Most of us knew that the Cubs bullpen had a handful of reliable relievers, but that the back end was going to be shaky.
That showed big-time Sunday, as Julian Merryweather got pounded for five runs and the Brewers held on to defeat the Cubs 9-5.
Jameson Taillon’s first Cubs start wasn’t that good, either. He threw 63 pitches (just 37 strikes) in four innings and was constantly in trouble, either from long counts or bloopy little hits that just got past Cubs infielders. Finally, in the fourth he started getting hit hard, likely why David Ross lifted him.
The Cubs managed to hang with the Brewers for five innings. They scored first in the first. Nico Hoerner singled and stole second and scored on this Dansby Swanson single [VIDEO].
The Cubs even briefly took the lead in the bottom of the second on this homer by Patrick Wisdom [VIDEO].
Taillon gave that run right back in the third and another run scored in the fourth before he left the game.
Mark Leiter Jr. wound up with a scoreless fifth on his register, but it was not a good inning. He issued two walks and had to throw 30 pitches before finally striking out Garrett Mitchell to end the frame.
That brought Merryweather into the game to make his Cubs debut in a one-run game in the top of the sixth. It was not pretty. I will spare you the details of the carnage, but he walked two and allowed five hits and five runs scored and that was pretty much the ballgame.
The Cubs did try to get back into things. Wisdom homered again with one out in the seventh [VIDEO].
That made the game 9-3, at the time. The Cubs put together a rally in the eighth, too, after the first two Cubs (Swanson and Ian Happ) walked. Trey Mancini singled to load the bases and Yan Gomes came within a few feet of a grand slam [VIDEO].
A slam would have made it 9-7 and the game would have become interesting. Instead it was 9-4, with Happ taking third, where he scored on this infield force play [VIDEO].
The Cubs had one more chance, after a two-out double by Hoerner in the ninth, but Swanson grounded out to end it.
Here, I have a suggestion: Get rid of Leiter and Merryweather and replace them with Jeremiah Estrada and Cam Sanders. It’s time for the front office to stop relying on thirty-something retread relievers and trust their own young players. There’s a reason the Blue Jays let Merryweather go at age 31 after he had posted a 5.64 ERA and 1.367 WHIP in 47 appearances for them between 2020 and 2022. Yes, he can throw 97 miles per hour. So what? Obviously he either a) can’t throw strikes (two walks today) or b) when he DOES throw strikes, the opposition hits them hard. There’s no real reason to keep a guy like Leiter around just because he had an opt-out on his contract on Opening Day.
Sanders and Estrada can do better, I think.
It was good to see Wisdom get his bat going, but I’ll admit Bellinger looked awful all weekend. It’s only three games, but I would like to see something from him very soon.
About the game time of 2:57, there were 317 pitches thrown in this game, 149 by Brewers pitchers and 167 by the Cubs staff. That’s about 60 pitches more than the MLB average. There were 10 walks and 22 hits in addition to the 14 runs. A game like that last year would have run 3:25 or longer. The pitch clock is still doing its job, and very well, I think.
The Cubs will open a brief one-series, three-game road trip to Cincinnati Monday evening. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs Monday and Connor Overton will be on the mound for the Reds. Game time Monday is 5:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.