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No relief in sight as Cubs stumble into April off consecutive late-inning losses

Joey Gallo scores the winning run for the Rangers in the bottom of the ninth inning on Pedro Strop's wild pitch.

ARLINGTON, Texas — So much for October starting in March.

So much for urgency and fast starts.

So much for getting by with a short-handed bullpen early in the season after ownership held firm on a tapped budget while the front office tried to fill its biggest need of the winter.

“This is going to be a good bullpen this year,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Maybe.

For now, the Cubs are stumbling into April after blowing late leads the last two days against the Rangers, nobody’s American League favorites. On Sunday, they blew a two-run lead in the seventh that eventually turned into an 11-10 loss on a walk-off wild pitch by Pedro Strop in the ninth inning.

“We do have to nip this in the bud,” Maddon said. “We’ve got to get it back right. I do anticipate our guys will. There’s a lot of good names down there.”

None of them is Craig Kimbrel, the big-name free agent who remains available.

None is even Brandon Morrow, the closer who remains out for at least the first month as he comes back from an elbow injury after a lights-out first half last year.

“We’re confident in all the guys we have out there, and we’re going to keep putting them in situations where we feel like they’re going to be successful,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “And we’re going to need them to step up the whole season.

“And the thing is, we have a confident group. And to me having a confident group and guys that want the ball in big situations, we can’t worry about who we have or don’t have.”

Like Kimbrel?

“I said we can’t worry about anybody we don’t have,” he said.

Certainly, it’s not fair to draw big-picture conclusions after three games.

And starter Cole Hamels didn’t help after getting squeezed for much of the fourth inning by responding with a 3-2 cookie to Delino DeShields for a two-out grand slam that erased an early 4-1 lead.

“Sooner or later, I had to throw a pitch down the middle because I’m not about to walk a guy in,” Hamels said.

But the bullpen’s depth and back-end strength was perhaps the team’s biggest question mark heading into spring training, and nothing that happened in Arizona or Texas since then has helped answer it.

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The guys in the field have done their job.

The Cubs just spent the March portion of their schedule scoring 28 runs in three games, consistently going first to third, legging doubles and playing an errorless series.

But they take a losing record into a tough series against defending National League East champ Atlanta after blowing leads in the eighth and seventh innings the last two days.

Carl Edwards Jr.’s velocity was down and command off during the decisive eighth Saturday night.

And despite Maddon’s assertions otherwise, Tyler Chatwood wasn’t especially sharp Sunday, putting a cutter over the middle of the plate for a rocket-shot homer by Jeff Mathis in the sixth before walking two and giving up a single in the seventh.

Even the double-play ball he got in the seventh after the first walk was hit 9 mph harder than the home run, but it was right at shortstop Javy Baez.

Mike Montgomery, who took over and gave up a two-run triple followed by a two-run homer, is the one Maddon suggests needs to get right.

Montgomery, however, said, “I actually feel really good and made some good pitches.”

Whatever. Judge the individual health, mechanics and actual pitches as good, bad or indifferent. What’s certain is that the collective results can’t continue — even this early — without beginning to wear at morale.

“We’re not going to panic,” Montgomery said. “We’ve just got to stay with the process. We’re not going to lose confidence. We’ve got a good group of guys down there. . . . You can’t hang your head.”