Cubs scratch Marcus Stroman before dropping finale vs. Dodgers for fifth loss in row

Their 7-1 loss Sunday night captured many of the Cubs’ struggles that have led to a 9-18 record. Justin Steele pitched four innings of three-hit ball but left after warming for the fifth with a sore left thumb.

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Freddie Freeman runs past Jonathan Villar on his way to scoring in the ninth inning Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Freddie Freeman runs past Jonathan Villar on his way to scoring in the ninth inning Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

There have been signs of minor progress, only for them to be eliminated by wide-ranging setbacks.

It has added up to a five-game losing streak for the Cubs, whose mission of working out of their abyss becomes more ominous with a three-game road series against the Padres starting Monday.

Their 7-1 loss Sunday to the Dodgers captured many of the struggles that have led to their 9-18 record.

‘‘We played a couple of teams lately that it feels like we’re chasing that kind of championship-caliber baseball,’’ said manager David Ross, whose team’s skid started with a two-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox. ‘‘We’ll get there.

‘‘I think there’s a lot of positives in where we’re going. But when you play teams like this, you see how fundamentally sound you have to be, how good you have to be on the bases, how good you have to pitch and have good at-bats. These are the things these guys are working very hard to improve on.

‘‘We’ll try to get there as fast as we possibly can.’’

Any chance of averting a three-game sweep against the Dodgers was hurt by the loss of right-hander Marcus Stroman, who was scratched from his scheduled start and put on the 10-day injured list with no designation. That is often reserved for players who have produced a positive COVID-19 test.

Without Stroman, who has allowed two earned runs in his last 13 innings and blanked the Brewers for seven innings in his last start, the Cubs were forced to start left-hander Justin Steele, who originally was scheduled to pitch Monday.

Steele yielded three hits in four innings but felt discomfort in his left thumb while gripping his slider and left the game. He said he thought he would return sometime in the series against the Diamondbacks, which begins Friday.

The loss of Stroman and Steele’s thumb issue create more concern for a rotation that has struggled to pitch past the fifth inning. The Cubs haven’t named a starter for Tuesday and Wednesday and, after a day off Thursday, are scheduled to play on 14 consecutive days.

As for their hitters, they were harnessed by Walker Buehler, who yielded four hits in seven innings and didn’t allow a runner past first base after the third.

The Cubs scored only three runs in the series, but their offensive struggles can’t be attributed to a lack of effort. After they were swept in a doubleheader Saturday, catcher Willson Contreras said the players frequently have shared information on opposing pitchers after each at-bat.

Outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who was 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts on the five-game homestand, was looking at a tablet after one of his at-bats Sunday.

Contreras provided some short-lived hope when he smacked a meaty 0-2 pitch into right field to score Rafael Ortega for a 1-0 lead in the first. But Buehler (4-1) allowed three baserunners the rest of the way in lowering his ERA to 1.96.

Ian Happ went 0-for-4 and finished the homestand 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts.

The Cubs aren’t scheduled to face former teammate Yu Darvish against the Padres, but they need to find some formula to pull them out of this slump.

In a perfect script, Ross would have a dominant rotation, a lockdown bullpen and an offense providing quality at-bats. That description fits a Dodgers team that appears destined to regain the National League West title after finishing second with 106 victories in 2021.

Shortstop Nico Hoerner committed his first error of the season, a fielding miscue that scored two runsin the ninth.

‘‘I missed the ball,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘I prefer to put myself on a better hop with two feet forward.’’

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