MILWAUKEE – Lefty, righty. West coast, Midwest. New leadoff man, new left fielder, new guy on the way for the bullpen.
Same old story.
The more games the Cubs play on the road this year, the more they look like a bug on the rest of the league’s windshield. This time it was a 3-2 loss to the Brewers in the opener of a critical nine-game stretch against the Brewers and Cardinals.
This one knocked them into second place as the Cardinals took over sole possession of the National League Central lead, a game ahead of the Cubs, for the first time since May 6 with a win over Houston. The Brewers are one game behind the Cubs.
A walk and two hit batters set the stage for Ben Gamel’s go-ahead, two-out, two-run single in the eighth of Pedro Strop as the Cubs dropped to 19-30 on the road this season. That includes 11 one-run losses – three in the first four games of this nine-game road trip
“We’ve been playing really good baseball though,” said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who was lifted with a 2-0 lead for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, in his fifth start back from a shoulder injury. “We’re right in every one of these games. It’s just one pitch here or there. So we feel really good still about where we’re at.”
Hendricks, who said he had plenty in the tank to stay in the game for the sixth, didn’t argue after discussing it with the manager, weighing the facts he was at 90 pitches, just a few starts removed from the injury and with left-hander Christian Yelich, switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal and lefty Mike Moustakas due up.
“At the end of the day, it was the right choice,” Hendricks said.
Even if it led to the wrong result at a potentially decisive point in the season.
“When you’ve only got a couple months left in the season, and you’re in a tight race, those games really matter,” team president Theo Epstein said before the game. “The team that plays the best against the division the rest of the way is probably going to be the team that wins the division.”
Wednesday’s trade deadline adds “extra meaning” to the games during this pivotal stretch, Epstein said, “because you’re trying to assess where you are and where the other teams are.
“Some teams are literally going to make the decision to buy or sell based on how they perform these last six games or so. We’re not technically in that boat, but it still affects what goes on around us.”
That’s one of the reasons the Cubs jumped on the chance to add left-hander Derek Holland from the Giants as low-cost help for lone bullpen lefty Kyle Ryan.
With one eye on potential bigger-fish lefties out there – such as Holland’s ex-Giants teammates Will Smith and Tony Watson – the Cubs snapped up the career starter with the exceptional numbers against lefty hitters (.182 with one extra-base hit allowed).
The Cubs technically acquired him for $1, with the Giants also picking up enough of his remaining salary (and 2020 option buyout) to make the total salary obligation to the Cubs at just more than the prorated major-league minimum.
Holland, 32, is expected to join the team in time for Saturday night’s game.
After Ryan was used to get through the lefty heart of the Brewers order in the sixth Friday, the Cubs were out of bullpen lefties by the time Brandon Kintzler walked Keston Hiura with one out in the eighth and then hit lefty-hitting Eric Thames with a pitch.
At that point, Cubs manager Joe Maddon went to struggling setup man Pedro Stop – who wasn’t in his original plans for Friday’s game – and Strop hit pinch-hitter Ryan Braun to load the bases.
After pinch-hitter Jesus Aguilar popped up for the second out Gamel lined a 92-mph fastball into right-center for two runs and the difference.
“Everything worked,” Maddon said. “We just hit too many guys and walked too many guys.
“And then you can look at all that, but we only scored two runs on three hits. That’s really what it comes down to. They left 10 people on base. We actually pitched really well. We got out of a lot of jams. And they just got us in the end.”