Sunday was one of those unexpected days in mid-April that tease you. The sun shone brightly. The usual lake breeze of the season shut off, replaced by gentle winds blowing from the south and southwest, out to the far reaches of Wrigley Field, and the temperatures rose into the 70s.
It's the kind of day that fools you into thinking, "Hey, summer is here already." But you know even as you peel off layers of clothing and feel the warmth, that more frigid days are still ahead, with winds howling off Lake Michigan, drizzle, fog and heavy rain are still to come, and there will be days when the thermometer struggles to get out of the 40s, perhaps even until the calendar turns to June.
And with the one-day cameo appearance of summer Sunday afternoon in Chicago also came a return to recent form by our North Side favorites. The Cubs lost 8-2 to the Reds; they still have not won a Wrigley Field series against the visitors from Cincinnati since 2011, and are now 21-51 against their divisional rivals since the beginning of 2010. This, though we hoped for a different result, was pretty expected.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. Carlos Villanueva simply does not belong in a starting rotation. He was worse as a starter in 2013 than in relief; this year, he's been bad at both, posting decisions (one win, four defeats) in his first five appearances (three starts, two relief outings). Jake Arrieta is making one more rehab start, Monday for High-A Daytona, and then it's time to get him back in the rotation. Villanueva threw three okay, but not great, innings Sunday and then blew up in the fourth and fifth, getting hit hard. He threw 103 pitches to record 14 outs. He needs to go back to the pen.
Then, there's Jose Veras. Rick(y) Renteria had said earlier Sunday:
#Cubs Renteria says would like Veras to be closer again. First, they have to get him in a game— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 20, 2014
Well, they got him into a game... a game the Cubs were trailing 5-0, probably a useful time to allow someone like Veras to try to round back into form.
Whoops. Back to the drawing board. Jay Bruce hit Veras' third pitch into the center-field basket for a home run. Veras managed to get two outs, then walked Devin Mesoraco and gave up another long home run, this one to Zack Cozart, who had come into the game hitting .111 with a .148 slugging percentage. It was Cozart's first home run of the year. Finally, after running a 3-2 count on Billy Hamilton, Veras struck him out, finishing up a 32-pitch mess.
I don't even know what you'd do with him. Injured? Maybe? Could you stash him on the disabled list? Veras has now thrown 4⅔ innings, allowed eight earned runs and walked nine hitters. He doesn't seem to have any idea what he's doing out there and there's no way Renteria can put him into any sort of important game situation, not now.
Beyond that, the Cubs once again had a ton of baserunners -- 11 hits and six walks -- and had no idea what to do with most of them. They went 3-for-15 with RISP and left 14 men on base. RBI singles by Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz were the only things between the Cubs and another shutout. Emilio Bonifacio had another two-hit game; Anthony Rizzo went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, but none of this seemed to make any difference at all to the Cubs, who when they weren't failing to hit with RISP, were grounding into double plays, or being caught stealing:
Bonifacio was called safe on the field; Reds manager Bryan Price challenged the call, and as you can see on the replay above, Cozart put the tag on Bonifacio's leg just before Bonifacio's foot touched second base. The call went against the Cubs -- but I'm still "happy" about that, because it proved once again that, for the most part, replay review is working. In this case, they got it right and the result of the play reflected what the players actually did, rather than the opinion of second-base umpire Doug Eddings.
So the Cubs now go into a four-game set hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are doing just as poorly as the Cubs; the D'backs lost to the Dodgers Sunday afternoon, running their record to 5-16, compared to the Cubs' 5-12. The resistable force against the moveable object, I'd say. Travis Wood faces former Reds hurler Bronson Arroyo Monday evening... when the weather will be back to normal April levels, we're told.
Beyond that, let's hope the games go a bit faster. Three hours, 50 minutes was way too long for something like Sunday's loss, even with the sunshine and warmth of an unusual April Sunday.