Chicago Cubs manager David Ross chalked up a blowout loss Saturday to the Minnesota Twins as a clunker, the type that occasionally happens over the course of 162 games.
And then Sunday arrived, an even uglier performance in a 16-3 trouncing by the Twins, whose 29 total runs scored against the Cubs set a record for a three-game series at Target Field — a ballpark that opened in 2010.
The Cubs needed infielder Miles Mastrobuoni to finish the game on the mound, entering with two outs in the eighth. Just as they walloped the Cubs pitching staff, the locked-in Twins teed off on Mastrobuoni, who allowed four runs on four hits, including a home run, before he recorded the elusive third out.
Any hope the Cubs’ series-opening victory Friday would set them up for a strong start to their three-city, nine-game trip was quickly erased over the weekend.
Now the Cubs head to Houston, where they must regroup and get back on track against the defending World Series champion Astros.
“We have no option but to move forward,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “When you get down early quickly, it can be tough to come back. It felt like we were trying today, felt we put together some decent ABs, just nothing truly went in our favor. But you’ve got to give them credit.”
Right-hander Marcus Stroman had an uncharacteristically uncompetitive start. He couldn’t get out of the third, surrendering two walks, seven hits and six runs in 2⅔ innings. It represented his shortest outing not due to an injury or weather since Sept. 3, 2018, with the Toronto Blue Jays (1⅓ innings).
Stroman, who brought in a 2.28 ERA and seven quality starts, struggled to get his mechanics right. Last year he often mentioned using breathing techniques on the mound to collect himself or would step off the rubber to physically work through a part of his delivery before the next pitch when he didn’t feel right.
The pitch clock makes it harder to tap into those options when his rhythm is off. Now any adjustments need to come between innings or starts.
“I’ve got to be dialed in mechanically,” Stroman said. “I can’t step off and readjust in game. … I know exactly where I need to get to and work on it with (the pitching coaches). I’m not worried about it. I know I’m going to get there and probably go on another run soon.”
Stroman’s ill-timed struggles compounded what otherwise have been reliable performances from the rotation. Right-hander Hayden Wesneski gave up seven runs in five innings Saturday. The combination forced the Cubs bullpen to cover eight innings during the final two games of the series.
It’s not an ideal spot ahead of right-hander Jameson Taillon’s start Monday against the Astros. Taillon hasn’t pitched past the third in two starts since coming off the injured list.
A roster move to bring in a fresh reliever might be warranted before Monday’s series opener.
“It hurts a little bit,” Ross said. “We’ve got a couple guys banged up. We’ll assess and we’ll try to fix some things and see where everybody’s at tomorrow. Covering that many innings is tough sometimes.”
The Cubs are beginning one of their toughest stretches in the schedule. Between two three-city trips within a 31-day span and the quality of opponents, they’re in a danger zone.
They must stay competitive through this stretch and into mid-June if they want president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and the front office to add, not subtract, at the trade deadline. A so-far middling division could help prolong the Cubs’ efforts to keep a postseason spot a realistic goal, but they need to deliver better consistency.
“I feel like at some point we’re really going to hit a stride and be able to play a complete game,” Swanson said. “You can see the ability, not that it comes and goes, but there will be good at-bats and well-executed pitches and it’s just a matter of getting them all going and synced up at the same time. I think we’ll be a very dangerous team when that happens.”