Watching the Cubs play road games in 2012 is like watching Mission: Impossible. Not the bloated movies with Tom Cruise, but the original TV series that aired from 1966-73. You knew that Mr. Phelps and his crew were going to complete the mission and succeed, but you watched because you wanted to see how they did it.
So while you're reading this recap, click here to play the theme from that classic series, and sit back and listen while you read the gory details of yet another Cubs road defeat, 5-4 to the Reds, dropping the season road record to 17-45.
This was a fascinating game to watch, actually. For the first time in the series, the Cubs did not score first, instead, Chris Volstad gave up a first-inning run to the Reds. But the Cubs fought back with a run in the third on a walk, a nicely-placed bunt by Volstad, and a ground-rule double by David DeJesus. The intrigue began. Would the Cubs keep it going? (Think of the Mission: Impossible crew making one of those fleshtone masks.)
Volstad gave up three runs to the Reds in the fourth, and eventually finished his day with what's been a very typical outing for him this season: six innings, four earned runs. It's not awful -- it's the seventh time in 13 starts that Volstad has gone at least six -- but it's not very good, either; doing that all year would give you a 6.00 ERA. Which, of course, is better than Volstad's season ERA, which now stands at 6.88. Which is actually lower than it was when Sunday began, down from 6.96.
The Cubs managed a pair of runs in the sixth, one of them unearned, making it 4-3, but Volstad was still on the hook for the loss when he was removed.
Amazingly enough -- think of one of those strategically placed bombs under an enemy truck in Mission: Impossible -- the Cubs managed to tie the game in the eighth inning, getting Volstad off the hook for a decision. That was primarily thanks to a dropped fly ball by Jay Bruce. Truth be told, it wasn't an easy play for Bruce, because he was on the run and slightly turned the wrong way, but he had Luis Valbuena's drive in his glove, and dropped it. DeJesus, who had singled, stopped at third, but scored the tying run on a groundout by Alfonso Soriano.
On the next play, Starlin Castro hit a ground ball to shortstop that was thrown away by Zack Cozart, but Valbuena went too far off third base and was nailed for the third out.
Re-start that music, because maybe if Valbuena stays there, the Cubs score more runs. On the other hand, the next hitter, Bryan LaHair was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Aroldis Chapman, whose last six appearances have all been against the Cubs, came in to pitch the ninth. Once again, a Cub got a hit off him -- this time, Brett Jackson, who doubled to deep left-center field with one out.
Now why, if you're in scoring position with one out, would you try to steal third base with a lefthanded batter up? (Think of how dumb some of the M:I team's opponents were, being fooled by Mr. Phelps & Co.) Yet, Jackson did just that, and was thrown out. One pitch later, Steve Clevenger struck out, and the game went to the last of the ninth tied 4-4.
At that point, you know, just know, this game is not going to end well for the Cubs. But just as you'd stick around for the last moments of M:I, you want to see how they're going to blow it.
It took no time at all. Shawn Camp threw two pitches. The first one was smacked down the right-field line for a triple by pinch-hitter Xavier Paul. It was his first triple of 2012 and the first time, in 77 career pinch-hit at-bats, he has ever hit a triple. These kinds of facts should not surprise you.
After Bob Brenly said on WGN's telecast that he'd have walked the next two guys and tried to set up a force at any base -- and I agree with that; it would have brought up Zack Cozart with the bases loaded -- Camp's second pitch was hit over the head of a pulled-in Jackson for a game-winning single... just like the M:I team turned the tables on their foes at the last possible moment.
Entertaining? Sure. Not quite as much so as those old Mission: Impossible episodes, but it did have enough plot twists (scoring and tie games) and intrigue to keep the interest going on a Sunday afternoon, even though the outcome seemed pretty much preordained.
A couple of notes about the Cubs' road record, which I've been keeping track of on the right sidebar all year. The Cubs must win just one more road game to avoid tying the worst road record (17-64) since the 162-game schedule came into effect 50 years ago. They'll almost certainly do that, but here's the breakdown of the remaining 19 road games, in chronological order:
3 at Milwaukee
4 at Washington
3 at Pittsburgh
3 at Houston
3 at Colorado
3 at Arizona
I don't expect this team to win a single game at Washington, Pittsburgh or Arizona; they might win one at Milwaukee and Colorado and maybe two at Houston. So that'd be 4-15 in their remaining road games (if you think that's impossible, the Cubs are 3-13 on the road since the All-Star break), and if that happens, this year's Cubs would go 21-60 on the road. That would shatter the team record for worst road record since the 162-game schedule, which is 26-55, set in 1997 (the Cubs' two 100-loss teams, in 1962 and 1966, both went 27-54 on the road, and thanks to Ed Hartig for the info).
One final note just in: the Cubs have claimed lefthanded reliever Alex Hinshaw on waivers from the Padres; to make room on the 40-man roster, they moved Arodys Vizcaino to the 60-day DL. Another move will have to be made to make room on the 25-man roster. Hinshaw will be 30 in October and had middling results (4.50 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) in 31 relief appearances covering 28 innings for this year's Padres.
On to Milwaukee. The Brewers had won eight straight home games before losing Saturday and Sunday to the Phillies. The Cubs should be somewhat of an easier mark for the Brew Crew.