SAN FRANCISCO – A writer from one city leaned over to a writer from another city in the Giants’ press box Monday night at Oracle Park and said:
“I’m watching all these Giants hitters tonight and wondering how this team has won 15 of its last 18 games.”
Make it 16 of 19.
And just like that, that familiar sinking feeling on the road was back for the Cubs in a 5-4 loss to open a three-city, nine-game road trip.
As if on cue, Cubs reliever Pedro Strop took over in the eighth; the Giants lineup took over the end of the game; and the Cubs’ need for bullpen help at the trade deadline was exposed again.
Three runs off Strop in the eighth – which included back-to-back two-out, run-scoring double by Austin Slater and Joe Panik – lifted the Giants to the victory, and for the first time since last August into the ranks of winning teams (at 51-50).
It was the 17th blown save by the Cubs’ bullpen in 41 chances this season.
“I’ve been having a tough time with my sinker. It just hasn’t been consistent this year,” said Strop, whose 5.47 ERA this season is more than double his ERA (2.63) in six previous seasons with the Cubs. “That one [to Slater on tying double] didn’t sink the way I wanted, and he got a good piece of wood on the ball. I just have to keep working on it and find a way to make it sink and get back on track.
“I’m not going to give up.”
Strop has struggled especially since the break with seven earned runs on eight hits allowed in six outings with three blown saves.
“This is a tough one to swallow because that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to give our team an opportunity to win,” said Strop, whose season ERAs as a Cub before this year ranged between 2.21 and 2.91. “That wasn’t the case today, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up.
But even after this one put a quick damper on the feel-good vibes coming off their 7-2 homestand to open their post-break schedule, manager Joe Maddon said he doesn’t plan any role changes in his bullpen and emphasized the one-bad-pitch theme for Strop’s inning on this night.
“Of course, he’s not happy. He’ll review it mentally. He’ll have tomorrow off for sure, and then he’ll come back and play,” Maddon said. “But he’s been there before. He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball for years for a reason. And I think one of the biggest reasons is he’s able to take a bad moment and throw it in the trash can fast. So I expect him to be normal by [Tuesday].
“I really believe in Pedro.”
The Cubs haven’t won a road series in over two months (May 17-19 in Washington).
Behind fill-in starter Alec Mills, the Cubs opened a 3-0 lead in this one and didn’t trail at any point until the eighth.
By Wednesday, Strop might get the same chance in the same eighth inning against the same team if the Cubs have the lead.
“It’s really good to hear that, of course,” he said of Maddon’s faith in him. “To know that they’re still giving me the ball in the eighth inning, seventh inning, high-leverage situations when I haven’t been that guy this year. But like I said, I’m not giving up.
“I’m the type of guy that I don’t get frustrated. I do care about it, and I’m going to find a way to get better. But I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to do anything that is going to keep me away from success.
“There’s a long way to go still,” he added. “The good part is about to come. Which is the final run of September and then October, and that’s what everybody’s chasing. So I’m going to make sure I’m better for those games.”
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the July 31 deadline like a time bomb in the Cubs’ bullpen.
The most reliable swing-and-miss pitchers projected in the bullpen when the season began are not even there for the Cubs right now – Carl Edwards Jr. optioned to AAA Iowa again before Monday’s game and Strop trying to rediscover the sink on his fastball.
Which leaves only the new closer, Craig Kimbrel, as a power, swing-and-miss guy in the pen. That would be the pitcher the Cubs didn’t get a chance to use in this one.
“Of course, you could always use more bullpen depth; I’ll never deny that because I’ve always believed that,” Maddon said. “Tonight’s a game we should have won. Pedro will be the first guy to tell you that, too. Yes, you always want more bullpen, yes.
“But I really felt pretty good about tonight.”