“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.”