MILWAUKEE — Everybody is waiting for the Cubs' pitching struggles to turn around.
The Cubs entered play Sunday with a team ERA (7.87) nearly a full run above the next-worst team (Red Sox — 6.97). Opposing players are hitting .316 off the Cubs this year.
Even PECOTA didn't project this.
Things have gotten so bad, cameras caught the ever-positive Joe Maddon expressing himself in a profane way in a moment of frustration Saturday night after Randy Rosario came out of the bullpen and gave up a 3-run shot:
Maddon laughed it off Sunday morning, admitting his emotional side is always there — "I think I hide it pretty well" — and explaining the frustration stemmed from the fact he'd have to bring in Steve Cishek in a blowout.
"Ahh, so the word you used was 'Cishek?'" a reporter asked Maddon.
"By him pitching last night, now he's not available today," Maddon said. "That was the frustration. That's what the inner-connectedness of the bullpen — when guys all do their jobs and you rest other people, then they're more available the next day and the day after that. So that was the genesis of it."
The bullpen has obviously been a cause for concern, but the Cubs have a team-wide run prevention problem, from errors and poor defense to late-inning ineffectiveness to tough starts to games.
Kyle Hendricks served up a 2-run homer to Christian Yelich in the first inning Sunday afternoon, immediately putting the Cubs in a hole for the third straight game. The Brewers scored 5 runs in the opening frame during the course of the three-game series.
The Cubs have a veteran-laden pitching staff, but the way things have gone here early, even these guys with a ton of big-league service time can feel like they have to be the hero every time they take the mound.
"Everybody's human," Jon Lester said. "I think everybody's trying to do well not only for themselves, but for the team. Sometimes that gets you further behind the eight ball than just going out there and focusing on a gameplan or one of your own cues that gets you locked in.
"We've all seen it wigh guys at the plate, we've seen it with guys on the mound — it's natural to try too hard. Especially, too, now. Early in the year, you turn around and you see a 9.00 or a 12.00 or a 27.00 ERA up there and you want that to be back down to where your normals are.
"Early on, it's so hard to not get caught up in that kind of stuff. I can only speak personally, but for me, I try to rely on the report and my cues and try to execute one pitch and that's all I can control."
Lester has been the lone bright spot on the pitching staff, turning in a quality start each time out.
The Cubs have asked the 14-year veteran to help step up more as a leader in the clubhouse this year, but how can Lester help his fellow pitchers through these early-season issues?
"Just stay out of the way," Lester said. "I can only speak for myself, but when I struggle, the last thing I want is somebody patting me on the back or the butt or whatever. Just leave me alone and let me figure it out. I try to do the same thing to other guys. If they come to me or they come to other people to try to figure things out, then that's good.
"But for me, I kinda crawl into a bigger hole and avoid people even more than I do right now. That's how I try to figure things out. The big thing is, just like with hitting — everybody runs to the video, runs to mechanics, runs to this. Nine times out of 10, it's just confidence.
"A lot of times when you're struggling, that 2-0 pitch gets hit out as opposed to right at somebody. A couple of those fall your way and then it's like 'OK, maybe I am halfway decent' and you start getting that confidence going, you start throwing that 2-0 pitch with conviction and usually you get good things.
"But yeah, I try to stay out of guys' ways. I've always said — if they want to talk, and come to me, great, then we'll sit down and try to figure out whatever we can. But I think the biggest thing is to just keep running out there and pitching. Our guys are too good to keep doing this."