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Reds 8, Cubs 5: Another bullpen meltdown

This has, unfortunately, become a theme of the 2023 season.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s game between the Cubs and Reds was actually going along swimmingly. The Cubs put a three-spot on the board in the second inning with several timely hits and Jameson Taillon was actually pitching reasonably well.

Then Taillon ran out of steam in a fifth inning in which he got the first two outs easily. With one Reds player on base and a run already in, David Ross called on Michael Fulmer.

Yikes. Another home run allowed by Fulmer, this one to Jonathan India, the Reds took the lead and Jeremiah Estrada served up another homer to India two innings later. The Cubs couldn’t overcome that and lost their second straight to Cincinnati, 8-5.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Cubs took a 1-0 lead when Dansby Swanson tripled and Ian Happ doubled [VIDEO].

The Reds tied the game in the second, but the Cubs came right back with three in the fourth. Yan Gomes led off with a single, and one out later Patrick Wisdom singled him to third. Another out ensued, but then Nico Hoerner singled in Gomes [VIDEO].

Nico took second on the throw in, and that allowed this single by Swanson to score two [VIDEO].

This story could have had a happy ending. Taillon was throwing pretty well, even though he got touched up for another run in the third and the aforementioned run in the fifth before India’s first home run. It wasn’t a great outing for Taillon, who was removed at 80 pitches. But it was better than the previous post-groin injury starts. I concur with this:

Honestly, Taillon might have had a better chance to retire India in the fifth than Fulmer did and then he’d have left after five with the lead, had he done so. The artificial 80-pitch limit (if there indeed was a limit) made David Ross force his own hand.

Michael Fulmer just isn’t getting it done. After a horrific start to his season, Fulmer did have a stretch of eight outings with a 1.29 ERA and an opponents BA of .087. Since then? Five appearances, 18.00 ERA, 2.750 WHIP, two home runs in four innings. He’s being paid $4 million this year. Just let him go as soon as Codi Heuer is ready to return from his rehab assignment, which could be as early as later this week. Fulmer was a reasonable chance for this front office to take, but it’s just not working out.

Still, the Cubs were down just 5-4. Fulmer got charged with another run to his record in the sixth when Curt Casali singled in a run after he left the game for Estrada. It’s just 6-4, though, perhaps still a chance for the Cubs to come back — except then Estrada served up India’s second homer and that, as they say, was that, even though the Cubs did then get three innings of scoreless relief from Julian Merryweather, Brandon Hughes and Mark Leiter Jr.

The Cubs did plate one more run in the eighth on an RBI sac fly by Happ, and put two runners on base in the ninth, only to see Happ strike out to end the game [VIDEO].

Since the complaint department door is wide open, I’ve got a couple others. First, the Cubs did not help themselves when Christopher Morel ran himself into a double play in the sixth. Morel was on first when Patrick Wisdom flied to center. He appeared to tag up and take second, which is good, but NOT good is the fact that the Reds noticed he left first base early and doubled him off base.

Also, I think it’s time to think about cutting Trey Mancini, even though he has another year on his contract. He doesn’t really have a position (other than “platoon first baseman”) and he just doesn’t make good contact or hit the ball with any authority. I concur with this:

When Mancini was the next hitter with one out and a runner on first and the Cubs trailing just 5-4 in the fifth, I thought, “THIS is the time to send Matt Mervis up to pinch-hit.” Now, the Reds did have a lefty and righty in the pen and likely would have sent the lefthander in to pitch to Mervis. Honestly, I’d have liked that matchup better — and Mancini hit into a double play to end the inning. Mancini, last 13 games since May 7: .177/.333/.177 (6-for-34), 12 strikeouts. He’s the righthanded version of Eric Hosmer, who the Cubs recently unconditionally released.

I don’t know what David Ross can do about something like this:

First three batting order spots Saturday: 5-for-12, two runs, five RBI
Last six batting order spots Saturday: 3-for-23, two double plays, four strikeouts

The crazy thing is: The Cubs are still just 4½ games out of first place in a very weak N.L. Central. All five teams in the division are flawed and if the Cubs can just put together a few wins, they could be right back in the division race, and no, I am not crazy. There are still 111 games remaining in this season. The Cubs might not be as good as they looked in early April — but they’re not this bad, either.

Not-so-fun fact about this game:

They will try to salvage one game out of this three-game set Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and Graham Ashcraft will go for Cincinnati. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.