If you’re frustrated with the way the Chicago Cubs have been playing recently, imagine how the players feel.
They go behind early, mount a stirring comeback, then the bullpen gives up the lead. Oh, by the way, then one of the team’s best players might have suffered an injury (though it doesn’t appear serious).
That’s the summation of the Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the Astros Monday night, their third straight and 16th in their last 24 games after an 11-6 start.
Jameson Taillon started off this game pretty much like he had thrown in the previous two since his return from the injured list. Lots of hard contact in the first inning and four Astros runs crossed the plate in Taillon’s first 21 pitches.
Yikes. In the meantime, Framber Valdez was mowing down Cubs batters. Six Cubs struck out in the first three innings, and even with that they managed to carry on their recent “tradition” of leaving runners in scoring position, one in the second, another in the third.
That first time through the order must have taught the Cubs something about Valdez, because they hit him pretty hard in the fourth inning. Bellinger led off with a single and one out later, Trey Mancini singled him to third.
Nick Madrigal followed that with another single, and with one swing, Christopher Morel tied the game [VIDEO].
Well, that was a pleasant surprise. And then the Cubs played some solid defense after some Houston runners reached in the fifth. That inning was scoreless in part because of this well-done double play [VIDEO].
Give a lot of credit to Mancini for that play — often when plays like that happen, the runner on third is able to score, but Mancini kept him in view long enough to get the out at the plate.
Neither team scored in the fifth or sixth, and Michael Fulmer entered to throw the eighth. He got the first two outs on just seven pitches, then allowed a single. Then... uh-oh, Alex Bregman stepped to the plate and sent a Fulmer cutter into the seats for a 6-4 lead.
The Cubs couldn’t do anything with Houston relievers in the eighth and ninth and so that’s how the game ended.
The only significant thing remaining for me to tell you about is the potential injury to Bellinger. It happened after he made this spectacular catch on a long fly by Kyle Tucker [VIDEO], two batters after Bregman’s home run.
It appeared that Bellinger landed awkwardly on his left leg. He walked off the field under his own power, but was replaced by pinch-hitter Miles Mastrobuoni in the next inning. Fortunately, the injury doesn’t appear serious:
Cody Bellinger said he felt a sense of relief postgame, as his left knee felt improved. Sore, but he does not believe it's serious. Will be checked in the morning to follow up.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 16, 2023
CB: "You think of the worst case situation right away, but it's definitely not that, which is nice."
Here’s more from David Ross:
David Ross provides an update on Cody Bellinger following tonight's exit. pic.twitter.com/H18iiAxKmB— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 16, 2023
So that’s good news. With Bellinger in a hitting slump, it might not be a bad idea to give him a day off today.
The Cubs are simply going to have to get some bullpen help — somewhere. Jeremiah Estrada, who threw the last inning and a third, might be that help. He allowed a hit and a walk but struck out three, and was consistently hitting 97. I hope he’s given more high-leverage work going forward. At some point he’s going to have to stick with this team, because the CBA limits teams to five such moves per season before the player has to be exposed to waivers. The Cubs certainly don’t want to do that — not to mention that Estrada might be a better reliever already than some of the guys the Cubs have.
While this is a bad stretch for the Cubs, there are other good teams — and yes, the Cubs are a good team — going through similar bad times. The Cubs hung with a good Houston team for most of this game and this morning find themselves just half a game worse than the Mets and Padres, for example — and the Mets have lost nine of 13 and 15 of their last 21. That’s a team that spent ungodly sums of money to “assure” themselves of a World Series, and they’re pretty much where the Cubs are.
They’ll try to end the losing streak Tuesday evening at MMP. Justin Steele, who has been one of the best starters in the league this year, will go for the Cubs and Cristian Javier starts for Houston. Game time is again 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network, and also on TBS (no blackouts).