Cubs pitching still struggling to find the strike zone

ST. LOUIS -- Somehow his ERA is only 3.31. But Chicago Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood will see it rise precipitously if he keeps giving out free passes. Same goes for the entire Cubs pitching staff.

“I’m putting myself in bad situations and its hurting the team,” Chatwood said after the Cubs’ 8-6 loss in 10 innings to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon.

Staked to a 4-0 lead, the righty gave it all back in the fourth inning, when he walked the first two batters and hit the next one. After coming back out for the fifth inning, in a 4-4 game, he again walked the leadoff hitter. His day was done.

“There is no reason for that fourth inning to happen right there,” a frustrated Chatwood said. “Just throw the ball over the plate and let them get themselves out. It’s just me beating myself right now.”

The same can be said for a few other Cubs pitchers, including two relievers who walked leadoff men Saturday, contributing to the Cubs’ first ninth-inning blown save, then in the 10th to the eventual loss.

“The leadoff walk hurt us the entire game,” manager Joe Maddon said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cubs rank 13th in the National League, walking 9.8 percent of leadoff hitters to start an inning. After Chatwood did it several times, closer Brandon Morrow followed suit. And in the 10th, rookie Luke Farrell served up a free pass, then a home run to Kolten Wong as the Cubs lost their fourth consecutive game.

“That’s the worst time to have one, to start the inning,” Morrow said. “Gives them a little momentum and hope.”

Farrell added, “It’s really bothersome. You can understand giving up a hit in that situation. Not a walk.”

The walk-a-thon is a reminder of the Cubs’ struggles in the second half of last season, including the playoffs, when they walked the house. A change in pitching coaches hasn’t changed the pattern just yet, though it’s Chatwood who’s inflating the Cubs' numbers on his own. After his outing Saturday, he leads all of baseball with 27 walks in six starts. Many pitchers have one more outing than Chatwood but many fewer walks. He and fellow free-agent signee Yu Darvish haven’t exactly paid dividends for the Cubs just yet -- though Chatwood hasn’t completely blown up despite the lofty walk totals.

“I know what it is,” Chatwood said. “I feel like it’s an easy correction but I’m fighting it right now. It’s just a matter of having it click.

“It’s an easy fix. I know I can do it. In my bullpen I’ve proven I can do it. It’s just a matter of taking it into the game.”

Maddon added: “It’s a complicated delivery. ... His stuff is high-end. We just have to get it over the plate.”

Chatwood possess great movement on his pitches but simply isn’t finding the zone enough. The wild day contributed to a bad stretch for the two-time defending Central Division champions as poor defense, a sluggish offense and now a bullpen meltdown have dropped them to 0-4 in May. Their play might be giving hope to a few other teams in the division, including the Cardinals, who jumped into first place after taking the first two games of the series. The top four teams in the division are bunched together, thanks in part to the Cubs’ poor play of late.

“We’re not playing our best baseball right now,” Chatwood said. “There’s a lot of season left and a lot of time for us to get on the right track, and I think we will.”