MILWAUKEE -- Cubs pitchers gave up just three hits to Brewers batters Sunday afternoon at Miller Park, and struck out eight.
That's good, right? Lots of strikeouts, only a handful of hits, that must be a win, right?
Wrong, of course, because these are the 2013 Chicago Cubs. The Brewers took advantage of Scott Feldman's wildness and... sigh... more errors, and defeated the Cubs 4-2, sweeping the series. It's the fourth time the Cubs have been swept in a series at Miller Park since 2011.
The three hits. Well, here's the problem. One of them was a deep fly ball that David DeJesus made a great play to get to... only to have the ball drop out of his glove for a leadoff double in the fifth inning. If not for that, Feldman might have gotten out of the inning unscathed. He still would have, if he hadn't muffed a comebacker that would have ended the inning after a pair of strikeouts.
Ryan Braun was the next hitter. You knew, just knew, what was going to happen next, even though Feldman had struck Braun out the first two times he had come to the plate. Naturally, he hit a three-run homer and that, as they say, was that. (Braun was later tossed after being called out on strikes in the eighth. He might have had a point -- the pitch was probably not in the zone -- but when he flipped his bat in the air, that was it for plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. That just cements Braun's reputation as kind of a jerk.)
It's really too bad, because up to then, it had been Feldman's best start of the year. That's a rather low bar to hurdle, I admit, and he hadn't pitched very well in the previous inning, loading the bases with walks and giving up a run without the Brewers hitting the ball out of the infield. But that made the score 2-1 Cubs; they had scored a pair on Anthony Rizzo's sixth homer of the season. Rizzo was 2-for-4 and is showing signs of starting to hit with more consistency.
The bullpen kept the game close, but the Cubs couldn't score any more runs, despite having RISP in the eighth and ninth. That's been a problem all year long, and it doesn't seem as if it's changing, even though the offense generates hits and baserunners; they just never put the two together.
The bottom line is this: these Cubs aren't supremely talented. They have to play nearly perfect baseball in order to win, and seem to collapse after one or two mistakes, whether they be physical or mental errors. I will say this to those who think management should call out players in public for those: What do you think that would accomplish? Do you think the players don't already know that they're making these mistakes? Don't you think these are being addressed in individual or team meetings? Don't you think the coaching staff is trying to work with the players, trying to correct these mistakes? Should Dale Sveum the beat writers, "Yeah, Starlin Castro is making too many errors, and that has to change or else!" What purpose would that serve except to satisfy some fans who think that might "fix" things? To me, this is the same thing as fans saying that a player who throws a tantrum is "exhibiting fire." That's not fire, it's stupidity. So would a manager throwing his players under the bus in public. It's counterproductive. The idea that Starlin Castro or Rizzo would actually be sent to Triple-A is just silly, in my view.
The only thing I had hoped Dale would do today was pinch-hit Dioner Navarro for Welington Castillo in the ninth inning; Navarro has been excellent as a pinch-hitter and there would have at least been a chance he might have tied the game up after Nate Schierholtz walked. Instead, Castillo got called out on strikes.
Miller Park seems far different than it did a couple of years ago, which was the last time I was there. Far fewer Cubs fans make the trip; maybe 25-30 percent of the house were Cubs fans today, still a significant minority, but way less than the crowds of the mid-2000s, which were at times two-thirds of Miller Park attendance. It feels more like a drudgery trek than a pleasant trip, especially knowing that you have about a 90 percent chance of seeing a Cubs defeat. Beyond that, Wisconsin seems the land of orange construction signs and cones; I had thought the construction on I-94 had been finished, but it's two lanes only through most of Kenosha County, plus some other detours east of Miller Park. Maybe they'll finish by later this summer.
The Cubs, meanwhile, will take their road show to Cincinnati, where they went 2-4 last year. That isn't good, but at this point, I'd take one out of three. Travis Wood faces Mike Leake Monday evening.