Milwaukee sweep leaves Cubs with more questions than answers
MILWAUKEE — The Cubs have played some heart-wrenching games in Milwaukee over the last few years but Wednesday might take the cake.
Before the Brewers even came up to the plate, the Cubs had tacked on 7 runs in the top of the 1st inning of a game they badly needed to win.
But those positive vibes didn’t last long for David Ross’ bunch.
Milwaukee responded with 15 unanswered runs and the Cubs’ mood turned in a hurry.
That left the Cubs trying to pick up the pieces in the midst of a 6-game losing streak.
“Just a bad ending to not our best road trip,” Ross said. “Definitely an emotional roller coaster here in that game. Not our best today.”
Less than a week ago, this team was riding high off the first combined no-hitter in franchise history. The Cubs were 4-0 against the reigning champs (Dodgers) and tied with the Brewers for 1st place in the NL Central.
In the blink of an eye, the Cubs are now 6 games behind the Brewers in the division and the questions about what Jed Hoyer’s front office will do at the deadline have come fast and furious.
Will the Cubs sell this summer?
In reality, nobody has that answer right now — not even Hoyer.
The trade deadline is exactly a month away. A lot can happen in a month. The past week is a perfect example of that.
The Cubs still have plenty of time to right the ship but they also have plenty of legitimate concerns, which were highlighted, underlined and circled throughout the roller coaster series in Milwaukee.
The starting rotation continues to have difficulty going deep into games, leaving the bullpen to pick up a lot of outs on a daily basis. Jake Arrieta was staked to a huge lead but was unable to complete 2 innings Wednesday afternoon and finished June with an 8.31 ERA.
“I didn’t get the job done. Period,” Arrieta said after Wednesday’s loss. “This one’s on my shoulders. There’s no way around it.”
The bullpen had been an enormous strength of this team but they had a difficult series in Milwaukee, allowing 19 runs over the 3 games.
The Cubs offense has looked a lot more like the boom-or-bust lineup from early April than the group that grinded out at-bats in May. But they’ve also faced some of the game’s best pitching staffs this month.
And then there’s the injuries.
Ryan Tepera has been a huge part of that bullpen’s success and he landed on the 10-day IL with a calf strain after Monday’s loss. The Cubs played all week without Anthony Rizzo as he nurses another low back issue.
Kris Bryant played the first game in Milwaukee but missed the final 2 contests while dealing with a sore right side.
Patrick Wisdom supplied a large portion of the Cubs’ offense against the Brewers (5 RBI) but he was forced to leave Wednesday’s game in the 2nd inning after a collision at first base:
Here's the collision from the bottom of the 2nd inning that forced Wisdom out of the game. @watchmarquee pic.twitter.com/n61OISAvrX— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 30, 2021
The Cubs are also down to their fifth backup catcher after another near-collision at first base Tuesday night left Jose Lobaton with a badly sprained right shoulder and on the 60-day IL.
That’s the bad.
Amid the tough week, it’s actually not that difficult to keep it all in perspective for the Cubs.
For starters, they’re off Thursday which could do wonders for their ailing superstars and should serve as a mental reset for the entire team.
Nico Hoerner and Justin Steele continue to rehab in Triple-A and their return to the big leagues is on the horizon.
The way the month ended might leave a sour taste for a lot of Cubs fans but remember how grueling the June schedule was for this team. Nearly the entire month came against opponents who are playoff contenders and the Cubs played only 10 games at home all month.
They had two separate West Coast trips in June and have been forced into difficult travel situations with late-night flights (including this week when they arrived in Milwaukee at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning following the Sunday night game in L.A.).
“Look, I don’t want to complain about it,” Ross said before Wednesday’s game. “I find positives in some of that, too. Just the travel, the caliber of teams we played with where we’re at on our roster, from a manager’s standpoint, this is one of the more grueling stretches that I can think of. We’re not finishing as strong as we’d like right here on the back side of things.”
By nature, Ross tries to look for those positives in even the most dire of circumstances.
The schedule narrative is a pretty easy one to spin: July presents a much easier slate in terms of competition and the Cubs have a pair of long homestands plus the four-day reprieve of the All-Star Break.
Ross also understands the importance of taking things day by day instead of riding the roller coaster.
“We have a professional group that understands it’s a long season and there’s gonna be these moments,” Ross said. “But the potential to be a great team is there and kinda right around the corner. I think we show signs of that nightly.
“There’s still moments where we see a lot of depth pieces that are gonna help us out throughout the season when guys do get back healthy. We just gotta kinda get to that point.
“At the end of the day, we gotta win baseball games. The theories and seeing the positives or focusing on the negatives and all those things — we can take any of those paths but at the end of the day, we have to win baseball games.”