Rotation regression: Cubs’ recent struggles start with starters

The rotation has had only four starts of six innings or longer in the Cubs’ last 13 games — with an ERA of 6.09 in that 5-8 stretch.

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Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros

Cole Hamels has pitched just 13 innings total in his last three starts, including four on Monday, when he allowed six earned runs.

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

HOUSTON — Cubs star Javy Baez struck out five times Monday, including in the final at-bat of the game with the potential tying run at first base, as the Cubs lost 6-5 to the Astros.

Go ahead, pile on to the social-media blast and Twitter hand-wringing that commenced as soon Baez swung through the last pitch of the game with David Bote on first and Anthony Rizzo on deck.

‘‘If you look and play back the tape, I would bet 80 percent of those pitches were balls — at least 70, 75,’’ manager Joe Maddon said with a slight smile. ‘‘But he hits those, too.

‘‘The one beautiful thing about Javy is, I don’t think he’s going to lose any sleep over that tonight.’’

In fact, the last Cubs player to strike out five times in a game was Baez in 2017.

‘‘What’d he do the next day?’’ Maddon said.

He hit a home run.

‘‘Obviously, they pitched me out of the zone and [Astros starter Gerrit] Cole has got pretty good velocity on his fastball and I kept chasing it,’’ Baez said. ‘‘There’s no excuses. I’ll come back tomorrow and fight through it.’’

That’s the thing about these Cubs: Even on a day when Baez looks like the strikeout-prone kid he was early in his career, the power-hitting, flash-fielding .310 hitter with the big arm and daring baserunning is the least of the Cubs’ problems.

And whether you think this series says anything about what might happen in October, here’s the bigger problem in May: The Cubs have had only four starts of six innings or longer in their last 13 games, including three of only four innings in the last six.

Two of those belong to left-hander Cole Hamels, who allowed four hits and two walks in a five-run third that sunk the opener of this three-game series.

‘‘It really puts that bullpen in a bad situation,’’ said Hamels, who has only 13 innings to show for his last three starts. ‘‘I think this is my third [short] start. It’s not good. I definitely need to make some corrections.’’

It’s not just Hamels. A rotation that was the backbone of the Cubs’ rebound from a bad opening week has struggled for two weeks. It has a 6.09 ERA during that 5-8 stretch, and no Cubs starter has been credited with a victory since the last road trip, when Kyle Hendricks yielded four runs and couldn’t get through the sixth inning in Washington.

In the last full turn through the rotation, Cubs starters are 0-3 with 24 earned runs allowed in 26 1/3 innings (8.20 ERA).

‘‘Listen, Cole, Jonny [Lester], Kyle — we have a great group,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘And I know they’ve been struggling a bit as of late, but that happens. They’d been nailing it for quite a bit. You’re going to struggle for a bit, and then you’re going to come back and nail it again.’’

Hamels’ struggles looked especially conspicuous against the backdrop of the power-pitching Cole, who struck out 12 in six innings, allowed only one walk and held the Cubs scoreless on two singles after Rizzo’s two-run homer in the first.

‘‘It’d be nice to be able to run through the whole season with no regression and no bumps in the season,’’ said Hamels, who called it a case of ‘‘bad timing’’ with the Cubs in a five-week stretch with only one day off. ‘‘But all of us know what we’re capable of doing, and we’ll be back to normal.’’

Meanwhile, don’t blame the hitters, who made this game close despite 17 strikeouts against the Astros’ power staff.

‘‘After my third [strikeout], I told [Maddon], ‘You could throw me a beach ball today, and I won’t hit it,’ ’’ Baez said. ‘‘But I’m always positive. I can do little things on offense and defense. There’s no pressure. I’ll come back tomorrow to do it again.’’

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