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Cubs struggle vs. NL big boys, drop 10th of 15 vs. winning teams

Cubs starter Jason Hammel (whose ERA shot from 2.58 to 3.45) reacts after giving up Brandon Nimmo's first career homer, a three-run shot with two out in the fourth inning Friday night.

NEW YORK – Good thing for the Cubs these aren’t “big boy” games.

Because then they might have actual cause for concern as they approach the midseason mark springing leaks in their best-in-baseball façade.

Instead, “I’m not even going to sweat it,” said Cubs starter Jason Hammel after a write-it-off, rain-delayed start in which he was rocked by an injury-depleted Mets lineup in a 10-2 loss. “I’m just going to let this one disappear.”

On a night all of New York’s CitiField seemed to be leaking, with nearly two hours worth of delays, Hammel gave up five home runs in four-plus innings as the Cubs lost for the eighth time in 12 games.

It would have been the worst start by a Cubs pitcher this season even if he hadn’t been left in the game four or five batters longer than he otherwise might have, as manager Joe Maddon tried to preserve his taxed bullpen.

“I’m not going to beat myself up,” said Hammel, whose second-half struggles the last two seasons are well documented. “Up to this point I’ve been throwing the ball really well. When the sun comes up tomorrow it’s a new day.”

But the issues for this ring-minded Cubs team isn’t about one wet night in Queens. It’s about bullpen breakdowns and injury-influenced hitting snags that could point to depth issues – at least compared to some of the other top teams in the league.

The Cubs will wake up Saturday morning still in possession of the best record in the majors – but with a losing record in their last 25 games (12-13). That includes a 5-10 mark in that stretch against winning teams.

And that includes the first two in a four-game series against what had been a reeling Mets team – that had lost four straight and scored just two runs in its previous 24 innings. Mets starter Jacob deGrom on Friday won for the first time since April because of more runs scored by his team in one night than it had scored in his six previous starts combined.

After Thursday’s late-inning loss in the series opener, veteran starter John Lackey scoffed at the idea of putting significance on games in June (and, presumably July 1).

“Big-boy games are totally different,” he said.

Maddon, who awaits the returns from the DL of leadoff man Dexter Fowler and key bench bat Tommy La Stella, also downplayed the slump.

“I’m very happy with where we’re at,” he said. “We talked about getting off to a good start so that we can absorb some tough moments. The tough moment for us right now is playing .500. Not bad.”

The only thing that seemed to go right for the Cubs on this night was Kris Bryant hitting his fifth homer in five games to take sole possession of the National League lead with 23.

“Don’t forget we’re going to be getting some significant players back also,” said Maddon, who had two first-month rookies (catcher Willson Contreras, center fielder Albert Almora Jr.) in his lineup for the third consecutive game.

“We’ve been able to hold serve with a lot of injuries,” Maddon said. “And we’re holding serve with a lot of inexperienced dudes out there. It’s going to pay dividends down the road with these kids getting this kind of work right now.”

Until then?

“It’s the power of 24 hours,” Maddon said. “We’ve got two good pitchers coming up and a chance to split the series.”