The Cubs were on pace to shatter a team record for batter strikeouts during Thursday afternoon's 6-2 loss to the Brewers. 14 Cubs went down by K (five called, nine swinging) during the six innings thrown by Milwaukee starter Mike Fiers, who was making just his second start of the year. That was a career high for him, and when they struck out twice more against reliever Will Smith:
8th time this season the Cubs have struck out 15+ times as a team, which matches their combined total from 2005-13.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 14, 2014
Well, that's bad. Strikeouts, in the end, are mostly just like other outs, but really, this is too much. Incidentally, this Gordon Wittenmyer tweet that you might have seen:
... is incorrect. Both of those games (August 1, 1999 vs. Mets and August 1, 2002 vs. Padres) were extra-inning affairs; the actual record for Cubs batter strikeouts in a nine-inning game is 18, set April 24, 1962 against Sandy Koufax, tied September 10, 1980 against Montreal's Bill Gullickson and then tied again in a game you might remember, August 14, 2011 against the Braves in Atlanta -- and the Cubs won that game 6-5!
Winning wasn't possible Thursday afternoon because in addition to all the strikeouts (including the second 4-K game by Javier Baez), the Cubs couldn't do much offensively against Fiers; they had just three hits in his six innings of work and just one runner (Anthony Rizzo, who doubled with two out in the first) past first base. Winning also wasn't possible due to Edwin Jackson, who was awful again Thursday afternoon. Once again, Jackson didn't seem to have any sort of game plan of attacking hitters; after getting the first two outs of the game on four pitches, he walked two straight Brewers batters and then gave up a two-run double to Scooter Gennett. Jackson just doesn't appear to be able to make any sort of in-game adjustments.
Later he allowed a home run to Khris Davis and two more runs in the fourth on a single by Lyle Overbay, followed by a triple from Elian Herrera and a run-scoring single from Carlos Gomez, who Jackson eventually picked off or that might have been even worse.
Let's talk about that triple by Herrera for a moment. Herrera came into this game with one career triple in 297 career at-bats and a lifetime slugging percentage of .327. He's not a speed guy, either, with seven career steals in 10 attempts. Why, then, wouldn't you try to go after this guy with your best stuff instead of nibbling once you got him down 0-2? Instead, Herrera had two hits off Jackson; in addition to the triple, he placed a perfect bunt for a hit in the second inning.
At this point, Jackson's contract is a sunk cost; obviously (at least to me) no scout is going to recommend acquiring him. Just release him, eat the money, and admit this was a big mistake. Jackson is literally the worst starting pitcher in the history of the Cubs franchise. For all pitchers in Cubs history who have at least 56 starts, his ERA is the highest by almost half a run. The next worst is Johnny Klippstein, whose 87 Cubs starts from 1950-1954 produced a 4.79 ERA. Jackson's as a Cub, going into Thursday's game, was 5.25 -- higher now, of course. (Others above 4.50 on that list of shame: Jim Bullinger, Dick Drott, Kevin Tapani, Kevin Foster, Jason Marquis and Dick Ruthven.)
One way the Cubs are going to address this problem is to stretch out the rotation by an extra pitcher:
#Cubs will give starters extra day. Straily to start Saturday vs Mets— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 14, 2014
It will be Wood, Straily, Arrieta and Hendricks vs Mets. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 14, 2014
Which would push Jackson's next scheduled turn back until next Wednesday against the Giants. Please, please, Theo & Jed, do something to remove Jackson from the roster by then. There will have to be a roster move of some kind made to make room for Straily -- who will it be? Perhaps it'll be Kyuji Fujikawa, who threw an inning Thursday and, after retiring the first two hitters easily, allowed a home run to Mark Reynolds and then a single and a walk before finishing up the frame.
It certainly won't be Jacob Turner, who threw 2⅓ innings and retired all seven batters he faced in a successful Cubs debut. His velocity was good (touching 93 a couple of times on the Wrigley speed meter) but he didn't seem to have much movement behind that velocity. That's something he'll have to work on. Still, that's a good beginning, and I presume Turner will continue to make relief appearances like this for the rest of the year.
The Cubs scored their only runs of the day after two were out in the seventh, when Justin Ruggiano singled. After that, Welington Castillo grounded into what appeared to be an easy inning-ending out, only to see Herrera (mostly a defensive specialist) throw the ball into the seats behind first base, putting runners on second and third where pinch-hitter Chris Valaika drove them both in with a single to right, briefly putting the Cubs back in the game at 5-2 before Fujikawa coughed back one of those runs.
It was perhaps the most beautiful day of the entire summer at Wrigley, with unlimited sunshine, a light breeze off the lake and temperatures near 70 degrees, a lovely afternoon for the biggest announced crowd of the entire homestand to watch the Bluerehearse this weekend's upcoming lakefront air show. For most of the afternoon, that was far more entertaining than the game, and the huge crowd ought to tell the Cubs something about how weekday afternoons in the summer draw better than weeknights. They asked for more night dates and got them, and yes, I know that's mostly about TV ad revenue than attendance -- but right now, TV ratings are putrid and people still show up for day games at Wrigley in the summer. Something for the team to consider, at least.
So, the team will head to New York for a quick four-game road trip against the Mets. Travis Wood faces Zack Wheeler in Friday's series opener -- and Wheeler ranks 14th in the National League in strikeouts. Personally, I've seen enough Cubs hitters swing and miss; maybe they can turn that off and turn the bats on in New York.