. It’s nice to feel good and compete.”

Brian Duensing and Hector Rondon each pitched a scoreless inning of relief to give the Cubs a chance to come back. Rondon drew a gasp from the crowd as he snared a line drive that was hit inches from his head.

“Thank God it hit him in the glove,” Maddon said. “That’s as scary as it gets right there.”

Taylor Davis made his major-league debut as a pinch hitter in the seventh but struck out swinging.

The Cubs have 16 games left against division opponents and 13 against winning teams. The Cubs face the Brewers six more times, and they still have seven games left against the Cardinals.

“I think they probably like that more than we like that because they get an opportunity to try to get to us when they win games,” Zobrist said of the schedule. “But that makes our opportunity to break away late in the season a little bit easier. If we can beat those teams, then we’ll break away a little bit more.”

And if not?

The Cubs aren’t thinking in those terms. After last season’s World Series run, confidence has replaced concern.

“I’d describe the rest of this month as being an opportunity to maintain what we have,” Jason Heyward said.

“You’ve got to be in it to win it, and we’ve got a chance to be in October baseball again.”

Zobrist agreed.

“We’re in first place,” Zobrist said. “That’s really where you want to be right now. We’ve still got to play strong all the way through.”

Follow me on Twitter @tcmusick.

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