CHICAGO — The one Achilles’ heel for the Chicago Cubs in their second-half march to the postseason reared its ugly head in their Game 4 5-0 loss to the Washington Nationals: free passes.

The Cubs walked nine batters on a night when hitting was at a premium. With temperatures in the 50s and a howling wind blowing in off Lake Michigan, Cubs pitchers — especially the arms out of the bullpen — did everything they could to help the Nationals.

“No excuses,” Carl Edwards Jr. said after walking two batters before being pulled in the eighth inning.

Edwards has been the poster player for an inconsistent relief staff since the All-Star break. The Cubs compiled the highest walk rate in baseball in the second half, which led to the second-worst eighth-inning ERA in the National League.

Once again, it was the eighth that did them in Wednesday, when Jon Lester — pitching in relief — walked a batter, followed by Edwards’ two walks. Fortunately, Lester picked his guy off, but Edwards wasn’t so lucky. He was pulled with the bases loaded and a 1-0 count on Michael Taylor.

Closer Wade Davis was then asked to clean up the mess. He didn’t, as Taylor hit a grand slam on a 1-1 pitch to turn a slim 1-0 game into a five-run cushion. The Cubs put two runners on base in the bottom of the inning, so who knows what could’ve happened if the bullpen had kept it close.

“Just didn’t execute pitches,” Davis said. “Tried to go down and away and left it middle, up. … It stinks. You made a bad pitch. Kind of put us in a big hole, but definitely have to get ready for tomorrow.”

To win the series, the Cubs will have to win Game 5 on Thursday in Washington, and manager Joe Maddon might want to hope for a complete game from Kyle Hendricks to get it done. His moves to the bullpen so far haven’t panned out well, especially the middle-inning appearances by his relief staff.

In Game 1, Hendricks gave way to Edwards and then Davis, with the latter two pitchers coming into the game to start and finish an inning. Everything went smoothly in the 3-0 victory. But in Game 2, Mike Montgomery entered in the eighth inning, of course, with a man on base and promptly gave up two hits, including a three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman.

In Game 3, Maddon pulled starter Jose Quintana mid-inning, only to see Pedro Strop give up a run-scoring double. In Game 4, Lester was pulled after 3 2/3 innings with only a walk and a single off of him. Then came the implosion by Edwards and Davis. Perhaps staying away from the dirty inning might suit Maddon best when it comes to his bullpen. The relievers simply have too many bad tendencies — starting with those walks.

“I’m over it already,” said Edwards, who also gave up a home run in Game 2. “Go out there tomorrow, and deliver like we’ve been doing all year as a team.”

Lester added: “He’s [Edwards] had a couple rough ones, but we all do. … Everybody in this clubhouse has every one of our backs. We have each other’s backs. He’s not out there on that island by himself.”

Edwards wants the ball again in Game 5, as does Davis, who gave way to Brian Duensing in that fateful eighth inning before he threw too many pitches.

“We’re good,” Davis said. “We have one of our best pitchers out there tomorrow.”

Hendricks also needs to go as deep as possible considering that Lester, Edwards and Davis were used in Game 4. Quintana will back up Hendricks, but recent history says it might be best to bring him in to start an inning. Inherited runners haven’t been the Cubs’ strength in this series, as they have helped the pitching staff to a 20.25 eighth-inning ERA. Apparently, some things do carry over from the regular season.

“We have to forget about it and want the ball again,” Edwards said. “That’s how we have to be in the bullpen. You can’t shy away. … It’s win or go home. No one wants to go home.”


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