Wednesday's 2-1 Cubs loss to the Reds had elements that were totally expected, and totally unexpected.
Let's start with the unexpected. Given the dire forecasts of rain and severe thunderstorms, the last thing I expected was to be sitting at the ballpark in bright sunshine and gentle breezes blowing off Lake Michigan. It was one of the more pleasant days outdoors all baseball season, especially so considering that the White Sox postponed their night game against the Blue Jays six hours before game time, even though the Jays don't return to Chicago this year and there's no makeup date scheduled yet (Cubs management, please take note for future situations like this one).
Expected? Well, given the fact that the Reds came into this game having won the last 11 matchups between the two teams at Wrigley -- a Cubs franchise record -- I did not expect the Cubs to win this game. Disappointed? Sure, always am with Cubs defeats. But I wasn't surprised. The Cubs took a 1-0 lead on Nate Schierholtz' second-inning home run, his eighth. Schierholtz is quietly having a fine season, both at the bat and in the field. This is one of Theo and Jed's best free-agent signings.
The Reds tied the game in the sixth on a Shin-Soo Choo double (I've begun to wonder if Choo has figured out yet all the "choo-choo train" songs that Gary Pressy plays on the organ every time he comes to bat) and a single by Brandon Phillips. But this run was really set up by some not-so-great pitching by Travis Wood in the previous inning.
Wood hadn't allowed a hit, just two walks, through 4⅔ innings. With two out and Todd Frazier on base with a walk, Cesar Izturis, then hitting .156 -- and with one hit in his previous 16 at-bats -- came to the plate.
Why on Earth would you nibble around the corners with a hitter like this? Wood threw three pitches out of the strike zone to Izturis, got strike one, and then threw a decent fastball that Izturis hit to deep shortstop. Starlin Castro made a nice play on it, threw well, but Izturis beat it out. That happens -- but why run a 3-0 count on a hitter who can't hit? Attack the zone! Wood did the same thing to the next hitter, pitcher Mike Leake, who was 5-for-29 this year before that at-bat. He threw seven pitches to Leake before he got him to ground to second. That's 12 wasted pitches, and the increased pitch count could have led to the hits that tied the game, and the home run by Frazier that eventually won it for the Reds in the seventh inning.
I can't stand the nibble-nibble-nibble that many modern pitching coaches preach, especially when a pitcher gets ahead of a hitter 0-2 or 1-2. Attack the zone! Cubs pitchers have allowed the sixth-most walks in the National League, and this is one of the reasons why.
Meanwhile, Cubs hitters are tied for last in the major leagues (with the Royals and Marlins, entering Wednesday's action), and that shows, too, in the number of runs scored. Cubs hitters drew one walk today -- by Wood. That has to be embarrassing to the other hitters, when your pitcher is the only one patient enough to draw a base on balls. After Schierholtz' home run, the Cubs had just three baserunners -- Wood's walk, and singles by Ryan Sweeney and Darwin Barney. None of those runners made it past first base.
Once again, Dale Sveum refused to sit Starlin Castro, who has three hits in his last 47 at-bats and has seen his batting average drop from .271 to .238 in that span. Castro looks completely lost at the plate; supposedly, there's video showing what the difference is in his batting stance from 2010-11 (when he was successful) to now (when he isn't). Why isn't anyone addressing this issue? And if they are, why aren't there any positive results?
I'll be glad when the Reds leave town, as the Cubs will have just six games remaining against them this year. The Cubs are now 5-16 against the Reds and Pirates, and 20-21 against everyone else.
The announced tickets-sold total was 24,749, just a few above the smallest "crowd" of the year. It appeared maybe half that total were actually in the ballpark, and a fair number of those were kids' groups inhabiting portions of the upper deck.
This series will conclude Thursday afternoon. Not a moment too soon, as far as I'm concerned. For now -- Go Blackhawks!