There are signs of minor progress, only to be eliminated by a wide-ranging form of setbacks.
It’s added up to a five-game losing streak for the Cubs, whose mission of working out of their current abyss becomes more ominous with a three-game trip at San Diego starting Monday night.
Sunday night’s 7-1 loss to the Dodgers captured many of their struggles that have led to their 9-18 record.
Any chance of averting a three-game series sweep was deflated by the loss of Marcus Stroman, their best starting pitcher who was placed on the 10-day injured list with no designation.
That is often reserved for players who produced a positive COVID-19 test. Without Stroman, who allowed two earned runs in his last 13 innings and blanked the Brewers over seven innings in his last start, the Cubs were forced to start left-hander Justin Steele, who was originally scheduled to pitch Monday night.
Steele pitched four innings of three-hit ball but left after warming for the fifth due to left thumb soreness, the team announced.
The loss of Stroman and Steele’s ailment creates more concern for a rotation that has struggled to pitch past the fifth inning. The Cubs haven’t named a starter for Tuesday and Wednesday against the Padres. And following Thursday’s day off, they are scheduled to play 14 consecutive games without a day off.
As for the offense, they were harnessed by Walker Buehler, who threw seven innings of four-hit ball and didn’t allow a runner to advance past first base after the third.
The Cubs scored three runs in this three-game series, although their offensive struggles can’t be attributed to a lack of effort.
Willson Contreras disclosed after Saturday’s doubleheader loss that the players have shared information on opposing pitchers after each at-bat on a frequent basis.
Seiya Suzuki, who was 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts on this five-game homestand, was looking at a tablet after one of his at-bats Sunday.
“I think over the course of six months, whether things are good, bad or in-between, the relationships with people around you is going to carry you through that and making it enjoyable as well,’ Hoerner said. “We’re lucky to have good people around here.”
Contreras provided some short-lived hope when he smacked a meaty 0-2 pitch into right field to score Rafael Ortega for a 1-0 lead and causing Buehler to yell several times.
But Buehler (4-1) allowed three baserunners the rest of the way in lowering his ERA to 1.96. Buehler has allowed one run in his last 21 innings. Ian Happ went 0-for-4 and finished the homestand 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts.
The Cubs aren’t scheduled to face former ace Yu Darvish at Petco Park, but they need to find some formula to pull them out of this rut.
In a perfect script, Ross would have a dominant rotation, a lockdown bullpen and an offense providing quality at-bats.
That description fits a Dodgers team destined to regain the National League West title after finishing second with 106 wins in 2021.
“I know our record is not good, but we’re in most of our games,” Ross said before Sunday’s game. “I would say we’re fighting right up until the end and giving ourselves a chance. We just hadn’t had that big hit with runners in scoring position.”
Nico Hoerner, who answered questions about his ability to play dependable defense at shortstop in the first four weeks, committed his first error – a fielding miscue in the ninth that scored two runs.