CHICAGO – If ever a team looked beaten – beaten up, beaten down, beaten all around – it was the Cubs on Sunday.
For the second time in four days, the Cubs were routed badly. Last Thursday, it was an 11-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, a game in which the Brewers scored seven runs in the third inning to take a 9-1 lead.
It was even worse Sunday. The Pittsburgh Pirates waylaid the Cubs and starting pitcher Jon Lester with 10 runs in the first inning on the way to a 14-3 victory at Wrigley Field.
Lester was charged with “only” four earned runs as the Cubs committed two errors, but he failed to make it out of the first for the shortest outing of his career: two-thirds of an inning.
“It’s never a good time to have a bad start,” said a subdued Lester, who looked as beaten down as any Cub. “I don’t know what to say to make it better or to give you a reason. It kind of speaks for itself. It’s embarrassing.”
Instead of getting back to the .500 mark, the Cubs limped into the All-Star break with a record of 43-45. That puts them 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, and they’re now tied for second with the St. Louis Cardinals.
If ever a team needs an all-star break, it’s the defending world-champion Cubs.
“It’s been a grind for everyone,” said first baseman and team leader Anthony Rizzo. “You learn a lot about yourself. Obviously, we have higher expectations, and we all hold ourselves accountable. I think just like last year, going into the break will be nice for everyone, to go to relax and get away from the game for a few days and get ready to go.”
The Pirates sent 15 men to the plate in the first inning. There were errors by third basemen Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras. Lester gave up a grand slam to Francisco Cervelli on Cervelli’s second trip to the plate in the inning. Andrew McCutchen came up next and homered, chasing Lester in favor of Mike Montgomery.
Before Sunday, the previous time the Cubs gave up at least 10 runs in the first inning was Aug. 7, 1998, when the St. Louis Cardinals scored 11 at Busch Stadium.
The Cubs have been outscored, 80-57, in the first inning this season. Last year for the entire season, the Cubs gave up 71 runs in that inning.
“I think people just want to get away, move, get away from this, get away from the grind,” Lester said. “It’s not for a lack of effort. It’s not for a lack of preparation. For whatever reason it is, it is what it is. So we’ve got to come back, take four days, regroup, refresh and show up on Friday ready.
“I think the big thing for us is just play good baseball, play solid baseball. Forget the record, forget our batting averages, our ERAs, wins, loss, whatever, and just get back to playing good, sound baseball. The talent on this team will speak for itself.”
Manager Joe Maddon headed out for more pleasant duty. He will manage the National League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Miami. The Cubs were 53-35 at the break a year ago.
“We’re not happy,” Maddon said. “Of course guys are frustrated. But that’s just a normal human reaction, I think. So we have to get beyond that, come back in the second half and play like we’re capable of playing – only to learn from the first half. There’s no point in quitting or giving up or relinquishing anything. We are frustrated. We’re not playing our game. Get our starting pitching back in order, and our situational hitting has to come to bear too.
“I anticipated better. Of course I did. We did. But this is our reality. You deal with reality. You don’t deal with theory. Theory is wonderful. Theory and reality coming together in a positive moment is a good thing. But our theory and reality have not met yet.”