You can’t blame Steve Cishek. And manager Joe Maddon wasn’t about to after the usually reliable reliever took his turn in deepening the Cubs’ bullpen rut.
Cishek allowed a two-run home run to Eugenio Suarez in the ninth inning in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds on Friday at Wrigley Field.
“I would never utter a disparaging word toward Mr. Cishek, ever,” Maddon said after the Cubs (29-20) lost for the second time this week and third time this season when leading after eight innings. “It didn’t work today. Give [the Reds] credit. But don’t overlook the fight of the team. We played a pretty good game today. We swung the bats well. We hit some homers. I thought Kyle [Hendricks] was very good.
“We’re playing hard and [playing] good baseball. We didn’t win. They kicked the last field goal. That happens.”
Indeed, the Cubs looked like the first-place team they are until handing the game over to their bullpen. Kyle Schwarber hit a leadoff homer in the first inning. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back homers to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead in the third inning. Hendricks retired the first 10 batters and allowed one run through five innings before “one bad pitch” burned him when Yasiel Puig hit a two-run homer to make it 4-3 in the sixth inning.
And even after the Reds rallied to tie the game, Rizzo alertly stole a base that led to the tiebreaking run when he scored on Willson Contreras’ two-out single in the eighth inning.
But the bullpen that Maddon so resolutely believes in continues to loom as a blemish that won’t go away and can’t be covered up.
The Cubs’ bullpen was third in the -National League in ERA (3.90) heading into the game. But in the last 10 games, it has a 4.82 ERA and 1.714 WHIP — 46 hits, 20 earned runs and 18 walks in 37„ innings. The Cubs’ relievers dropped to seventh in ERA after this game and have more blown saves (11) than saves (nine).
The culprits this time were their most effective relievers. Brad Brach allowed three consecutive two-out hits in the seventh — capped by Jesse Winker’s RBI double — that tied the game at 4. And after Rizzo’s hustle and Contreras’ clutch hit gave the Cubs the lead, Cishek gave it back in two batters — a walk to Joey Votto and Suarez’s homer. He hit Winker and was replaced by James Norwood.
“I was locked in today; I -really was,” said Cishek, who was 4-for-5 in save opportunities with a 2.35 ERA coming in. “It’s just a lack of execution. I felt like I could get a good ground ball, playing to [Suarez’s] aggressiveness. I just left it middle, trying to go down and away. It happens, unfortunately. Just bad timing. But I’m looking forward to [Saturday].”
Cishek had pitched 3„ scoreless innings in two appearances this week, including one inning against the Phillies on Wednesday.
“He probably didn’t have a full tank — probably three-fourths maybe — so the stuff wasn’t as clean or crisp,” Maddon said. “And Suarez is a pain in the butt, man. He’s been pitching him really well. He got it in a bad spot, and he just hit it out.”
It was just one of those days.
“We were victimized by ground balls up the middle, bloopers to right field,” Maddon said. “It’s a little bit of bad luck, pitching-wise. It happens, man. It just happens. Just one of those things we have to continue to fight through.”
And credit the Reds’ bullpen, which ranks No. 1 in the NL.
“They have a good bullpen,” Maddon said. “And they had a day off [Thursday], too. They had a chance to reboot whereas we did not. So that helps them, too, in this series right now.”