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Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

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Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

It was a picture-perfect day at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs still walked away with a bad taste in their mouths.

The Cubs (13-9) offense managed just one run and five hits as they lost to the Brewers 6-1 in front of 34,878 fans at Wrigley Field.

In addition to the 70-degree weather and sun-soaked forecast, it was also the first time the wind was blowing out for a game this season at the corner of Clark and Addison.

But the Brewers (6-18) were the only team to truly take advantage of the conditions, as Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Milwaukee added another pair of runs in the second off a couple of balls just out of the reach of Cubs defenders.

"Just wasn't very good today," Arrieta said. "Plain and simple, didn't do a good enough job. We need more out of our starter and didn't give us the effort that I intended to today."

On one play in the second inning, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell collided in shallow right field attempting to catch Carlos Gomez's looping pop-up, which wound up falling for a hit, leading to the first run. Both players were shaken up on the play, but stayed in the game.

"It was really just awkward from the dugout," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Got out there and neither one seemed to be in trouble, so obviously felt good about that. We're just fortunate it wasn't worse than it looked."

The Brewers got their sixth run in the ninth inning when Starlin Castro made a throwing error to first base and even though no one had covered third base, Rizzo turned and threw it anyways, allowing Logan Schafer to circle the bags on what started as a weak ground ball to shortstop.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Rizzo provided the only offense for the Cubs with a solo shot to center in the sixth inning.

Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero started off the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, with singles, but the Cubs weren't able to do anything after that.

Beyond that, the only other hits were singles off the bats of Chris Denorfia and Russell.

"The home run early on by Braun really set the tone for them," Maddon said. "And we were just unable to answer anything. Their guy pitched really well. [Fiers] was good today."

The day started promising for the Cubs as two of the first three batters - Soler and Rizzo - worked walks from Brewers starter Mike Fiers, but Fiers then came back to strike out Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero as part of a stretch where he retired 12 Cubs in a row.

Fiers struck out 12 batters in his six innings and the Cubs struck out 18 times as a whole on the afternoon. Maddon attributed the high strikeout total to Fiers' location.

"I just think he was throwing the ball where he wanted to," Maddon said.

The Cubs have now scored just three runs in the last 30 innings dating back to Tuesday.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: