The Chicago Cubs’ season has been mired in mediocrity.
Consistency and positive momentum continues to elude a team needing to make up ground in their effort to get to .500 and climb back into the division race. Closing out their series win against the Washington Nationals with two victories and 25 runs scored didn’t carry over into their series opener Thursday versus the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs couldn’t get much going offensively with left-hander Steven Matz on the mound. They finished with six hits in a 7-2 loss to a Cardinals team that has won six straight and quickly pulled within 1 1/2 games of the third-place Cubs (45-51).
Marcus Stroman struggled to get in a groove, and the infield defense didn’t help him. Third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s two-out fielding error in the first extended the inning, which set up Willson Contreras to put the Cardinals ahead 1-0 on a double. Stroman was able to work around a Wisdom throwing error in the second, getting Paul Goldschmidt to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Stroman, though, had to battle the entire outing. His 3⅔ innings marked his third-shortest start of the season. The Cardinals scored five runs (four earned) and had seven hits off Stroman, who walked a season-high-tying four and struck out four on 99 pitches.
“One of those games where you feel like everything works against you,” Stroman said. “It didn’t help with the walks. Felt like I was slightly off mechanically, just missing the zone, getting behind in counts, didn’t get ahead much and they put good swings on balls. Just one of those games I felt like nothing could go my way and I couldn’t get in a rhythm at any point.”
The Cubs have been feeling the absence of Dansby Swanson’s defensive impact lately. Swanson (bruised left heel) ran the bases Thursday, an important test for the timeline for his return. The hope coming into this series was that he would be activated at some point this weekend. Nick Madrigal (right hamstring strain) begins a rehab assignment Friday. If everything goes well over the weekend, they are eyeing him to return for Tuesday’s series opener against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“We never gave him a real chance to get in a rhythm,” Ross said. “We make some plays behind him, there’s a lot of standard major-league plays that should have been made behind him and then he’s fighting, a lot of pitches. Some of those mistakes we made cost him, shoot, like 30, 40 pitches. That’s hard to overcome.
“We’ve got guys in there that have to step up in moments and we haven’t.”
The Cubs squandered their two best chances to get back in the game.
After the Cardinals’ four-run fourth, Seiya Suzuki opened the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff double. Although he eventually scored on Yan Gomes’ two-out triple, the Cubs wasted an opportunity to turn it into a multirun inning with the middle of the order up.
Gomes again was the catalyst in the seventh with another triple, this one to start the inning. He became the third-oldest catcher (36 years, 1 day) in the majors since at least 1901 to hit two triples in one game. Gomes entered the game without more than one triple in a season since 2014.
Gomes scored on Christopher Morel’s groundout. Wisdom took a 96.5-mph fastball off his helmet but stayed in the game after getting checked on by Ross and head trainer Nick Frangella. He was evaluated again postgame. A Trey Mancini bloop fielder’s choice and two-out walks by Miguel Amaya and Nico Hoerner loaded the bases for Suzuki.
Suzuki fouled off a changeup down the middle, and left-hander JoJo Romero went back to the pitch in a 1-1 count that Suzuki again just missed, lining out to left field to end the seventh.