With no Rondon or Strop, Cubs bullpen implodes in loss to Cardinals

With no Rondon or Strop, Cubs bullpen implodes in loss to Cardinals

“That’s an example of what the team looks like without Strop and Rondon.”

The Cubs are without their seventh- and eight-inning men for the time being, with Hector Rondon unavailable of late and Pedro Strop on the shelf for four to six weeks after Friday surgery. In other words, the bullpen is missing two of its top relievers, and exactly how much the team misses those guys was painfully evident in Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the visiting St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, a defeat that brought an end to the Cubs’ 11-game winning streak.

The game was knotted at 2 heading to the eighth inning, and Carl Edwards Jr. took over after Kyle Hendricks threw seven dominant innings. Edwards, though, had a nightmare of an inning.

After getting a leadoff lineout, Edwards sandwiched his first two walks around a base hit to load the bases. He struck out Yadier Molina, but the third strike was a wild pitch, allowing Stephen Piscotty to come home and score the tie-breaking run. Another walk reloaded the bases, and a fourth free pass forced in a run to make it a 4-2 game. That’s when Edwards was lifted in favor of Joe Smith, but Randal Grichuk blasted a grand slam into the basket in left-center field to give the Cardinals a six-run inning and a six-run lead.

Despite as ugly an inning as you’ll see from a reliever — Edwards allowed five runs, four walks, a hit and a wild pitch in 2/3 of an inning — Cubs manager Joe Maddon still sang Edwards’ praises following the defeat. Entering Saturday, Edwards had a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings of work.

“That’s an example of what the team looks like without Strop and Rondon,” Maddon said after the game. “Regardless, I felt really good about CJ in that moment. He’s been outstanding. He gets that first out quickly. The walk, then all of a sudden that ground ball gets through, and he lost his command, obviously, a little bit. But the way he’s been pitching? Again nobody’s perfect, but I think he’s been outstanding. It just didn’t play out tonight. But there’s going to be other times later in the year — even with Ronny here and Stropy coming back — that you’re still going to see him in that moment, I have that kind of faith in him.

“Truthfully, if we had more people available, I would not have let it go that deep, but there was all kinds of little stuff going on, little nuance within that moment. So I left him out there, it didn’t work out, and that’s just how it plays.”

Maddon pointed out that Edwards pitching in that situation could serve as a learning moment, and certainly no one had any worries about Edwards moving forward following the game.

“He had a bad day, I get it, but I like this kid a lot,” Maddon said. “Part of leaving him out there, too, is to learn how to get out of that moment, also. And if he does and he walks off, he’s learned another lesson. It didn’t play out that way.”

“He’ll be all right. He’s still young. He’s probably going to be asked to do a little bit more now than what he’s done in the past with Strop and Hector being down. But he’s got the stuff to do it,” Smith said. “He’s awesome. We have fun down in the bullpen hanging out. We’ve all been there and done that. It’s just one of those things, for him, put it behind him and move on. He’s got great stuff, he’s going to have a good career.”

Smith, too, had his struggle. He didn’t load the bases to set up the unenviable jam he found himself in when he entered, but he’s made his money getting out of such jams and instead he coughed up a grand slam that effectively ended the game.

The Grichuk homer continued Smith’s rough start with the Cubs. Since coming over in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, Smith has a 6.00 ERA and has given up three homers in four appearances. Right-handers are hitting .294 off Smith this season compared to .216 over the course of his career.

“I’ve never had a problem with that in my whole career. I don’t know. Just missing, and when I miss, they seem to hit it over the wall,” Smith said.” I haven’t had that problem in my career yet either. Sometimes this game’s crazy and it doesn’t go the way you want it to go. I’ve had people roll over that ball hundreds of times, and now I’ve had people hit it over the wall in really not-good situations to do that in.

“Just got to keep going, keep working. I’ll figure it out. I’m not worried. It’s just aggravating. When you come to a new team, you obviously want to do well, and you obviously want to do well right off the bat, show what you can do. But it hasn’t gone that way.”

The bullpen’s woes along with some silent Cubs bats wiped away Hendricks’ impressive efforts. The starting pitcher matched a career high with 12 strikeouts, allowing just a pair of solo home runs to Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko, the latter tying the game at 2.

The Cubs could’ve had a much larger lead, getting to Cardinals starter Luke Weaver in the second inning. Weaver, making his major league debut, gave up a two-run homer to Addison Russell and loaded the bases following the long ball, but the Cubs couldn’t add on any more tallies and picked up just two hits over the next six innings. The Cubs did score two runs in the ninth, one on a throwing error and another on a groundout. But those runs were hardly enough after the Cardinals’ big eighth inning against Cubs relievers.

And so the 11-game winning streak came to a close. Guess the Cubs will have to be content with being 31 games above .500.

“Was hoping we could keep that winning streak going,” Hendricks said. “But just start a new one tomorrow.”

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants