CHICAGO – The Cubs had a nice little storyline going Friday.
And then along came the bullpen.
Blown saves by Brad Brach and normally reliable workhorse Steve Cishek wiped out the goodwill and good work created early by home runs by Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and the Cincinnati Reds walked away from Wrigley Field with a 6-5 victory.
Brach came on in relief of starter Kyle Hendricks in the seventh and gave up the tying run that made it 4-4. The Cubs went ahead in the bottom of the eighth on a pinch single by Willson Contreras, but Cishek walked Joey Votto before giving up a 445-foot home run to Eugenio Suarez.
“He probably didn’t have a full tank, probably three-quarters maybe,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Cishek. “So the stuff wasn’t as clean or crisp. Suarez is just a pain in the butt, man.
“But I would never jump on any negative bandwagon against Cishek. He’s a rock. He’s a huge part of our success moving into the future. It’s called baseball.”
Yes, the Cubs (29-20) do need help to shore up their bullpen. They’ve not been willing to spend to get free agent Craig Kimbrel, who would not be ready to pitch this minute anyway. And trades this early in the season are not easy to make.
“It’s pretty much an industrywide concern right now, not just here,” Maddon said of bullpens. “If you look at a lot of teams, they’ve been struggling in the bullpen. Most of the time when you don’t do well, it’s because your bullpen has a hard time at the end of game. We had a little bit early on [in the season]. We straightened it out, and then we had a tough time today.”
The Cubs are 9 for 20 in save opportunities. A long-term injury to closer Brandon Morrow and a hamstring ailment for backup closer Pedro Strop have left the Cubs and Maddon piecing things together at the back end of the bullpen. Cishek said he didn’t have a comment about his tank being less than full. He has appeared in 23 games and has four saves, including one of 21/3 innings.
“For me, I’m always thinking, ‘Put up a zero,’ and doing it quick,” Cishek said. “I had the right mindset, was locked in, ready to go, and the results weren’t there when the team needed me.”
The Cubs had a 4-0 lead at one point. Schwarber hit his first career leadoff homer in the bottom of the first. He walked with two outs in the third and came home on Bryant’s homer. Rizzo followed immediately with his second home run this week off the right-field videoboard.
Hendricks worked six innings. He didn’t allow a base runner until Joey Votto doubled with one out in the fourth. Votto later scored. Hendricks gave up a two-run homer to Yasiel Puig in the sixth.
Even though the bus may have run over the Cubs’ relievers, Hendricks wasn’t going to throw them under it.
“Those guys always get it done,” he said. “They’ve been used a lot, like we talked about, the last few days. They can’t come in every time and get the job done, but they’re making their pitches and attacking. There’s nothing else you can ask for. We know they’re going to be there for us, and they have been all year. Days like this are going to happen.”