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Cubs’ Bullpen Breaks Down Late as Cardinals Win 6-3

On Saturday night, the Cubs rallied late but a bullpen break down proved to be the difference as Chicago fell to the Cardinals 6-3. Daniel Shepard has the details of the loss here.

In game one of the Chicago Cubs’ double-header with the St. Louis Cardinals, the North Sider’s rode a four-run seventh inning to down their rivals 7-2. That win included the Cubs going 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position despite leaving ten men on-base.

While much of the Cubs’ offense did not come until late in the game, they at least broke through and finished the game strong against the Cardinals’ bullpen.

The Cubs continued the trend of coming back on Saturday night, pushing across three runs in the sixth. However, the Cardinals promptly responded with runs in the eighth and ninth to win 6-3.

During the second game of the day-night double-header, however, the Cubs could once again not get much going until the latter innings. John Gant, the Cardinals’ starter in the night-cap, entered play with a mid-3.00 ERA, a FIP to back-up that number up and a very solid BABIP of .219. That low BABIP came despite a 43.6 percent hard hit rate off Gant, which would be the highest of the right-hander’s career if it holds the remainder of the season.

On Saturday, however, the Cubs could not get much going against the 25-year-old. An Anthony Rizzo single greeted Gant in the first, improving upon his .750/.833/1.750 slash line as a lead-off hitter entering play this season. That lead-off single would be squandered as Gant sat down the next three Cubs’ batters in order before allowing a lead-off single to Willson Contreras to start the second inning.

Contreras’ base knock also went unrewarded as Gant mowed down the following four batters before Rizzo tagged him with another single in the third.

Despite putting runners on in each of the five innings Gant was on the mound, the Cubs failed to cash-in, leaving runners on first and second in the fourth frame. In fact, that runner to make it to second in the fourth inning was the first time the Cubs moved a runner past first in the game.

In the following frame, the fifth, the Cubs once again moved a runner into scoring position. A one-out single by none other than Rizzo and a walk from Kris Bryant laid a runner-scoring opportunity at the feet of Jason Heyward and Javier Baez. Heyward entered play with a .348 batting average with men in scoring position. That, however, did not translate as Heyward flew out to center field ahead of Baez striking out to end the threat.

After Baez’s at-bat, the Cubs moved to 0-for-3 with men in scoring position.

On the pitching side of ball, Mike Montgomery was solid sans some first inning trouble. Like fellow starter Kyle Hendricks, Montgomery has struggled in the first inning this year. In his nine starts, the left-hander was sporting a 5.00 first inning ERA prior to allowing a Paul DeJong sac-fly after two straight singles from the Cardinals to start the game.

That sac-fly proved to be the difference through the first two-thirds of the game until Gant was removed after the fifth. Gant’s final line looked like this: five innings, four hits, zero earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts on 82 pitches.

With only 82 pitches, the Cardinals could have gotten one more inning out of Gant and they probably wish they had, because in the sixth, the Cubs roared back.

Drawing similarities to the day portion of the double-header, the Cubs rallied in the last innings of play to pull ahead. The rally was started by a Kyle Schwarber walk and Albert Almora solid single into center field. For the third straight inning, that put a runner in scoring position, but the Cubs would not spoil this opportunity.

With one out already in the inning, the Cardinals had a chance to escape trouble when Addison Russell rolled a ball toward DeJong the shortstop. Instead of turning the double-play, DeJong booted the grounder, loading the bases for the pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella. In the pinch this season, La Stella has been one of the best, slashing .286/.352/.347 with 14 hits entering play on Saturday. This time, La Stella would not need a hit as he drew the walk on four pitches, tying the game at one.

That kept the bases loaded for the red-hot Rizzo. With three hits already in the game, Rizzo added an infield hit to his resume for the night, plating the go-ahead run. Rizzo’s four hits on the night raised his season batting average to .258 after he started the season hitting .158 through the end of April.

A fielder’s choice off the bat of Bryant pushed the Cubs’ lead to 3-1, leaving the North Sider’s with just one hit in seven chances with men in scoring position at that time.

That statistic, however, proved to not tell the whole story as two of the Cubs’ runs in the sixth came on non-hits.

After taking the lead in the sixth, the Cubs ensured Montgomery would be in-line for the win. Following a rocky first inning, the southpaw settled down and gave the Cubs six solid innings of work. His final line looked like this: six innings, five hits, one earned run, two walks and three strikeouts on 87 pitches.

Montgomery’s win, however, would evaporate in the eighth inning as the Cubs’ bullpen broke down. A solo home run from the red-hot Matt Carpenter in the seventh tightened the game to 3-2 before the Cardinals put two runners on base with two outs in the top of the eighth. Yairo Munoz, who entered play hitting .316 with runners in scoring position, bounced a ball through the right side of the infield, plating the Cardinals’ third run of the game and tying the contest.

That run off Strop was only the second allowed by the right-hander this month as he entered play with a 1.69 ERA in July and a 2.50 mark overall.

The Cubs’ bullpen break down only worsened in the top half of the ninth. Justin Wilson entered the game and walked two batters before giving way to Steve Cishek. Cishek entered play with an above career average 83 percent left on-base percentage. Despite that, Cishek yielded a bloop single off the bat of DeJong that plated the go-head run for the Cardinals.

Entering play on Saturday, the Cubs’ bullpen owned the fifth best ERA in the majors at 3.30. That number, however, would not hold up in the latter innings of the night-cap. As mentioned above, Strop allowed the game tying hit but Cishek could not strand the runners left on-base by Wilson.

In total, the Cardinals tagged the Cubs’ bullpen for five earned runs, one each to Randy Rosario, Strop and Cishek with Wilson getting charged twice.

The real gut punch came shortly after DeJong’s RBI single. Tommy Pham opened the game up with a two-run double into the right field corner that made the Cardinal’s lead 6-3 which proved to be the final score.

With that win, the Cardinals move to 50-48 while the Cubs fall to 57-40 on the season.

Next Up For The Cubs

The Cubs will continue their five-game set with the Cardinals on Sunday, July 22 at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field. Taking the mound for the Cubs will be Jose Quintana (8-6, 3.96 ERA). Quintana has been much better in his last two starts after amassing a 4.31 ERA through June 28. Over his last 12 innings, the left-hander has allowed just eight hits and two earned runs, logging a 1.50 ERA in that span.

Opposing Quintana on Sunday will be Miles Mikolas (10-3, 2.79 ERA). Prior to this season, Mikolas had not pitched in the majors since 2014. Despite that, the right-hander has been very impressive this season, posting a 1.89 ERA in May to drive his sub-3.00 mark this season. Over his last 16 innings, Mikolas has owned a 3.94 ERA while striking out 11 batters in that span.

Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Locked On Cubs

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