The Chicago Cubs, still reeling from making six errors, discovered a fresh and excruciating way to lose on Wednesday night. Build a lead and then have the bullpen give away free passes like a desperate 24/7 fitness center.
Leading 4-2 in the eighth inning, Joe Maddon handed the reins over to Steve Cishek, then Randy Rosario, then Brad Brach. The trio combined to record two outs while allowing four earned runs and walking five batters.
The sample size is small but there’s no denying that the Cubs bullpen has been a disaster this year. Relievers have walked 17 batters in 17.1 innings of work. They’ve blown leads in sixty percent of the games, leaving three potential wins on the table.
It’s obviously too early to start thinking about changes. Theo Epstein told reporters as much before the latest bullpen meltdown.
"“We’re not thinking in those terms,” Epstein said Wednesday, reminding reporters repeatedly that the 2019 season is in its infancy. “A number of guys pitched well. It was just a couple of poorly timed outings by guys in spots that cost us games. “But we’re not thinking about changes or thinking about anybody besides the guys who are here. We’re trying to get guys lined up the right way and get them comfortable in roles and have them be effective. Usually right around this time when everyone is calling for changes, they go out and put up some zeros and on to the next storyline. We have to get to that next point.”"
The tension could be ratcheted up by the fact the NL Central is expected to be particularly tough, with the Brewers and Cardinals also pushing for the division crown. One wants to remain cool and not flip out over five games. On the other hand, every one of these decisions could matter come late-September.
It’s tough to keep the mood down in Wrigleyville on Opening Day. If the Cubs continue to have issues on this road trip and return home 2-7 or — God forbid, 1-8 — with no answers out of the bullpen, things might be a bit muted and edgy.