Why couldn't the Cubs have played this game Wednesday night? I know, I know, they just don't want me to see anything nice in person.
The Cubs avoided a sweep by defeating the Brewers 5-1 on Jake Arrieta's best start yet as a Cub. Arrieta went seven innings, allowing only three hits, striking out five and was touched for just one run, Carlos Gomez's solo shot in the seventh inning. He threw 65 strikes in 88 pitches, an excellent ratio; command has been one of his biggest issues. More of the same next time, please, Jake.
Before that, the Cubs had also taken out the long-ball bats; Luis Valbuena gave the team a 1-0 lead in the first inning and Nate Schierholtz extended his own career high with his 21st in the third. Arrieta himself drove in a run with a nicely-placed bunt. Brian Bogusevic added yet another homer in the ninth; that gives the Cubs 167 home runs this year, just five short of the league leaders (the Braves).
So the Cubs finish their season against Milwaukee with six wins and 13 losses, and went 4-7 on the road trip. Arrieta made a strong case with his solid outing for a spot in the 2014 rotation. If only he could have this kind of start every time out. After Dale Sveum said he'd get Pedro Strop some closing opportunities through the end of the year to see how he did in that role, today... Strop pitched in the eighth again. (Facepalm.) Instead, Kevin Gregg finished up uneventfully in what would have been a save situation if not for Bogusevic's homer.
Finally, Logan Watkins got his first start in more than a month, and went 3-for-4. Josh had the best comment about this (sent before the fourth at-bat):
Sveum gives Watkins a start and he goes 3 for 3. Who could have predicted that? Who thinks he'll be back on the bench tomorrow? #everyone— Josh Timmers (@Cubsminorswrap) September 19, 2013
But that's not what you all want to talk about, is it?
This is what you want to talk about:
#Cubs Baez won't play in AFL— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 19, 2013
#Cubs GM Hoyer says Baez "emotionally and physically drained" after long season. Agreed best to rest— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 19, 2013
This seems odd to me; almost all of the players in the Arizona Fall League have been through long seasons, and it's not like the AFL lasts forever -- six weeks' worth of games, and players don't necessarily play every day. It would have been nice to get Baez some reps at second base before spring training begins. Nevertheless, a winter off isn't the worst thing for a young player like this. No replacement has yet been named, but there is some speculation on who might take Baez's place:
No Fall League for #Cubs Javier Baez. Jed Hoyer says he's emotionally and physically drained. Possible Almora takes full-time AFL spot— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) September 19, 2013
More than Baez, Albert Almora could actually use the playing time, as he missed quite a bit of 2013 with injuries and played in just 61 games with 272 plate appearances, not quite half a year's play.
Meanwhile, Baez (and pitcher Kyle Hendricks) will be honored as the organization's Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, before Saturday's game at Wrigley Field against the Braves.
One last note from Thursday's game:
Castillo out of game with right knee soreness. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 19, 2013
That isn't good, but with just nine games left, it doesn't sound too serious, and if Welington Castillo is shut down as a precaution and doesn't play again, he'll have finished the year strong and should be primed for an excellent 2014.
The rest of the season should be quite interesting as the Cubs will be able to "participate" in playoff races, after a fashion; all nine remaining games are against contending teams. It's very likely the Cubs will have to watch the Braves clinch the National League East at Wrigley Field this weekend. The last team other than the Cubs to clinch a playoff spot at Wrigley was the Cardinals in 2005, and here's what happened that night:
... there was a memorable game on Thursday, September 15, a night game where the Cardinals anticipated clinching a tie for the division title (which, essentially, was an outright clinching because had the Astros tied them, St. Louis would have been the division winner). The Cubs trailed 6-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. Derrek Lee led off the inning with a home run, and then it started to rain. The rain got harder as an out, a single and another out were registered; then Neifi Perez walked. It was pouring when Henry Blanco hit a foul popup that should have been the last out, but Yadier Molina dropped it for an error, after which Blanco hit an infield single, loading the bases. With Jose Macias due up and the rain now coming down in sheets, the umpires halted play. An hour later the game was called and the Cardinals had to celebrate in their clubhouse, instead of on the field.
Not that I'm looking for rain -- though storms are in Friday's forecast -- but maybe the Cubs can figure out a way to win and deny the Braves an on-field celebration this weekend. Scott Baker will face former Cub Paul Maholm Friday afternoon.