LOS ANGELES — At least Anthony Rizzo only had to deal with Clayton Kershaw twice.
That and the evening weather were as close to any upsides the Cubs could claim from a third consecutive loss at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, this time by a 7-1 score that didn’t seem that close.
Even those upsides came with significant downsides on a day the Cubs lost for the ninth time in 13 games ahead of a series in Milwaukee that suddenly looks about as big as a series can get in June.
Rizzo’s short day was caused by another flareup of his balky back — “left lower back tightness” the official description of what forced from this one in the fourth inning and makes him a game-day decision at best Monday.
And the cost of that pleasant evening weather? ESPN’s decision to pick up the originally scheduled afternoon game as its Sunday night broadcast meant a classic late-afternoon-shadows game for hitters against Clayton Kershaw — who recorded a four-year personal high of 13 strikeouts in his eight innings.
It also meant a redeye out of L.A. for the beat-up and reeling Cubs ahead of a game against a pitcher — Freddy Peralta — who throttled them three times in 19 days in April. Before they face another pitcher, Brandon Woodruff, who gave up just one run in three starts to the Cubs in April — ahead of a likely rematch with Corbin Burnes (six scoreless in his one start against the Cubs).
“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the scheduling,” shrugged infielder Patrick Wisdom.
If Rizzo’s day-to-day back issue adds injury to intrigue in Milwaukee this week, those pitching matchups and a three-game deficit in the standings adds at least intensity to injury.
“We do a really good job of resetting,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think the division always brings a little extra, and the guys that are leading the division that you’re chasing always bring a little extra.”
The last time they were three games out of first was more than a month ago, and they were just one game over .500 at that point.
Before Sunday’s game Ross called the Brewers series “a good little barometer” for whether the Cubs’ troubles against the Brewers were more about Brewers’ pitching dominance against this lineup or about the Cubs’ struggles out of the gate regardless of the opponent.
The Cubs are 3-6 against the Brewers, losing all three April series — just 1-6 in the games started by Peralta, Woodruff and Burnes, who combined for 40 innings and a 0.90 ERA in those seven starts.
“They’ve got a good staff. We know that,” he said. “They’ve got a good team. That’s why they’re in first place.”
The Cubs dropped to 12-13 during a June that still figures to be “a good little barometer” for the eye test the front office will use in determining whether this team is worth investing in trade-deadline additions— or whether the for sale signs start going out in the next few weeks.
The fact that Nico Hoerner has begun a rehab assignment and can be anticipated back from the injured list in the short-term could be an upside factor.
On the other hand, rookie Adbert Alzolay — a weapon in the rotation until a blister sidelined him three weeks ago — had little command Sunday in his second start back. Consequently, the first hit against him was a grand slam in the second that signaled a quick end to the Cubs’ chances against Kershaw.
Did somebody say strikeouts? Cubs hitters racked up 45 of them in the last three games alone — with just five runs in those losses to show for them. The 14-plus in three straight games is a franchise first, per ESPN.
“It’s definitely deflating,” Wisdom said.
And that 4-9 slide that seems to be accelerating into Milwaukee? It’s taken shutouts to win three of the four (they gave up one run in the other win), and they’ve scored two or fewer in eight of the losses (three in the other).
“It’s clear there’s areas [to make] improvements,” Ross said before Sunday’s game, adding that he’s “proud” of how the team has handled the June gauntlet with an injury-shortened roster all month.
“It’s been a tough stretch, and we’ve still got a little bit to go,” he said. “We’ve pieced it together pretty good. We’ve got areas where we could be better at. I still there’s a lot of positives as well. It’s a really good team in a lot of areas, and the areas we can improve on are attainable goals.”
Meanwhile, with the Brewers rotation sharks circling, these guys are gonna need a bigger reset button.