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As Chicago Cubs lose another series opener, this time to MLB-best Philadelphia Phillies, the outlook remains bleak

Two days into July, with their season slipping away, the Chicago Cubs again searched for positives.

Seiya Suzuki’s three-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday night merely masked the Cubs’ continued offensive futility as the Philadelphia Phillies handed them a 6-4 loss. The Cubs made Phillies right-hander Michael Mercado look better in his first big-league start than his line of one run in five innings suggested, missing hittable pitches in the zone and failing to put much pressure on Mercado or the bullpen most of the night.

After Cody Bellinger’s RBI double in the third, the next 16 hitters were retired until Michael Busch and Bellinger opened the ninth with consecutive singles. But after Suzuki’s homer and a pitching change, Jeff Hoffman retired the next three batters — Ian Happ, Christopher Morel and Dansby Swanson — to end the game.

“Small victories, got the closer in the game and overall put together some momentum, some good at-bats,” Bellinger said when asked if there’s a way to feel good about about what the offense did in the ninth. “I thought overall that we did have some good swings today.”

The Cubs find themselves in a jarring position while the big-spending, MLB-best Phillies (56-29) continue to roll with three of their best hitters on the injured list: first baseman Bryce Harper, designated hitter Kyle Schwarber and catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Cubs should be past the point of moral victories. Wins are all that matters now if the team is going to force the front office to acquire help before the July 30 trade deadline.

And they aren’t giving much reason to think that turnaround will happen in the next three weeks, given their performance the last two months.

“We’ve got to do more offensively,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I mean, that’s one of the things we have to do and there’s no question about it. There were just too many easy innings today.”

Until the ninth, the Cubs were on the verge of recording back-to-back games with just two hits for the first time since August 1980. As they dropped their eighth straight series opener, they fell eight games under .500 (39-47).

“Disappointing for sure,” Bellinger said. “We all had high expectations and I think overall we still do. … We’ve got to keep on fighting.”

Photos: Chicago Cubs lose 6-4 to Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field

One of the most frustrating aspects of the offensive struggles is they center largely on the same hitters who stepped up and got the Cubs on track last year. In that regard, the offensive problems are tough to explain, Bellinger said.

“Obviously you can go to it feels like it’s unlucky, a lot of hard-hit balls right at people and it’s kind of what it feels like,” he said. “For myself, obviously I want to do more and it’s what I strive to do. I feel like I can do way more.”

The offense’s failure to produce was in stark contrast to a Phillies lineup missing its big bats. Backup catcher Garrett Stubbs delivered a two-run double in the second for an early lead.

“Look, I’d be lying if we said we didn’t realize (Harper, Schwarber and Realmuto) were out of their lineup,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Tribune. “But they’ve still got really good hitters up and down that lineup, and what’s made them so good all year is it hasn’t been one guy that’s carried them.

“Not having some key hitters is important, but they’re still a good offense for a reason, and to be honest with you, they’re a really good pitching staff. When you have a great offense and elite pitching staff too, they may only need to score three or four runs to win a game.”

Cubs starter Hayden Wesneski got burned in a familiar manner in the loss.

The long ball has hurt Wesneski lately, a trend that continued Tuesday. After not allowing a homer in his first nine appearances (29 1/3 innings), Wesneski has surrendered 10 home runs in his last 20 2/3 innings spanning 13 games, including two by Phillies shortstop Trea Turner.

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