Sloppy loss to last-place Giants irks Cubs manager Joe Maddon

SAN FRANCISCO – Jose Quintana looked like a big answer for the Cubs’ second-half chances to return to the playoffs when the Cubs acquired him from the White Sox in a trade at the All-Star break.

But big first innings in his last two starts have raised at least a few questions with their new left-hander.

Maybe it was the rain delay last week that played a role in the two homers in that four-run first against the Diamondbacks. Maybe it was Buster Posey on Tuesday night — and an over-zealous fan reaching over the left-field wall – in the case of this three-run homer by the Giants’ cleanup man.

Regardless, the Cubs have lost Quintana’s last three starts after Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the National League West’s last-place Giants at AT&T Park – the last two after allowing a combined seven first-inning runs on three homers.

Joe Maddon

On this night manager Joe Maddon was more disappointed with sloppy fielding Tuesday, which included a first-inning error by shortstop Javy Baez that made one run unearned.

Second baseman Ian Happ misplayed a ball that was generously ruled an RBI single under his glove in the eighth. And the Giants scored another run when Quintana gave up a two-out single to pitcher Ty Blach in the fourth.

“We’re playing like that .500 team we were in the first half,” Maddon

said. “And I don’t like it. We’ve got to get sharper.”

The Cubs have lost five of seven since a 14-3 surge from the All-Star break, with sloppy play mixed with a few bullpen breakdowns over the last week.

“I talked about it from Day 1 of spring training,” Maddon said. “For us to get back to the promised land, we’ve got to catch the ball. Maybe not at the level we did last year but a lot better than we have to this point.”

First baseman Anthony Rizzo downplayed concerns that the Cubs might slip back into their first-half sleepwalk that left them two games under .500 and 5½ games out of first place at the break.

“We’re not going to ride that roller coaster that hard this half,” said Rizzo, who acknowledged he has noticed the Cardinals creeping within 2½ games of the first-place Cubs, with the Brewers in between.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s something that we’ll be ready for. We’ve got to worry about ourselves. We can’t control what they’re going to do.

“We’ve got to worry about ourselves and everything else will take care of itself.”

Quintana took the blame for “frustrating” first innings his last two starts, especially on this night.

“The first inning changed the game for me,” he said. “It’s tough when you get down three runs against teams like that; it’s really hard to come back.”

This one involved a video review after Posey’s shot was touched by a fan, replay officials confirming the ball was over the wall by then.

Giants lefty Ty Blach (8-7) made it hold up with seven strong innings.

As he did Thursday against the Diamondbacks, Quintana (2-2) settled down quickly after the early scoring. After following the Posey homer with a walk Tuesday, Quintana retired the next nine he faced, but too little too late.

“He’s going to challenge you with a fastball,” Maddon said of Quintana’s pitching style before the game. “If he’s getting the fastball in bad spots, it’s going to get hit a little bit.

“My encouragement is always, `Don’t stop throwing your fastball. Just try to locate it a little bit better.’ I think he’s capable of that.”

Of more potential concern than Quintana was the health of veteran reliever Koji Uehara, who left the mound with a trainer because of stiffness on the lower right side of his neck after facing two batters in the seventh.

Uehara said he has dealt with the issue for “several days” but was not concerned and said he thinks with a scheduled off day Thursday he should be ready to pitch by Friday.

One of the Cubs’ hotter relievers lately, Hector Rondon, also was unavailable the last two days because of back stiffness that started when he woke up Monday in San Francisco.

He said he was much better by Tuesday night and expected to be available to pitch Wednesday in the series finale against the Giants.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com