SAN DIEGO – The Cubs can make all the trades they want between now and 100 years from now. But if their infield plays like it did Tuesday night, their trophy shelf will stay just as empty as the last 100 years.
“We’ve been outstanding on defense, and then to have three really pedestrian plays beat us is tough,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after his infield surrendered three unearned runs on around-the-horn errors in a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
Chris Coghlan hit two home runs, and Dexter Fowler added another. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel – who retired the first 12 he faced — didn’t allow an earned run or a walk in seven innings.
But a throwing error by third baseman Kris Bryant in the fifth, a muffed routine grounder by shortstop Starlin Castro in the seventh and a dropped popup by second baseman Addison Russell in the eighth – all leading off innings — led to an unearned run in each, adding up to another giveaway loss by the Cubs.
This after eight consecutive games without an error – six of them wins.
The Cubs took a 2-1 lead into the seventh before Castro’s error on Matt Kemp’s grounder leading off the inning. Two outs and a wild pitch later, Will Venable drove in the tying run with a single to right.
In the eighth, after Russell’s error leading off the inning, followed by a bunt single, Derek Norris delivered a one-out, two-run double off Pedro Strop.
“If we’d just caught the ball tonight, we’d have won that game,” Maddon said. “That’s the part that’s difficult. We’ve given too many games away this year, whether it’s pitches out of the bullpen or tonight on defense.
“We’ve got to tighten it up all the way around,” he added. “That’s how you stay hot. That’s how you really get that record, how you go from five over, to 10 over, to 15 over .500. You’ve got to get to those numbers, and you’ve got to play a complete game to accomplish those goals.”
On the day they made a series of roster moves to upgrade the bullpen and rebalance the bench, the Cubs wasted Hammel’s best start of the year, maybe his best as a Cub.
“He could not have pitched better than he did tonight,” Maddon said. “It’s impossible. He was outstanding.”
“Without the errors he probably could have pitched a complete game tonight just based on number of pitches thrown because of pitches he had to make after the mistakes.”
Hammel, who dropped his ERA to 2.70, threw 106 pitches, including nine “extra” ones.
“I had good stuff tonight for sure. I felt really good about it,” said Hammel, who gave up only three hits – including the tying single with two outs.
“It’s frustrating giving up unearned runs. You make pitches to get to two outs and then all you got to do is make one more out, and [they] squeak one in there. I’ve still got to keep making pitches there. It sucks.”
Maybe it’s no coincidence that two of the errors were committed by rookies with 55 combined big-league games of experience. Maybe some of it’s inevitable, given all the new names on the roster, all the youth and all the zero-to-100 expectations the players have applied to this first season of light after three years of front office tanking.
Russell said he was disappointed he’s not making more plays as he learns a new position in the majors but is trying to not to get down on himself. Castro said he has no excuses: “I’ve got to make that play.”
Both expressed frustration watching how this first game on a six-game West Coast trip slipped away.
“When you make errors, that kills the team,” said Castro, who added the team needs to “grind it out” and put this one behind it. “We know how we lost the game. It’s not easy, but we can’t say any excuses.”