MILWAUKEE – A fitting end to the Cubs’ season-opening road trip would have been their team bus hitting a pothole and getting a flat tire on Interstate 94.
Everything else went wrong.
The Cubs ended their three-city tour of misery Sunday with a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. In the moral-victory department, the Cubs felt they played well in this one, and there’s some truth to that.
Overall, they limp home with a 2-7 record, 51/2 games behind the first-place Brewers, who are 8-2.
The quick state of things, worthy of a gaper’s block on the highway:
• The Cubs have a team ERA of 7.51.
• The starting pitchers are 2-4 with a 6.80 ERA after Kyle Hendricks (0-2) went four innings, giving up eight hits and four runs Sunday.
• The Cubs have three quality starts, two by Jon Lester.
• The bullpen is 0-3 with an 8.37 ERA, and that’s an improvement over the 9.51 it was entering the day. The Cubs got scoreless relief Sunday from Tyler Chatwood (two walks, three strikeouts) and newcomers Kyle Ryan and Allen Webster. The relievers’ WHIP is 2.01.
“It [stinks],” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “You want to get off to a good start, right? You go into spring training, ‘Rah-rah, let’s get off to a good start.’ It’s not rah-rah, but it’s the mentality, right? Every team has it. Some teams do, some teams don’t. We’ve been on ones that have and some that haven’t.
“I think with the group we have, we know how good we are. String together good at-bats and have everyone settle in, and that will be big for us.”
Given the sense of urgency the Cubs wanted to take into the season, they’ve been the talk – and not in a good way – in Chicago during the entire trip. Shortstop Javy Baez struck a defiant tone.
“It’s hard because we’re struggling, and everybody’s talking about it, and the bullpen and the pitching and whatever,” Baez said. “This is a team. It’s everybody together. We’re just trying to get out of it and move on. We’re still in the first month. There are still five months of baseball. People are making a big deal. We’ve just got to get out of it and play baseball.”
If there is any fan backlash for the home opener, Baez said that comes with the territory.
“They can do whatever they want,” he said. “They don’t control this. I don’t control their mouths. They don’t control my game or our game. We’ve just got to keep everything out of the clubhouse and just block everything that is coming to us out and go out there and have fun.”
The Brewers took a 4-0 lead off Hendricks and held on to take two of three in the series. Lorenzo Cain led off the first inning with a single and came home on Christian Yelich’s homer. It was the defending MVP’s fifth homer of the season and the 100th of his career.
Milwaukee added single runs in the third and fourth before Willson Contreras hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit in half in the sixth.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell showed he meant business when he had Josh Hader work the final 22/3 innings for his fifth save. The big moment came with two outs in the seventh, when Hader struck out Rizzo with two on base.
“It’s a fun at-bat,” Rizzo said. “He’s the best in the business. He brings it. He’s not scared. You know what he’s featuring. He’s coming at you. He’s coming right at you.”
Those at-bats for me are a lot of fun because that’s who you want to face in that situation. It’s usually a big situation, which it was. I had a good at-bat, just came up short. You can’t hang your head when you face a guy like him.”
Even with the loss, manager Joe Maddon expressed happiness with the way the Cubs played. They committed no errors, and the bullpen was better.
“We lost, but it was a good baseball game,” he said. “We played well. Both sides played well. They pitched a little bit better than we did. I was pleased with our bullpen. Kyle (Hendricks), was just off a click, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that, but it’s not far off, and he’s going to nail it down pretty quickly. But a good game of baseball, and they got us.”