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Rockies 4, Cubs 1: One tainted inning

Cubs pitching was really good Thursday night, except for the second inning.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies came into Wrigley Field on something of a hot streak, winners of four in a row and five of their previous six. They were second in the National League in runs scored, just two behind the league-leading Washington Nationals.

And Cubs pitching shut them down almost entirely for eight of the nine innings Thursday night. In those eight innings, the Rockies had a double and two walks and struck out six times.

Unfortunately, in that other inning, the second, the Rox had five straight two-out hits off Jon Lester, including a three-run homer into the right-field basket by ex-Cub DJ LeMahieu that led them to a 4-1 win over the Cubs in the opener of a four-game series.

Really, that’s the entire story of this game, as told in the headline: Cubs pitching had one bad inning and the Cubs’ offense was shut down by Rockies pitching. But you come here for a complete detailed recap of every Cubs game, and so you shall have one.

The Cubs didn’t allow a first-inning run, for a change, and took the lead in the bottom of the inning when Kris Bryant put a baseball into the first row of the bleachers in left-center [VIDEO].

The lead barely lasted 10 minutes, as that was followed by the Rockies’ four-run second-inning rally. What bothered me most about that was that it came after Lester had struck out the first two batters in the inning, and that pitcher Tyler Chatwood got one of the hits in front of LeMahieu’s home run. Granted, Chatwood isn’t a bad hitter (.231 lifetime in 143 at-bats entering the game), but that’s an out that you really have to get. Lester fell behind Chatwood 2-1 and got a fastball up and over the plate where it was quite hittable.

In the fourth inning with two out and Ben Zobrist on first base, Jason Heyward hit a ball down the left-field line [VIDEO].

You can’t see it in the video, but I had a pretty good look at that ball as it appeared to hit on the foul line, which would have made it a fair ball. The foul line past the grass in the left-field corner at Wrigley isn’t chalk, so there isn’t any chalk kicked up off the ground if a baseball hits that part of the foul line. It’s actually a long piece of fire hose painted white.

I don’t know if the crew in the Cubs’ clubhouse that keeps track of plays that could be reviewed has access to other video angles than what you see on the broadcast (as the review crew in New York does), but I was somewhat surprised the Cubs didn’t challenge this play. It could have resulted in a run; at the very least the Cubs would have had runners on second and third if it had been overturned.

You can see fans down the line pointing “fair.” Obviously as Cubs fans those people are likely going to be biased in favor of the Cubs, but I saw it that way too.

The Cubs did have other chances. Javier Baez singled with one out in the fifth and went to second on a groundout by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero, but was stranded. The Cubs had runners on first and second with two out in the sixth, but Heyward grounded to second to end the inning. A leadoff single in the seventh by Willson Contreras went for naught when pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. hit into an inning-ending double play.

Then the Cubs had to face Greg Holland, who’s been even more lights-out than his former Royals teammate Wade Davis as a closer this year. Holland entered the game with 21 saves in 21 opportunities, and in his 23 appearances had allowed runs in only two (and saved both of those games).

Anthony Rizzo worked a leadoff walk off Holland and went to second on a ground out by Heyward, but Contreras grounded out to end it.

The Rockies appear to be as good as advertised, it’s not a mirage. They are winning with solid starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen and a solid offense. The way they played reminded me of last year’s Cubs. This will not be an easy weekend for this year’s Cubs.

One good takeaway from this game was the performance of Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm in relief. They combined for four shutout innings and allowed just one baserunner (a two-out walk by Rondon in the seventh). This was particularly encouraging for Rondon and Grimm, who have both struggled this year. Hector had his first two-inning outing in nearly a year and looked really good. Grimm has now thrown six innings since his late May recall without allowing a run. In those six innings he’s given up one hit, two walks and struck out 11 — that’s 11 Ks of 21 batters faced. If Grimm and Rondon can return to form that’s a huge positive for the Cubs bullpen, especially when starters are doing this:

Last year the Cubs were 41-18 after 59 games. This year they’re 11 games worse at 30-29, and the numbers right there are a big reason why. Note not only the increases in ERA, WHIP and home runs allowed, but the starters have thrown 54⅔ fewer innings than they had after 59 games in 2016 — nearly an inning less per game. That’s put tremendous pressure on the bullpen.

Even with all of this, the Cubs still sit just one game out of first place in the N.L. Central. They seem on the cusp of putting together a winning streak that would return them to the top spot.

And now they’ll go to their seventh starting pitcher of the year, as Mike Montgomery fills in Friday afternoon for the injured Kyle Hendricks, who is on the disabled list with a finger issue. Hendricks’ injury is not considered serious and the team expects him back for the Pirates series next week. Montgomery is going on three days’ rest after his 3⅓-inning, 51-pitch outing on Monday. He’ll face Rockies rookie German Marquez at 1:20 p.m. CT. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.