Bullpen struggles burn Cubs in 6-3 loss to Cardinals

Bullpen struggles burn Cubs in 6-3 loss to Cardinals
July 26, 2014, 6:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Jake Arrieta settled down after a rocky first inning. James Russell didn’t have the luxury of time. They were both burned by the same St. Louis hitter, and it cost the Cubs on Saturday.

Arrieta allowed a two-run double to Matt Adams in the first inning, and after the Cubs battled back, Russell allowed a two-run triple to Adams in the seventh, the biggest hit in a four-run frame that proved the difference in the Cubs’ 6-3 loss on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

“He’s swinging the bat really well right now. He’s a tough out for us and pretty much everybody else he’s faced,” Arrieta said of the Cardinals first baseman.

While Adams’ blow was the biggest in that seventh inning, it wasn’t the one that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.

With the game tied at 2, Jon Jay led off the seventh with a single before moving to second base on a sac bunt. Several pitches later, he then dashed off for third, sliding in safely, though third baseman Luis Valbuena gestured toward the dugout, indicating he thought a review should be in order. The umpires checked the play out again. Still safe. Two pitches after that, Matt Carpenter hit a ground ball to Anthony Rizzo, who threw home. Catcher Welington Castillo needed to stretch to attempt to tag Jay, and Jay slid in past the glove and scored.

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That gave the Cardinals the lead again, and it was extended a few hitters later, when Adams smashed a ball into the right-center field gap to bring home two more runs.

“Adams put a good at-bat together,” Russell said. “He fouled a lot of pitches off and just ended up getting a mistake, and he did what he’s supposed to do with it and put it in the gap. It’s just one of those things. I’ll face him again.”

Adams’ double back in the first was the only scoreboard damage surrendered by the Cubs starting pitcher, who was shaky to start before settling down nicely. Arrieta and manager Rick Renteria were the first to admit that it wasn’t Arrieta’s best day on the hill, though the righty managed to allow just the two runs over six innings.

“Came out kind of flat in the first. Really struggled with command of just about everything today, didn’t really have a pitch I could go to in some spots to induce contact or make things a little less difficult on myself,” Arrieta said. “Pitch count got up. It was just pretty much a battle from start to finish.”

“They don’t always feel good in every outing,” Renteria said. “Today was maybe not one of those days where he felt his best. He actually settled down, worked with what he had today, which is what a pitcher’s supposed to do.”

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But it was Adams who got to Arrieta enough to make it a rough outing.

“He’s hitting just about any pitch in multiple parts of the strike zone, and that creates a tough out for anybody,” Arrieta said. “He’s able to handle breaking balls down and in. He’s able to handle the ball away and with velocity. And he’s able to get on top of the ball if you try and elevate on him. He’s seeing it well, and he’s doing some good things for that lineup. And we’re just going to have to do a little bit better job of making pitches to him.”

The Cardinals’ early lead was halved by a Rizzo RBI groundout in the fourth and then erased by a Nate Schierholtz pinch-hit home run in the sixth.

But after the Cubs tied the game, the Cardinals had that immediate answer in the seventh. Even after Russell’s trouble with Adams, the trouble for the Cubs bullpen continued. Brian Schlitter walked Jhonny Peralta in relief of Russell and then gave up an RBI single to A.J. Pierzynski — who had three hits in his first game with St. Louis.

“That’s the thing that any club that gets a break, when they’re able to take advantage of that, that’s what puts them where they’re at,” Renteria said. “That allowed them to continue to get through it. And on the converse side, when a play like that develops, we also try to minimize the damage. So we’ve got to take our opportunity to stop the bleeding. We just weren’t able to.”

Ryan Sweeney led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run, but it was enough only to merely dent the Cardinals lead, shrinking it to the final, 6-3.

It all ended in the Cubs’ sixth loss in eight games since the All-Star break.