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Professional

Cubs succumb quietly against Braves

Bad luck, bad game

CHICAGO – Bad luck at Wrigley Field on Friday the 13th?

Yes, if you plucked this game in the office lottery. The first-pitch temperature was 42 degrees with 17 mph winds out of the north, and the listless Cubs managed four hits in their 4-0 loss to the Braves.

The only bit of bad luck on the field, in the Cubs’ minds, came when Yu Darvish was called for a balk.

Both he and manager Joe Maddon insisted it was a faulty call, with Darvish saying he has never been flagged for looking back the runner at second during his two-piece delivery.

Valid or not, it had a venomous effect on the veteran right-hander in his first home start as a Cub.

“I got thrown off guard,” Darvish said via interpreter Daichi Sekizaki. “It went downhill from there.”

That it did. The fifth-inning balk preceded this ugly string: wild pitch, single, double, scorched home run by Preston Tucker, walk, bunt single, walk.

Next thing you knew, a scoreless game had turned into a 4-0 deficit and Darvish was surrendering the ball to Maddon, who blew on his hands while strolling to the mound.

“Everything went south after the balk, which was not a balk,” Maddon said. “It seemed to create awkwardness.”

Darvish is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA and two fifth-inning knockouts in three starts. Not good.

The team’s larger issue is an offense that produced one run over the last two games.

Ian Happ had two of the Cubs’ four hits Friday, and he was only in the lineup because fellow outfielder Albert Almora Jr. is suffering from an illness.

“Wrigley can be a tough place to hit for the first couple of months,” Happ said. “[But] both teams are dealing with it.”

The return of Anthony Rizzo should help. Maddon expects him to return to the lineup Monday when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list for a sore back.

Said Happ: “Tony’s a great player ... but we are a good offense no matter who’s in the lineup.”

Happ also took a bit of exception to a question about his current 5-for-9 stretch being a small sample size. Happ said his 5-for-32 start was the small sample size, adding: “Just wait until the end of the year.”

Kris Bryant, who played first base and handled some tough chances, surely wishes Rizzo would come back ASAP. Darvish misfired on a pickoff attempt. Catcher Willson Contreras whizzed a throw past Bryant on an Anibal Sanchez bunt that resulted in an out for interference. And after shortstop Addison Russell made a sliding stop on a grounder, his throw hit the lip of the grass and skipped past Bryant’s glove. It was ruled a single.

Bryant said before the game he actually likes feeling uncomfortable because that can be a path to progress. He even sometimes takes cold showers because “sometimes I need to trick myself. Sometimes I take ground balls in a different position or try something new off the tee or in the cage just to switch things up.”

It must be uncomfortable to have Contreras fire a fastball at your face from about 45 feet.

Said Maddon: “We’re working with Willson on downshifting the throw a bit … [develop] a Kenny Stabler touch pass over the middle.”

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