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White Sox 5, Cubs 3: A bullpen failure

Some guys who have been reliable couldn’t do the job Tuesday.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was unpleasant.

The Cubs came into this series hoping to continue their pursuit of first place in the N.L. Central against a team that really struggled over the weekend against the team the Cubs are pursuing.

That did not work out the way any of us had hoped, as the Cubs took a tie game into the late innings and lost due to the failure of a couple of reasonably reliable relief pitchers, dropping the series opener 5-3.

The Sox touched up Kyle Hendricks for a run in the first inning, but the Cubs got that back and more in the bottom of the inning. Nico Hoerner led off with a walk and one out later, Ian Happ smacked his 14th home run of the year [VIDEO].

That lead didn’t last very long. Three hits off Hendricks in the second, including a bunt laid perfectly down the third-base line, produced a Sox run giving them the lead again, 3-2.

In the next inning, Seiya Suzuki flashed some glove [VIDEO].

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth. With two out, Suzuki put a baseball into the bleachers [VIDEO].

Since he had a few games off to reset, Suzuki has played well both in the field and at the plate. In August he is batting .321/.345/.750 (9-for-28) with a double, a triple and three home runs. Keep this up and the Cubs lineup suddenly looks a lot better.

Hendricks settled down after the second inning and put together a perfectly good start, retiring 10 of the last 11 White Sox he faced.

But the Cubs could do almost nothing after Suzuki’s home run. Over the last five innings, they had just three baserunners and just two of them got past first base.

Meanwhile, the Sox scored runs off Julian Merryweather in the seventh (home run by Luis Robert Jr.) and Adbert Alzolay in the ninth. The run off Alzolay was particularly galling because he had retired the first two hitters in the inning on just five pitches. But then a single and double plated that key insurance run for the Sox. Not that it really mattered, because the Cubs bats had gone silent. A bit of criticism for Hoerner, who singled with one out in the seventh, with the team down a run, then was thrown out trying to steal second. He didn’t get a good jump on that one, though he had earlier stolen his 30th base of the year, becoming the first Cub to steal 30 in a season since Tony Campana in 2011. (Yes, go look it up.)

This was a frustrating loss. It’s not the end of the world since all the teams in races the Cubs are part of also lost (except the Giants). So the Cubs remain 3½ games out of first place in the N.L. Central and one game behind the Marlins for the third wild card spot. In both places they lead the Reds by a fraction of a percentage point. Neither of those deficits is insurmountable, but... the Cubs are going to have to play better than they did Tuesday night.

Given the play of the White Sox and their selloff, there were far fewer Sox fans at Wrigley than is usual for a crosstown game. I’d estimate it was no more than 20-25 percent Sox fans, though they were pretty loud when Robert hit his home run.

The Cubs will go for the series split Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field in their final game of 2023 against their crosstown rivals. As you heard yesterday, Marcus Stroman has some rib discomfort and so won’t be activated from the injured list to start this game. Instead, it appears Javier Assad, who threw so well against the Blue Jays last Friday, will get the start. There has been no official announcement from the Cubs as of the time of this recap about tonight’s starter, but this Sun-Times article indicates it is likely Assad. (Also, the Cubs won’t need a fifth starter until next Tuesday in Detroit, so they have time to decide what to do with Stroman.) Mike Clevinger starts for the Sox. Game time is again 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.