With the Cubs playing so poorly this homestand, and on their way, apparently, to another 90-plus loss season, my thoughts often turn to record events. What could happen in any single game to make it noteworthy?
The Cubs nearly had one of those Sunday afternoon. Through two out in the top of the eighth, 23 outs, they had recorded no fielding assists (six strikeouts, two infield groundouts, an infield popup, an infield line drive, and 13 fly balls to the outfield). Having no assists in a nine-inning game is one of the rarest feats by any team; it's been done only nine times in major-league history.
Then Anthony Rizzo dropped an easy pop fly that would have been the 24th out, ending the eighth inning. I knew, just knew, that the next out would include an assist. Sure enough, it did, as Adrian Gonzalez grounded to third base to end the inning.
The Dodgers had taken a 1-0 lead off Carlos Villanueva in the second inning on a pair of walks and a single by A.J. Ellis, and all of us -- including the Cubs -- might as well have gone home then, because we knew, just knew, that the Cubs weren't going to score. The Dodgers, apart from that inning, had just two runners reach second base, and had no hits after Andre Ethier's fourth-inning double. For most teams playing an opponent generating that kind of offense, you should have a fairly good chance to win.
Not the Cubs. Not with tons of opportunities in the first six innings; they had RISP in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings and left nine men on base, all told, in those innings, including having the bases loaded with one out in the sixth.
By the time the Dodgers' bullpen got into the mix after that, there was no chance. Chris Withrow, J.P. Howell and Kenley Jansen retired the final 11 Cubs, five of them by strikeout. Jansen, who came into the game with nine walks and 79 strikeouts in 56⅓ innings, was a total mismatch for Logan Watkins and pinch-hitters Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo, all of whom struck out in a miserable ninth inning, and the Dodgers completed their four-game sweep with a 1-0 win.
About Watkins, except for the at-bat against Jansen, he looked all right at the plate, lining his first major-league hit, a single, to left field in the sixth. Unfortunately, the lead runner was Dioner Navarro, and there's no way he scores from second on a single to left. That created the bases-loaded situation that failed.
Both Castro and Darwin Barney got the day off, so Iowa's double-play combination of Watkins and Donnie Murphy started. Only Murphy got to touch the ball in the field, snagging a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford for that second out in the eighth inning, the last out before the assistless game ended. At the plate, you can see why Murphy is a career minor leaguer. He takes air conditioning type swings at pretty much every pitch; he can connect off Triple-A pitching (thus the 18 doubles and 12 home runs at Iowa), but that kind of swing isn't going to do much against big-league pitching. Murphy's a placeholder and I wouldn't necessarily expect him to stick around too long. Watkins, though -- I hope he gets a chance to show what he can do.
Villanueva, for his part, threw six good innings. The Cubs bullpen put up three hitless innings (byJames Russell and Pedro Strop), allowing just two baserunners (a walk and a hit batter by Strop). It just wasn't enough with this impotent offense that has now failed to score in 23 consecutive innings. Granted that the Dodgers are a good team, but still.
For the Dodgers' sake, they have to hope that the injury to Hanley Ramirez isn't serious. Ramirez fell into the box seats down the third-base line while catching a seventh-inning popup by David DeJesus. He came up holding his right shoulder, which is reported to be jammed, and left the game, Nick Punto taking over at shortstop. Ramirez has already had two DL stints this year, and including Sunday, the Dodgers are 33-14 in games he has started.
It was, at least, a nice day. The sun was out, temperatures were comfortable, and the Cubs must have gotten quite a bit of walk-up sale Sunday, because the ballpark was much more full than otherwise might have been expected. The loss dropped the Cubs' record in one-run games to 15-24, but it felt much larger than a one-run deficit all afternoon. Unless this team finds a way to score runs, the last two months could be as bad as they were in 2012.
Enjoy the off day; the Cubs' next game will be Tuesday evening in Philadelphia, with Edwin Jackson scheduled to go against the Phillies' Kyle Kendrick. The Cubs have been better on the road than at home this year; perhaps they can find their missing offense away from Wrigley Field.