CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are playing a game of whack-a-mole as they inch their way toward the non-waiver trade deadline on Friday and then into the final two months of the season.
One day their bullpen blows up and that looks like their biggest need, then it's an offense that's stuck in the mud, which begs for a new bat. And at least one day a week it's the starting staff that needs help. Tuesday night had all three components working against them. There were too many moles to whack in their 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies -- beginning with their starting pitcher.
"[Dallas] Beeler had another tough outing on the mound," manager Joe Maddon said after the game.
Beeler had his third chance to grab hold of the fifth starter's job, but each performance has been worse than the previous. On Tuesday, he didn't make it out of the second inning, allowing the first five batters of the game to reach base. It was 4-0 before most fans had taken their seats.
It would be foolish for the Cubs to try and mix and match a fifth starter from within the organization at this point. The season is at a critical stage. Oft injured lefty Tsuyoshi Wada isn't the answer. Neither is Beeler. Clayton Richard threw a gem for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, though.
"I heard he was spectacular," Maddon quipped. "Wrong city."
Richard had his chances with the Cubs previously and he struggled as well. He's only in Iowa because he passed through waivers. The Cubs can always turn back to Travis Wood, who threw 3 2/3 innings in relief of Beeler on Tuesday.
"There's no denying [Wood] could be a consideration," Maddon said. "I would prefer that he not be but you have to consider that he may happen."
Maddon likes Wood in his role in the bullpen, and if it's come to circling back to the pitcher with a 5.59 ERA in seven starts this season, then the Cubs really have no answers. But there's inventory out there as we approach the trade deadline, and if the Cubs want a cheaper rental like Ian Kennedy of the Padres or Dan Haren of the Marlins, they can be had. Tyson Ross would be a longer-term investment. Any of them would help now, though.
Maddon quickly moved his thoughts to the offense, which scored a run in the first inning and got a home run off the bench by Chris Coghlan in the seventh. That was it against little-known Yohan Flande, who earned his first career win in his first start since Sept. 24 last year.
"We have to do better offensively," Maddon said. "There's no getting around it."
After back-to-back days of scoring five and then nine runs, the Cubs reverted to their usual struggles. They couldn't get the big hit when they needed it, going 1-for-13 with men in scoring position while stranding seven. One key moment came in the fourth inning with the Cubs trailing 4-1 and Jorge Soler on third base with one out. Starlin Castro got ahead 3-0 in the count but promptly struck out looking three pitches later. When he was removed in a double switch in the eighth inning, social media lit up with trade speculation.
"He's not on the top of his game offensively," Maddon said of the move. "I did not want to take [Coghlan] out of the game. That's what it came down to."
Castro asked for reporters to circle back with him on Wednesday as he continues to struggle through the most frustrating year of his career. And with trade season upon us, he'll have even more on his plate this week.
"Conjecture is such a part of our game," Maddon said. "It's so interesting this time of the year. I think it's great for the game. It's tough for Starlin if his name is mentioned. That's where it becomes difficult."
It's hard to imagine Castro being the centerpiece of a trade by Friday, not the way his season has gone. He still could be moved, but you don't have to be a general manager to know it won't be for much value. Other teams see what the Cubs see. But Castro is just one person on an offense that can't keep its momentum going for very long.
"You can slice it, dice it any way you like; we just have to become more offensive, more consistently," Maddon said.
Maybe if his bullpen was a little more consistent these days, the Cubs would be a little closer at the end of games. It worked out on Monday with Kris Bryant's dramatic game-winning home run after a blown save, but Rafael Soriano hasn't worked out so far. He gave up two more runs on Tuesday, making it four runs in his last three appearances. A 5-2 deficit ballooned to 7-2.
"Rafael is still not on top of his game," Maddon said.
Neither is Jason Motte right now, though he threw a clean inning on Tuesday in a non-save situation. So the back end might change again before it's all over. Maddon was asked if Hector Rondon could win the job back.
"Of course he could," Maddon responded. "And I anticipate that he will. And I think [Pedro] Strop has that kind of stuff."
As for bullpen help, Jonathan Papelbon isn't coming here; he was traded to Washington on Tuesday. The Padres might be floating closer Craig Kimbrel, but he comes with a hefty $25 million price tag. The Cubs might be out of the big-time closer market, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't add on the back end if they can.
It might be hard to plug all the holes by Friday -- but one or two could help at a time when it feels like the season could be slipping away. There's no shame in that. The Cubs have already taken strides. They just might need some help to take a few more.