Cubs find positives after dropping first series since mid-July

DENVER -- For a while, it looked like the Chicago Cubs weren’t going to lose a series in the second half of the season, but then along came the Colorado Rockies, who took two out of three at Coors Field, including an 11-4 drubbing on Sunday. The Rockies won the season series from the Cubs, taking two of three at Wrigley Field in addition to this weekend's conquest.

“That’s the kind of game I don’t dwell on for very long,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward from his office. “Once you guys leave here, I promise you I’m going to crack open a Miller Lite, grab something to eat and look on Trip Advisor to find somewhere for us to eat tonight in San Diego.”

A manager can be so nonchalant about a bad loss when his team has won or split the previous 10 series. The opposition is 1 for its last 11 against the Cubs, so what?

“I kind of gassed myself those first couple innings,” starter Jason Hammel said. “That’s a tough lineup.”

One day after Kris Bryant made MVP noise, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado did the same, belting two home runs to retake the National League lead while collecting four hits. Hammel has the dubious distinction of becoming the first Cubs pitcher since 1930 to allow 10 runs in a game twice in one season, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. A seven-run first inning doomed him -- and the team’s attempt at another series win. Three first-inning errors by the Cubs didn’t help Hammel’s cause.

“It happens,” he said. “They had to sit out there and watch me give up hit after hit after hit too. It was a Colorado baseball day.”

Hammel should know. He pitched for the Rockies from 2009-11, but never had the run he was on coming into Sunday’s game. Usually the second half of the season is his own personal nightmare, but this season Hammel was on top of the leaderboard with a 6-0 record and 0.95 ERA since the All-Star break. That all changed on Sunday when he gave up six earned runs in 3⅓ innings, raising his second-half ERA to 2.17.

“He was not good,” Maddon admitted. “[But] had we just caught the ball, we could have had a different view about it early in the game.”

The ugly loss is probably less important to the Cubs than being able to check three more days off the calendar -- but there are a few big-picture storylines to examine, beginning with Hammel:

  • Hammel was hit hard, so considering his past, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on his next start. However, expecting Sunday to be the beginning of a bad run would be disrespecting his performances over the past month while forgetting how unkind Coors Field can be to pitchers.

  • Perhaps more important than anything else that happened on Sunday was newbie Rob Zastryzny’s outing on the mound. The lefty struck out five in 2⅔ innings, eliciting a positive response from his new manager.

    “Five punchouts, missing bats, great composure,” Maddon said. “Definitely a kind of guy you can trust, so let’s keep running him out there and see how it plays out.”

    It’s important because the Cubs are trying to save some wear and tear on a few arms -- see Travis Wood -- until help arrives with roster expansion on Sept. 1. Zastryzny and fellow rookie Felix Pena will see significant action as long as they can be effective.

  • Addison Russell hit two home runs on Sunday, giving him 17 in his first full year in the big leagues. It is significant that the 22-year-old is not slowing down toward the end of a long season. He’s hitting .300 with a .380 on-base percentage in August.

So maybe there were a few positives in an otherwise miserable day in Denver. The blowouts always are easier to move on from, as Maddon reiterated his promise to do just that.

“Here comes that Bud Light, I mean Miller Lite,” he said as he got up to leave his office.