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No relief as Cubs blow late lead, fail to sweep Cardinals

ST. LOUIS – The kind of bullpen breakdowns that cost the Cubs a chance to sweep the Cardinals on Wednesday won’t keep them from getting to October.

But they could quickly become the biggest factor keeping them from doing much once they get there.

After manager Joe Maddon chose to put Jon Lester’s 3-1 lead into the hands of his pen in the eighth inning, Pedro Strop, Clayton Richard and Fernando Rodney conspired to turn the game into a 4-3 loss – and turn a feel-good series for the Cubs into a topic for postseason consternation.

Strop, who has been torched by the Cardinals this season (nine earned runs in nine appearances), walked Mark Reynolds with one out, followed by a single to Greg Garcia and was done. Richard, who has suddenly become Maddon’s top lefty matchup choice, then gave up a run-scoring hit to Matt Carpenter.

And Rodney, the scrap-heap acquisition from Seattle, then took over and gave up a first-pitch, game-turning double to rookie Stephen Piscotty.

Despite scoring 20 runs in winning two of three against the first-place Cardinals, one comparison was glaring – if not telling in its significance for playoff fitness.

The Cubs outscored the Cardinals 18-1 from the first through sixth innings in the series; the Cards outscored the Cubs 8-2 from the seventh inning on.

“We had the right guys on their part of the batting order; it didn’t play out,” said Maddon, who defended pulling Lester at 105 pitches despite the bottom third of the order due up and an extra day of rest coming for Lester before his next start.

“If somebody were to get on base, you’re probably going to want to do something anyway, so give a [reliever] a clean inning,” said Maddon, who nonetheless acknowledged the unsteady recent performance of his patchwork pen.

“We have to do a better job. Overall, we’re pretty good, but moments like that. … We should be able to finish that game off.”

How does he fix it?

“You just keep putting them out there,” he said. “It’s just like a shooter. You’ve got to keep shooting, man, till they go in the hoop.”

Which works fine if you’re shooter is Stephen Curry.

In this case, more than half of the Cubs’ 13-man bullpen is comprised of guys who spent most of the year in the minors and/or were released or designated for assignment by other teams this year.

“Everybody’s got to do their job for us to be successful,” Maddon said. “Moving down the road, you can’t alter these opportunities for these guys.

“You have to keep trying to put guys in the right spots. I do trust our guys to perform. It didn’t play today. But I have a lot of faith in our guys.”

Note: The Cubs announced the hiring of Jared Porter as director of pro scouting/special assistant. Porter spent the last 12 years with the Red Sox, including the last four as pro scouting director. He replaces Joe Bohringer, who remains with the Cubs in a scouting role, the team said.