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Three months in, .500 Cubs really don’t seem to be getting anywhere

Cubs starter Mike Montgomery exits in the seventh inning of Friday's 5-0 loss to the Reds. (AP/John Minchillo)

CINCINNATI — The Cubs were two games over .500 after April. They were two games under after May. Not the least bit surprisingly, they ended June with a meek 5-0 loss that left them at 40-40.

It has been a one-step-forward, one-step-back kind of season from the get-go.

“It’s just baseball,” catcher Willson Contreras said after Friday night’s defeat in a series opener against the last-place Reds. “If we play different, everything will be OK. Every year isn’t going to be the same.”

A lot of Cubs have been saying a lot of things that sound just like that.

In the Cubs’ defense, Ian Happ, Mark Zagunis, Jeimer Candelario and Victor Caratini all were appearing at Great American Ballpark as players for the first time. Reliever Felix Pena was here on an expanded roster last September, but he didn’t pitch.

None of the five was on the team that took two of three from the Reds here in April. A few of them weren’t with the Cubs one or two blinks of the eyes ago.

“It’s a young group — it just is,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And there’s no getting around it.”

But there’s no getting around this, either: The Cubs still haven’t won consecutive games on the same road trip since April 24-25 in Pittsburgh. Isn’t that a growing monkey on their backs?

“It is, but it isn’t,” Maddon said, “and I’ll tell you why. We just won two out of four in Miami and two out of four in Washington. You win two in a row, lose two in a row, whatever, I just like that we split those series. Four-game series are tough, especially on the road. And we’re playing with a different group right now. I give our guys a lot of credit, actually.”

The full Monty

Left-hander Mike Montgomery (1-5) couldn’t match the Reds’ Scott Feldman (7-5) in his fifth start since plugging the hole left by injured Kyle Hendricks in the Cubs’ rotation. Yet Montgomery was outstanding outside of the fourth inning, when he gave up a three-run opposite-field homer to Adam Duvall. He threw a season-high 102 pitches.

Montgomery is fully stretched out now and — although an eventual return to the bullpen might be more likely than not — looking the part of a starter.

“Yeah, I feel really good with where I’m at,” Montgomery said. “I feel like I have command with all my pitches.”

99 problems

One day after Candelario was drilled near his left knee by a 99 mph fastball from Nationals reliever Blake Treinen, the 23-year-old infielder — who also hit his first big-league home run Thursday — was quick with a smile, if hobbled by a slight limp.

“I’ve been hit by pitches, but not in that part of my body,” he said. “He hit me in [all] bone. It was hard to move, you know?”

It’s hard to move just thinking about it.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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