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Loss to Phillies puts Cubs back on same tired road

Despite a career-high 14 strikeouts by Jose Quintana and another big day at the plate by Nick Castellanos, the Cubs lost for the 25th time in their last 36 road games.

Chicago Cubs v Philadelphia Phillies
The Cubs lost 4-2 on Tuesday night despite a career-high 14 strikeouts by starter Jose Quintana.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA – The home-white jerseys have run their course.

The Cubs are right back where they have spent most of this season when it comes to the road: in the middle of it, staring at headlights.

And not even the hottest starter on the staff and the hottest hitter in the lineup could save the Cubs on this night – despite big performances again from Jose Quintana and Nick Castellanos.

Not even against the reeling Phillies.

Not on the road.

Not once the game got to the depleted bullpen.

Not again.

This time it was a 4-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park on a pair of two-out, run-scoring hits in the seventh and eighth, in the opener of a three-game series.

And just like that, a division lead that stood at 3 12 games after Thursday night’s victory was down to 1 as the second-place Cardinals tightened the race with a victory in Kansas City.

“It’s rough to get this loss, but we kept battling,” said Quintana, who showed some of his best pitching as a Cub with a career-high 14 strikeouts.

“We have a lot of games ahead on the road. So obviously we’ve got to play better.”

The Cubs haven’t won a road series since the middle of May, and the road woes have sunk so deep that one more loss on the road will give them 37 this season – matching the highest road loss total during this competitive run that began in 2015.

They’re on the brink of a 12th consecutive winless road series, and with 22 road games left, they need an 18-4 finish in those games to avoid a losing road record.

What made this one stand out was that it came against a team that has struggled for the last month, including losses in five of its previous six games, and that took the field just a few hours after firing hitting coach John Mallee – the former Cubs hitting coach.

Until the game reached a Cubs bullpen missing its three best late-inning pitchers to injuries (Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek), Quintana made the Phillies hitters look lost without Mallee most of the night.

“He deserved a much better fate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We need to do better offensively in a game like that.

“We need to get better in these moments. We’re good enough to do that. Especially when you get a pitching performance like that. It’s really difficult. That’s a tough performance to not take advantage of.”

Quintana’s 14 strikeouts included the final four he faced and eight of the final 10 on a night he walked only one in six innings – and yet watched the team’s seven-game winning streak in his starts come to an end.

Even with left-hander Jason Vargas doing his smoke-and-mirrors number on the Cubs’ lineup again, Quintana might have had the lead when he exited if not for the unearned run created by Ian Happ’s dropped popup at second in the third inning.

By the time it got to the bullpens everything caught up to them – including a 1-for-10 performance with men in scoring position and a bullpen that mostly because of injuries has only two pitchers left from the opening roster.

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto drove in his third run of the game in the seventh on a two-out double off David Phelps, and Roman Quinn tripled home another two-out run off rookie Duane Underwood in the eighth.

Quintana matched Jon Lester (in 2015) for the most strikeouts in a game by a left-hander in franchise history since at least 1908 (as far back as reliable game-by-game records go).

Since going nine consecutive starts without a victory, Quintana now has gone eight without a loss (6-0, 3.40 ERA) – with 50 strikeouts and just seven walks in those 47 2/3 innings.

In three August starts he has a 1.89 ERA with 26 strikeouts and one walk.

But after opening this three-opponent trip in Cincinnati by hanging their home jerseys in the visitors clubhouse – then routing the Reds 12-5 – they’ve lost three of four.

The jerseys were there again Tuesday. But could be just one more road-kill casualty by Wednesday.