Cubs go month without a series win

CINCINNATI -- The Chicago Cubs don't have to know the outcome of their Wednesday game against the Cincinnati Reds to understand they won't win a series in the first month of the season. The best they can do is split this one after dropping a 3-2 game that was filled with rain delays Tuesday night.

Monday's game was rained out and will be made up at a future date, meaning Wednesday is just about not getting swept.

It also means the Cubs will not have won a series in April for the first time since 1997.

They've won two games in a row, just not two against the same opponent in a three-game series or three in a four-game series.

It's more symbolic than anything, but all you ever hear a manager say is, "We want to win each series."

Instead of being depressed about this situation, it might be time to take a step back. The Cubs are rebuilding. Part of that rebuilding is learning how to play the game with a very young group. Cubs manager Rick Renteria addresses that aspect all the time; his players are constantly in the classroom learning.

"If we keep inching forward, at some point those [series wins] will start to come," he said after Tuesday's loss. "Hopefully they come in bunches."

But they won't come before the Cubs learn to play the game better, while adding more talent to the roster. Just over the last few days there were mistakes made that veteran teams simply wouldn't make as often.

"We've learned this first month that to win big league ballgames you have to put all phases of the game together," said Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who suffered the loss Tuesday. "Not just one can show up. You have to pitch, play defense, and you have to hit. These good teams that we are playing do all three, and they do it every day."

And those opponents do it just a little bit better than the Cubs. After Tuesday, the Cubs are a combined 2-10 in one- and two-run games. In Tuesday’s 3-2 defeat, the winning run scored after Zack Cozart of the Reds tripled to right with two outs in the sixth.

"I was running hard and then I realize I'm not going to get to this," Cubs outfielder Ryan Kalish said. "I was pretty much in no-man's land. If I had to do it over, I probably would have chilled out, played it back. Trying to do too much. It was costly.

"You can just learn from every mistake we make. Just learn from it."

There's that classroom talk again. Learning has been the key word over the first month. Kalish took a bad route to the ball. And instead of letting it fall for a single, he turned it into extra bases and the eventual winning run.

"It's not for lack of effort or intent by our guys; we just need to get it done," Renteria said.

But first comes taking the lumps. Later in the game, young third baseman Mike Olt and pitcher Pedro Strop miscommunicated on a bunt.

But after that, the Cubs played good defense to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. With the exception of those aforementioned miscues, they played good defense all night long. But those gaffes can be enough to lose a game in the big leagues.

Over the weekend in Milwaukee, Junior Lake misplayed two balls in the outfield and Renteria called it a learning experience. Even the Cubs’ mainstays -- Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo -- are still learning the finer points of the game, both on offense and defense.

Will it all pay off?

Not this year.

The key is seeing improvement over time.

Tuesday was a great example of coming up short in all three phases. Samardzija wasn't as sharp as usual but kept the Cubs in the game. They got one timely hit by Castro, but that was all. And they played good defense until the fateful triple.

It left them -- and Samardzija -- short of a victory. He was asked afterward if he remembered the last time he won a game. He's 0-3 despite a sparkling 1.98 ERA.

"Maybe in spring training or something like that," he said with a slight smile. "I'm just looking forward to the next time."

Maybe that will come when the Cubs claim their first series. If Renteria is right, learning eventually should turn into winning.