clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cubs end April with ugly finish at Fenway — and in first place

Cubs still looking for the right direction as the finish the first month of their championship defense.

BOSTON — After the shortest offseason in baseball, talk of World Series hangovers, an emotion-filled banner-raising, multiple ring ceremonies and spending all but 11 days of April on the road, the Cubs ended the month a half-step behind the Red Sox’ Marco Hernandez.

Actually, it was reliever Koji Uehara who was beaten to the bag by Hernandez when he was late covering first in the eighth inning Sunday, a play that started a decisive four-run rally that sent the Cubs to a 6-2 loss at Fenway Park. It was their third loss in four games to finish April.

Depending on the Twitter rant you trust more, the Cubs enter May as anything ranging from a mediocre to a really bad team. They also reached May in first place in the National League Central.

They got to the second month of the season without a player on the disabled list and with right-hander Kyle Hendricks, the major-league ERA leader last season, looking closer to his 2016 self after a six-inning no-decision.

‘‘With everything that happened this month and being on the road a lot, I will take what we did right now and get on back home and try to build upon it,’’ manager Joe Maddon said of his 13-11 team. ‘‘There’s not a negative to be found for me.’’

The Cubs haven’t gotten off to the kind of 25-6 start that set the tone for last season and seems to be a benchmark for critics.

A starting rotation that returned almost intact has lagged behind its 2016 pace. But the bullpen has surged since stutter-stepping out of the gate, with the eighth inning Sunday snapping a 17-inning scoreless streak for the relievers.

The Cubs have given up 22 first-inning runs in their last 12 games, including two Sunday, but they’re scoring just more than five runs a game, up slightly from last season.

Of the Cubs’ 11 losses, two have come on walk-off plays. In seven of the nine others, they had the potential tying or winning run at the plate in the final inning.

Hendricks, who gave up only one hit after the Red Sox’ two-run first, called the first month of the Cubs’ title defense ‘‘a little weird.’’

‘‘We’re just trying to find our way a little bit,’’ he said. ‘‘Starting a new year, it was a quick turnaround for a lot of us. Everybody’s just trying to find their spot. That’s what the first month is usually for. We came out so hot out of the gates last year, [but] that was just kind of a special phenomenon.’’

Consider that in 2015, the Cubs got off to a more similar 12-8 start in April. That team won 97 games.

‘‘Usually, this is more what you kind of expect,’’ said Hendricks, whose velocity ticked up for the second consecutive start, making his changeup a swing-and-miss pitch. ‘‘But being able to still win games is obviously a really good sign because we’re not clicking on all cylinders. Once that all starts happening and the weather starts warming up . . . I think everybody will start rolling.’’

Hendricks kept the game close enough to allow the Cubs to tie the score on Kris Bryant’s second home run of the series in the fifth and Jon Jay’s sprint home from second on a wild pitch catcher Christian Vazquez lost track of in the seventh.

But after Uehara opened the eighth with the late arrival at first, the Red Sox eventually loaded the bases with none out. One run scored on a wild pitch, another on an infield tapper and two more on a throwing error by Addison Russell.

‘‘I’ll take a 5-4 road trip, I will,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I’ll take a winning month, I will.’’

He said he expects the surge to be just a matter of time.

‘‘Who knows?’’ he said. ‘‘We might have another 25-6 run in us.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Extension? Kris Bryant likes incentives, prefers to ‘play it out’

Maddon sees young Cubs, Red Sox on World Series collision course