Strop's void sticks out as 'pen falters again

Strop's void sticks out as 'pen falters again

CHICAGO -- Last year on July 8, the Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta smacked a two-run homer off the Cubs' Pedro Strop in the ninth inning for a 6-5 come-from-behind victory at Wrigley Field. Ironically, Strop was the pitcher the Cubs needed on Sunday night as the Cardinals rallied for the second straight game in the late innings.

In the eighth inning, Stephen Piscotty smacked a three-run homer off Hector Rondon, who also served up a solo shot to Brandon Moss, to hand the Cubs a 6-4 loss. With the loss, the Cubs split the four-game series and maintain a 12-game lead in the Central Division.

On Saturday, rookie Carl Edwards Jr. entered in a tie game, and was charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning in an 8-4 loss. On Sunday, Rondon was making his first appearance since Aug. 2 after missing time because of tightness in his right tricep.

"They got us late," manager Joe Maddon said. "Bullpen guy [Rondon] coming off a little bit of an injury or stiffness or tightness and the other guy [Edwards] is just young -- it happens. Not having 'Stroppy' -- we just have to figure this out. ... We have to restructure this somehow."

Strop was not available this weekend, and won't be for at least four weeks. The Cubs' primary setup pitcher suffered a torn meniscus Wednesday, and had arthroscopic surgery on Friday. Rondon was the closer until the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman. Now, they're trying to figure out how to bridge the crucial innings between the starters and the hard-throwing left-hander.

"Today, I came in with the ball up and I didn't have my best command and I didn't mix in my breaking balls," Rondon said. "Today, they got me."

The Cubs, who are 20-8 since the All-Star break, could have made it easier if they had delivered in the seventh when they loaded the bases with nobody out. The Cardinals' Matt Bowman got pinch-hitter Matt Szczur to fly out to center, struck out Dexter Fowler and got Kris Bryant to fly out to right to end the threat.

"Offensively, we do need to do better in those particular moments and get those add-on runs on later in the game," Maddon said. "That was a big moment, bases loaded nobody out, and they got out of it."

Anthony Rizzo hit a pair of RBI singles and also his 25th home run, a lead-off shot in the eighth, and now leads the National League with 63 extra-base hits. He knows how the game could've changed in the seventh.

"I've seen it too many times when it's a momentum swing there," Rizzo said. "Everyone wants to get the job done."

Rizzo's solo homer

The Cubs do still have a big cushion in the Central Division.

"We're in a fortunate situation," Chicago starter John Lackey said. "When you have the kind of lead we have, you have leeway to do some things. We're just checking games off the schedule. [Splitting the series], it's the same as when they got here."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.