Marlins 4, Cubs 2: Where’s the timely hitting and defense?

The Cubs’ last 14 games have gone this way:

W, L, W, L, W, L, W, W, W, L, W, L, W, L

This isn’t another one of those, “Man, this game could send them on a long _______ streak” recaps. Instead, it’s wondering when this team will play with any consistency. That’s a record of 8-6 over those 14 games, not bad, but not really that good either. And the frustrating part is that the Brewers, who the Cubs are chasing in the N.L. Central (a phrase I never thought I’d be writing in 2017) have gone just 7-7 over that span (pending their game Sunday which they are leading 7-0 in the eighth at this writing).

Meaning that if the Cubs could have done just a bit better over that stretch, they’d be in first place, not 1½ games behind the Brewers after a tough 4-2 loss to the Marlins Sunday afternoon left them with a series split. That 1½-game deficit presumes the Brewers go on to win that game against the Braves.

This one had everything bad that we’ve been seeing over the last few weeks and months:

  • First-inning runs allowed
  • Many baserunners but a lack of hitting with RISP
  • And, for good measure, a double play that took them out of a run-scoring opportunity

Mike Montgomery actually threw a very good game, six innings’ worth of four-hit ball. Unfortunately, two of those hits came after Addison Russell had made an error on Ichiro Suzuki’s leadoff grounder. Tough error, I thought it could have been given a hit to the future Hall of Famer. No matter, all that accomplished was making the three runs that eventually scored off Montgomery unearned.

For his part, Russell left the game in the bottom of the fourth. Here’s why:

The right shoulder has been giving Russell trouble off and on this year. Here’s hoping this doesn’t mean a DL stint.

Joke coming!

If it does mean a trip to the disabled list, the Cubs will just call up another relief pitcher.

No, I didn’t mean that. And I’m pretty sure the Cubs wouldn’t do that. Right?

As it was, with a three-man bench the Cubs had to get creative with position switches. Ian Happwent to second base from center field (and later made a nice snag on a line drive hit by Derek Dietrich), Javier Baez moved from second base to shortstop, Kris Bryant shifted from right field to center, and Willson Contreras came into the game in right field.

That last move, I thought was a bit strange. Why not play Jon Jay in right field and Contreras in left?

The defensive switches were the least of the Cubs’ worries. They loaded the bases in the second inning on walks, but did not score. They loaded the bases again in the fourth inning, this time on three straight singles, and that time at least scored one run, on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Rizzo.

They made it 3-2 in the fifth when Contreras led off with a walk and went to third on a single by Miguel Montero. Yet another sacrifice fly, this one hit by Tommy La Stella, plated the second Cubs run of the afternoon.

The Marlins increased their lead to 4-2 when Giancarlo Stanton hit a laser beam of a home run off Pedro Strop in the seventh.

But that was it. The Cubs did get a runner on base in the eighth when Mark Zagunis walked, but that went nowhere. So did the ninth against Marlins closer A.J. Ramos. In all the Cubs left 11 men on base — even while going 2-for-6 with RISP.

For his part, Zagunis has looked overmatched in his brief time in the big leagues. He went 0-for-10 with two walks in this series. Unfortunately, the Cubs don’t really have any other options while Jason Heyward remains on the disabled list.

The good news was Montgomery’s second consecutive solid start. He looks like he might actually stick in the rotation. That’s good news, and the starting rotation has actually been very good through that 14-game stretch. It’s the bullpen and lack of timely hitting that have caused most of those “L”s.

The Cubs open their four-game series at Washington Monday night. Eddie Butler goes for the Cubs and Gio Gonzalez for the Nats.