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Brewers 3, Cubs 2: Bullpen meltdown

This is going to have to stop, or the Cubs are going to sit at home in October.

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cubs sent Kyle Schwarber up to bat for Kyle Hendricks with a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth, my first thought was “Uh-oh, now the bullpen is going to have to finish this game?” I thought Hendricks, even at 90 pitches, could have gone one more inning.

Schwarber struck out (Hendricks could have done that) and the bullpen’s performance was... bad. In three innings, Kyle Ryan, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop and Rowan Wick allowed just two hits... but issued four walks and hit three batters. One of the hits was a two-run single off Strop by Ben Gamel, and that was enough for a frustrating 3-2 Cubs loss to the Brewers in the opener of their three-game series.

Hendricks and Gio Gonzalez matched zeroes for the first five innings. Kyle was helped out in the first by the just-recalled Ian Happ, who made this nice sliding catch in left field [VIDEO].

Hendricks allowed just two hits and two walks through five innings.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez was baffling Cubs hitters. He set down the first 15 Cubs in order before Albert Almora Jr. singled to lead off the sixth. This was familiar territory for Gio:

You can’t make this stuff up.

The next hitter was David Bote, and he gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].

Bote’s two-run shot was his 10th of the season:

Unfortunately, now things were up to the bullpen. Kyle Ryan got two outs sandwiched around a walk to Yasmani Grandal, and Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek to face Keston Hiura. (I thought Ryan was supposed to be able to get hitters from both sides of the plate out, no?)

Cishek walked Hiura, then hit Eric Thames to load the bases. He managed to get out of that inning, but then issued another walk with one out in the seventh. Cishek got the second out, with the runner moving up to second, but now he’s up to 26 pitches, so Brandon Kintzler entered to throw to Christian Yelich. Yelich singled in the run to make it 2-1.

2-1. Six outs to go. What could possibly go wrong? (Don’t answer that, it’ll be hazardous to your health.)

Kintzler got the first out of the eighth, then issued a walk and hit a batter. (No, I am not just repeating previous paragraphs. This actually happened a second time.) Pedro Strop entered and immediately hit another batter to load the bases, got the second out, then allowed that two-run single.

After Bote’s homer, the Cubs’ offense went back to sleep. They had just one further baserunner after the sixth inning, a one-out single by Kris Bryant off Josh Hader in the ninth. But Anthony Rizzo lined to short and Javier Baez struck out to end it.

I don’t know what to say anymore about this bullpen, which now has a 4.88 ERA in July. That’s three blown leads on this road trip, leading to three one-run losses. The addition of Derek Holland (presumably tonight) will help, but the other guys who are already there are likely going to have to get the job done. The Cubs probably don’t have luxury-tax room to add any significant pitchers to this bullpen. People are going to blame Maddon again, but as I have noted many times, he is only using the guys the front office gave him.

It didn’t help matters that plate umpire Adrian Johnson was making bad calls all night. Here are just a few examples, from BCB’s Sara Sanchez:

The Cardinals won Friday night to move into first place. It’s the first time St. Louis has been in first place since May 6, and the first time the Cubs have been out of the top spot since July 3.

There is still a lot of season left and no one really has seemed to want to take control of the N.L. Central. But unless the Cubs get better bullpen work — and unlock an offense that had just four hits and a walk Friday night — they’re not going to be that team.

They’ll try it again Saturday evening against the Brewers. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs and Chase Anderson goes for Milwaukee. Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage Saturday will be via NBC Sports Chicago.