Cubs

Roller-coaster Cubs blow sweep against woeful Sox just ahead of tougher schedule

This one didn’t make any sense.

Which is to say it made about as much sense as anything else going on in the Cubs’ season so far.

With a series sweep dropped like a gift at their feet by Lucas Giolito in the first inning Sunday, the Cubs struggled to score against a pitcher with no command, then let a small lead slip away against a White Sox team that had all of seven victories in the last six weeks.

RELATED STORIES
Cubs seek answers to $310 million questions in coming week
In Ben Zobrist spikes flap, MLB fails to see that the players are the product

Javy Baez is backed off the plate by a pitch from Lucas Giolito.

The 5-3 loss snapped the Cubs’ five-game winning streak and left them wondering how they didn’t score more than two runs during a first inning in which Giolito walked three, threw two wild pitches, surrendered four stolen bases and threw 17 of 27 pitches out of the strike zone.

Make that 18 of 27. The only hit of the inning was Javy Baez’s two-run single on a 3-0 pitch well out of the zone.

By the time the Cubs got done squandering Sunday, Giolito was the winning pitcher.

Make sense of that.

Or this: Are these Cubs the team that won five consecutive games against the Brewers and Rockies, or the one that followed that by losing five straight to the Rockies and Cardinals, or the one that followed that by winning five straight over the Marlins and Sox?

“Are we playing good?” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

If you have to ask . . .

After the blowout victory Saturday, manager Joe Maddon made a point to say that he wasn’t proclaiming the Cubs’ early issues were behind them.

One week against tanking opposition isn’t enough to clarify whether some of the hitting struggles are over. And newly signed starter Tyler Chatwood hasn’t solved his walks problem yet. And newly signed starter Yu Darvish isn’t back from his flu yet — or his fifth-inning nausea.

If anything, the next four days against the young, surprising Braves should offer some measure of where the Cubs stand and of the work to be done as summer approaches.

“You’re going to see a tough competition for the next four games,” Maddon said of the top-hitting, top-slugging, top-scoring team in the National League. “They have really good pitching, too. I really like their starting pitching and the bullpen guys. They’re a really good group.”

After what projected to be perhaps the softest homestand of the season, the schedule looks more formidable, with eight of the next 10 series against teams that finished the weekend with winning records.

“I feel pretty confident in our offense,” said Addison Russell, who had a rough fourth inning on the bases, eventually running into an out at the plate on Kyle Hendricks’ grounder to third. “We still haven’t hit that spark, and we’re still playing pretty good baseball. I can only imagine when it all clicks.”

Even the Cubs’ largely impenetrable bullpen had issues.

If Brian Duensing was going to wait until the middle of May to give up a run, does it make any sense that it would be scored by one of the worst-hitting, lowest-scoring teams in the majors? And it came after a leadoff walk by Tim Anderson, who had only 13 walks last season?

Hendricks outpitched Giolito by most measures, including zero walks to Giolito’s seven, but wound up with a loss to show for his six innings.

“Regardless of results, even during that losing streak, we were locked in,” Hendricks said. “Guys were putting together good at-bats. Guys on the mound were making good pitches. It’s just the nature of the game sometimes, you just get beat.

“But we’re playing good baseball right now. If we stick with where we are and take it day by day, we’ll end up where we need to be.”