CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo is heating up. The bullpen is looking better. And the Cubs have won five of six series.
But if you were looking for a feel-good vibe in the clubhouse after their 7-5 loss Sunday to the Reds, you were still looking, especially if you were checking in John Lackey’s corner.
“Yeah, I don’t care about the series right now; I’m pissed,” said Lackey, who lost his third consecutive start on a strange day in which most things that could go wrong did.
“I felt like I definitely pitched a lot better than the numbers are going to show. Two of the first three runs were a couple of balls that kind of fell in on me. And I really didn’t give up a whole lot of hard contact. What are you going to do?”
Well, there was that home run that Scott Schebler hit in the second inning. And there was that three-run double to the left-center-field gap in the sixth by Patrick Kivlehan, a bench guy who wasn’t even in the lineup until Zack Cozart was scratched because of a sore wrist.
If anything, this was a day that summed up the Cubs’ stutter-step start to their championship defense.
Consider the “dominant” performance by Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who before April 8 hadn’t pitched in a big-league game in three seasons because of multiple arm injuries.
His velocity ranging from 75 to 82 mph, Arroyo baffled the Cubs for six innings, retiring the first 10 he faced, allowing two runs after a single by Kris Bryant followed by a homer by Rizzo in the fourth and striking out seven.
“Obviously, he’s throwing below hitting speed right now,” catcher Miguel Montero said.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have trailed in nine consecutive games (losing five of them).
They haven’t had a quality start from the rotation since Jon Lester’s seven scoreless innings in a no-decision a week earlier against the Pirates.
And Bryant hasn’t had a multihit game since his two-homer game the day before that Lester start. The league’s reigning MVP — and the player with MLB’s hottest-selling jersey — is hitting only .230 with 19 strikeouts (second to Kyle Schwarber on the team).
“Some of it is he’s fouling his pitch off,” said manager Joe Maddon, who said he’s not even sure how often Bryant is getting his pitch to hit.
“But I’m kind of encouraged because we’re in decent shape right now, and he really hasn’t gotten off yet. Rizzo has. Schwarber has done a great job of getting on base and getting some big hits, but he’s still got a lot left in the tank, too. . . .
“Some guys really haven’t kicked it in gear yet.”
Tell it to Lackey (1-3).
This is the kind of day it was for him:
On the ninth pitch of the first at-bat of the game, Billy Hamilton blooped a ball to center that Jon Jay allowed to fall in front of him for a hit after getting a bad jump. Next two pitches: steals of second and third.
One out later, Joey Votto hit a sacrifice fly for the quick lead.
Errors by Rizzo and Bryant contributed to two unearned runs in a four-run sixth, which cost Lackey any chance of pitching deeper in the game.
“He looks good to me,” Montero said. “Unfortunately, it feels like every little mistake he makes he pays for.
“I know he’s frustrated because [starters] work their butts off for four days before they get the start, expecting everything to go right. And we let him down.”
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