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‘We’re in a tough stretch’: 3 HRs not enough for Cubs in 6-4 loss to Brewers, dropping them below .500

MILWAUKEE — Even when the Chicago Cubs finally tap into power that has been absent too often in May, victory still eludes them.

Three of their most important hitters — Cody Bellinger, Christopher Morel and Seiya Suzuki — connected for home runs Thursday and yet any positive offensive momentum from those big swings was squandered in a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

“Those are the guys that need to get going, and that’s what’s going to kind of kick-start the offense,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve got to keep going. We’re in a tough stretch. When you’re in a tough stretch, it feels like you don’t get breaks. We’ve got to make our own breaks.

“We can say we took strides (this series), there’s no consolation prizes here. There’s a game the next day and we’ve got to do it tomorrow.”

The Cubs (28-29) dropped below .500 for the first time since they were 1-2 on March 31. They have lost 12 of 16 games, and of those four wins in the last 2 1/2 weeks, two were walk-off victories. The Cubs’ next nine games against the Cincinnati Reds (24-32) and White Sox (15-42) present a chance to take advantage of bottom-tier teams. They must hope the offense shows up.

Morel, the Cubs’ unluckiest hitter this month, tied the game at 4 in the eighth with his two-out homer. Michael Busch nearly followed for back-to-back long balls, but despite a barreled ball featuring a 105.1-mph exit velocity and .930 expected average, it was caught at the center-field wall to end the inning.

Brewers catcher Gary Sánchez hit a full-count, two-run homer off Tyson Miller with two outs in the bottom of the eighth that served as the winning runs.

“On the hitting side it feels like we’ve flown out hard to the warning track a bunch, on the pitching side a lot of weak hits, but it’s baseball,” said Jameson Taillon, who allowed three runs in six innings. “That’s the game we play and at some point, it’ll go our way. We kind of went through something like this last year and we came out on the other side stronger as a group. So yeah, it’s tough right now there’s no doubt, but at the same time just got to keep going.”

Bellinger’s solo home run in the first provided a brief lead until the Brewers scored all three of their runs against Taillon in the second inning. Counsell and Taillon both felt the right-hander featured great stuff despite some balls in play not going his way in the second.

“I thought the execution was pretty good, just unfortunate I put us in a hole there,” Taillon said. “Made them string together some singles and they did.”

Added Counsell: “I thought Jameson was very sharp today, I thought it was him at his best.”

The Cubs’ three home runs were their most in a game since May 4 (also three off the Brewers) and the fifth time they’ve done so this season. They entered Thursday having gone 10-2 in games in which they hit at least two home runs and were 23-6 when scoring first.

Suzuki’s pinch-hit, two-run homer to tie the game 3-3 in the seventh was only his second since returning from the injured list May 11 and first in two weeks. It represented the first pinch-hit home run by a Cub since Nick Madrigal’s on Aug. 16. Suzuki appears to be getting on track, going 9 for 28 (.321) in his last seven games.

“I feel like we’re all starting to perform a little better each game,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “I think the most important thing is just staying persistent, and that’s what we’re going to do moving forward. We’re going to get those results soon.”

Before they dropped the series finale, the Cubs created more lineup flexibility by recalling outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong early Thursday after a minimum 10-day stint at Triple-A Iowa, swapping him with infielder Luis Vázquez. Crow-Armstrong started in center field and went 0 for 2 before Suzuki pinch hit for him in the seventh.

“Our players have strengths, certainly, and ways they make the team better, and we’re just thinking about how the roster was being used,” Counsell said. “We weren’t using Vázquez’s spot on the roster and thought there was a better use for it.”

With Crow-Armstrong back, Counsell anticipates he will mix-and-match playing time. While Counsell didn’t declare Crow-Armstrong the starting center fielder, he will get opportunities in part because of Bellinger’s defensive flexibility. In addition to being used in center field, first base and as the designated hitter, as he was Thursday, Bellinger could see time in right field.

As the Cubs continue to try to turn around their offensive performance, Counsell will be able to optimize the lineup daily with the ability to rotate players at DH.

“Pete has to earn playing time,” Counsell said Thursday. “We have a couple situations like that. We’re going to have choices every day in the lineup. … There’s going to be days Pete doesn’t play. Obviously we brought Pete to be a part of this. It gives us more choices throughout the game. That will evolve. I expect that to evolve and hopefully we get a good solution out of it.”