MILWAUKEE — The Cubs have done a lot of talking but haven’t backed it up yet.
Of course, there is plenty of time to live up to the Bloomberg Businessweek cover — “a sports empire is in bloom” — with more than 80 percent of the schedule remaining and all this blue-chip talent waiting to mature.
But after Sunday afternoon’s 11-inning walk-off loss to the worst team in baseball, the Cubs left Miller Park with a 15-15 record and no real sense of momentum.
The Cubs have now lost two series to the Milwaukee Brewers in early May — one before they fired their manager, one after — missing an opportunity to make a big statement in the National League Central.
A 3-2 loss and another blown save left the Cubs with a negative run differential (-9) this season. A young lineup still getting used to split-second recognition at this level got shut down by ex-Cub Matt Garza and struck out 16 times overall. This team also woke up on Mother’s Day leading the league with 27 errors.
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
“We’re a lot better than a .500 team, absolutely,” Kyle Hendricks said. “We know that. We’ve been losing some ballgames we shouldn’t have been losing and we’re all part of it. I am. The whole team’s part of it.
“That’s how baseball goes. You get in a tough patch, you got to get out of it. We know we can beat these teams. And we know we’re going to once we get rolling.”
With breakdowns across the board magnifying every move, even Joe Maddon sounded a little defensive during the manager’s postgame media session.
Hendricks, a feel pitcher without much margin for error, looked sharper this time, throwing 5.1 scoreless innings, though Maddon trusted him to throw only 85 pitches.
“Before we took him out,” Maddon said, “(Elian) Herrera hit the ball hard, Garza hit the ball hard, (Carlos) Gomez hit the ball hard, (Scooter) Gennett hit the ball hard, (Ryan) Braun hit the ball hard, (Adam) Lind hit the ball hard…for those that are paying attention.”
Justin Grimm finished the sixth inning cleanly, but Maddon got burned in the seventh with lefty Zac Rosscup, who gave up back-to-back homers to Martin Maldonado and Herrera, the seventh and eighth hitters who both began the day batting under .200.
“I’m still 100 percent confident that we’re going to bounce back,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Obviously, it’s part of the game. We’re going through a rough time. But with that being said, we got to make better pitches overall. That’s it.”
Montero – who homered off Garza in the sixth inning — understood why Maddon pinch-hit for him with a runner on third base in a tie game. Montero had gone 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in his career against Brewers lefty Will Smith, who struck out Matt Szczur to end the eighth.
“I have no complaints about our group,” Maddon said. “We’re going to keep getting better in certain areas. A lot of them, they’re frustrated, they don’t want to swing at the slider outside of the strike zone, either. They’ll stop doing that. Once we stop doing that, man, heads up.”
After a 2-5 road trip through St. Louis and Milwaukee — and a 9-10 stretch within the division — it won’t get any easier.
Sections of the bleachers will finally reopen on Monday night as the New York Mets and their young power pitchers come into Wrigley Field for a four-game series that will test the franchise’s Big Bat Theory.
The first-place Mets will start with Jacob deGrom, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2014. Noah Syndergaard, Baseball America’s No. 11 prospect heading into this season, will make his big-league debut on Tuesday. The next night, Matt Harvey, a 2013 All-Star Game starter, will face the young power hitters the Cubs have collected during their own slow, big-market rebuild.
The Cubs are hanging around, sensing an opportunity, but still waiting for everything to click.
“You can be with a group of people (where) you know you might be at your limits,” Maddon said. “You might be at your Waterloo, in a sense: This is as good as we’re going to get. But I know that’s not the case with us, and that’s really the encouraging part of the whole thing.”