Even upbeat manager Rick Renteria couldn’t downplay the significance of the Cubs’ latest shortcomings.
“It’s a tough one on many different levels,” Renteria said Wednesday after the Cubs blew a 2-0 lead for Jeff Samardzija in the ninth inning of a 4-2, 13-inning loss to the Yankees.
The play 20 of their next 26 games on the road, beginning Thursday night against the Padres in San Diego. Because they failed to hold the lead in the ninth, their well-worked bullpen was stretched even more.
That presents a challenge for Renteria and Jake Arrieta, who on Thursday will be pitching for the first time since May 13 but has failed to last more than four innings in each of his last two starts because of high pitch counts.
The Cubs’ 1-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position Wednesday failed to provide a larger cushion for the bullpen, and their average in that situation dropped to .197— an ominous sign as they head to pitcher-friendly Petco Park and AT&T Park for the next seven games.
The inability to pad their lead, as well as a throwing error by usually dependable second baseman Darwin Barney that allowed the tying run to score, put an end to their season-high three-game winning streak.
To steer back on a winning course Thursday, the Cubs likely will have to do so without Hector Rondon, who pitched for the fourth consecutive game and couldn’t hold the two-run lead.
Samardzija, who allowed only four singles and was pulled after 95 pitches, knows the perils of pitching frequently as a closer.
“To go out every day, especially when you pitch the night before in a long game and in bad weather, and come back in a day game is hard to do,” Samardzija said. “But Hector is young and will learn how to do it.”
Rondon threw 11 pitches Tuesday night in a 6-1 victory but was needed because rookie Neil Ramirez struggled in the ninth.
Barney, who won the 2012 National League Gold Glove Award and came off the bench in the ninth for defensive purposes, rushed his throw in an attempt to nail Ichiro Suzuki for a double play that would have kept the tying run at third base.
“Ichiro running, the grass is slow, I had to rush it,” Barney said. “You look at it again. Maybe I should have (held the ball). But I’m trying to make a play. I’d rather go that way than holding it.”
Despite Samardzija lowering his ERA to a major league-best 1.46, the Cubs felt to 1-9 in his 10 starts. He hasn’t won since Aug. 24, 2013, at Petco Park.
“It’s still early,” Barney said. “There are four months left. There’s plenty of time for him.”