The start of games seems to be the most difficult part for Cubs starters.
A disturbing trend of Cubs starting pitchers giving up first-inning runs — and a lot of them — continued Saturday night, as the visiting New York Yankees knocked around Brett Anderson for five first-inning tallies, effectively finishing this one as it started. Down in another big hole before they even stepped to the plate, the Cubs stumbled to an ugly 11-6 loss at Wrigley Field.
Joe Maddon spent the bulk of his pregame press conference Saturday detailing why his starting pitchers need to be pitching deeper into games, but he sure didn't get what he wanted out of Anderson, who followed up Monday's performance — in which he recorded just four outs against the Philadelphia Phillies — by surrendering five runs on six hits while throwing just 23 pitches to only seven batters before exiting with an injury and only one out on the board.
"No one feels worse than I do," Anderson said after the game. "I wanted to have a quality start based on my last outing. I didn't get very deep into the game, obviously.
"Need to figure some things out, get healthy and get some more people out going forward. It's as simple as that."
That first inning was a hit parade for the Yankees, six of the game's first seven batters reaching via a base knock. Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley all doubled off Anderson, the latter two driving in a combined three runs.
Cubs pitchers entered with an already oversized 10.24 first-inning ERA through the team's first 29 games. After five runs in the first inning of Game No. 30, that ERA is an even more grotesque 11.40.
Anderson entered with a 6.23 ERA and saw it jump up to 7.83 on Saturday night. Maddon said after the game that Anderson will likely head to the disabled list. Throughout his career, it's been injuries that have slowed Anderson down. This season, the on-field performance hasn't gone well, either.
"It's a combination of getting healthy and figuring out how to get people out again," Anderson said. "Right now, every ball that gets put in play seems like it's a hit, and every ball that's put in play seems like it's a run.
"Last two starts at home for me, personally, have been embarrassing."
But it wasn't just the starting pitching, as this was an all-around stinker for the Cubs. Anderson committed a throwing error that allowed the Yankees' first run to score. Two innings later, a ball bounced over Kris Bryant's glove at third base, and the Yankees crossed the plate for the sixth time.
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Cubs relievers were tagged for six runs, five of them earned, with the Yankees showing a pair of pitchers called up in the last two days why they're called the Bronx Bombers. Castro blasted a two-run homer off Felix Pena in the fourth to make it 8-0. Rob Zastryzny, called up before Saturday's game in a bullpen-strengthening move that saw outfielder Matt Szczur designated for assignment, gave up a three-run homer to Aaron Hicks that made it 11-3 in the eighth.
In how bad of shape is the Cubs' bullpen right now? Miguel Montero pitched the ninth inning for the North Siders.
The Cubs' offense didn't do much against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery, who allowed just three hits in his 6.2 innings of work.
It didn't mean Cubs hitters didn't score, though. But unfortunately for them it all came after the Yankees jumped out to an 8-0 lead.
Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez came home on ground balls in the fifth, with Baez scoring thanks to a Didi Gregorius throwing error. In the seventh, Ben Zobrist chased home Jon Jay with a triple into the left-field corner. Baez plated Addison Russell with an RBI hit in the eighth, and two more runs scored when a Montero hit bounced off the glove of Rob Refsnyder at second base.
But for all of Maddon's chatting about his confidence that his starting staff will turn things around, the Cubs needed a whopping 8.2 innings out of their bullpen Saturday night. This at the end of an already taxing week for the relief corps.
"They need to get in the groove," Montero said of the starting rotation. "And I think the whole team needs to get in a groove right now. For the hitters, obviously we're putting a lot of pressure on them because for the most part this year we've been coming from behind because in the first inning (the opponents) score some runs. And it's hard to come back all the time, even though we have done it quite a few times this year. But it's not easy. And it's something we need to get better at in order to give us a chance early in the game. Put some zeroes on the board, and that way our hitters feel a little bit better going in to do some offense."
Jon Lester takes the hill Sunday night to try and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Yankees. He'll also try to become just the second Cubs starter this week to get out of the sixth inning.
Maddon, who preached patience during his pregame talk about the starting rotation, showed the same kind of stay-the-course approach after the game.
"Listen, we lost badly tonight," he said before shifting to the positives. "Last night, we were ahead for eight innings. And we just came off a three-game winning streak.
"The sky is not falling for me. We just had a bad night."