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Less hitting, more bullpen problems send Cubs to fifth straight loss

Six of the final seven batters Yu Darvish reached base as he failed to pitch out of the fifth on Thursday night against the Braves.

ATLANTA — It’s only the first week of the season. How much can this slow start really matter for the Cubs this early, right?

Don’t try that nonsense with Cubs elder statesman Ben Zobrist.

“It does matter. It will matter at the end of the season,” said Zobrist, who has experienced everything from last place to World Series MVP in his career.

“These games will matter, definitely,” he said. “We know that. Every little game matters. That’s why people are talking about it and caring about it, because everybody knows that it matters.”

It matters enough that manager Joe Maddon toured the clubhouse talking to players and coaches individually after Wednesday night’s loss, which featured a lead blown in the eighth inning. That was the same night veteran pitcher Jon Lester said he thought the team was “pressing” because of its emphasis on getting off to a fast start.

“I don’t know if the word’s ‘pressing,’ ” Maddon said. “But definitely is this trying too hard? Is that ‘pressing’? I don’t even know. Definitely guys are so invested.”

Then came Thursday’s 9-4 loss to the Braves that wasn’t nearly that close — with Atlanta’s Max Fried taking a perfect game two outs deep into the sixth and the Cubs’ bullpen melting down again after taking over a 1-0 game in the fifth.

Just like that, the Cubs have lost five consecutive games and already are 4½ games out of first just six games into the season.

“The stunning part is just that we’ve given up so many leads late,” said Maddon, who has seen the bullpen blow leads once in the seventh and twice in the eighth already. “I did not anticipate the pen having such a difficult time early. I did not see that coming.”

The Cubs didn’t lose five in a row last year until May and didn’t lose six in a row at all.

They haven’t been 1-5 since 2012, when they lost 101 games, and haven’t had a losing record through six games since 2014, when they finished last.

Pressing?

“It’s hard to know who would be doing that and who isn’t,” Zobrist said. “I’m looking at execution just like everybody else. Are we executing as a team? There’s some things we’ve done well. There’s some things we obviously haven’t done well execution-wise early.”

Even if you throw out the six-error loss Monday, the bullpen has been a mess. And that includes Thursday night, just earlier in the game.

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Yu Darvish, who pitched better than his seven-walk debut last week, said he felt great, but allowed six of his final seven batters to reach base, including a double and walk to start the fifth.

It unraveled from there, when Carl Edwards Jr. walked his first batter to load the bases, unleashed a wild pitch to allow a run to score and then walked the other batter he faced to reload the bases.

Enter Tyler Chatwood. Exit Nick Markakis’ drive to center for a three-run double.

By the time the inning was over, the Cubs trailed 6-0, and it was 9-0 before they scored four in the ninth.

“It’s just the first week and we still have how many games to go — 156 games or something?” said Darvish, who deadpanned he could throw 200 pitches in his next start. “Nothing to worry about.”