The process of turning the Cubs from the expansion-level team they were in 2012 and 2013 into a future playoff contender is going to take a while. This was never more clear than in the Cubs' 7-2 loss to the Reds Thursday afternoon.
While the team again got another good game from Jorge Soler, playing his second major-league game and going 2-for-4 with a double, other aspects of the Cubs' rebuild still clearly need work.
I'm not sure what happened to Jake Arrieta in this one but he threw an enormous number of pitches in dragging through four innings of work and allowing six runs -- you know, kind of an Edwin Jackson outing, just in case we missed him too much. Only 20 starting pitchers this year have thrown four or fewer innings and thrown 96 or more pitches. (Jackson only did that once, even if it seems like more times.) Reds starter Dylan Axelrod threw 100 pitches in five innings; the only difference between the two starter outings Thursday was that Arrieta was getting hit hard -- even several of the outs he recorded were rockets -- and Axelrod wasn't.
Think about that. 196 pitches in half a game. That's... too many. The rest of the pitchers combined in this game threw just 121 pitches. The starters combined for seven walks. Forget about the length and pace of the game; I won't belabor that, but I will say neither starter distinguished himself, even though Axelrod managed to get out of his five innings with no runs allowed and a win, his first for the Reds.
The Cubs had some defensive lapses, too; Javier Baez appeared to close his glove too early on what should have been an inning-ending double-play throw from Luis Valbuena in the sixth inning. That was after an earlier error in the inning by Arismendy Alcantara, which helped make the Reds' seventh and final run unearned.
Beyond that the bullpen did all right; Wesley Wright allowed the unearned run but otherwise threw two decent innings, and Kyuji Fujikawa and Zac Rosscup each hurled a scoreless frame. It's the first time that Fujikawa has pitched on back-to-back days since he came back to the Cubs following Tommy John surgery, and they'll need to continue to evaluate him in this way to see if it's worth bringing him back next year. (I'd say yes, but not for the $5.5 million team option currently on the books; I'd pay him the buyout and try to negotiate a lower salary for 2015, perhaps with incentives based on appearances or games finished.)
The Cubs did a poor job -- actually, no job -- of throwing out base stealers in this game, as the Reds were 6-for-6. That's the most steals in a game for any team this year and the first time any team has stolen six or more bases in a game against the Cubs in 17 years -- since September 27, 1997, when the Cardinals did it. From bb-ref's play index, this is just the 14th time since 1914 that any team has stolen six or more bases in one game against the Cubs. If you can stand to look, here are the other 13 games, all but four of them losses.
For whatever it's worth, the steal by Billy Hamilton was his 51st. The Cubs, including Baez's steal in this one that was his first major-league SB, have 54 as a team.
The Cubs had just two hits until the ninth inning, when they scored a pair of consolation runs on three straight singles by Starlin Castro, Valbuena and the RBI hit by Soler; Alcantara drove in the other run with a sacrifice fly.
Ball-and-strike calls by young umpire Ben May were pretty awful Thursday and when Chris Coghlan got called out on strikes for the second straight time on a pitch that wasn't in the strike zone, he got angry and got himself tossed. Frankly, I can't blame him.
Really, I'm just glad to see the Cubs get out of Cincinnati, where they are now 14-29 since 2010. Overall the Cubs are 25-60 against the Reds since the start of 2010, which is pretty awful, and of course they still have a three-game set left against the Reds at Wrigley Field in September. When the Cubs do turn this thing around and begin contending, I'd look for this sort of thing to change, too. Remember when the Cubs dominated the Pirates a few years ago while the Cubs were good and the Pirates weren't? The Cubs went 32-15 against Pittsburgh from 2007-09, but since then are 32-47, as the Cubs have gotten worse and the Pirates have improved. Meanwhile, Reds fans have clearly given up; announced tickets sold was 21,316, but it looked like maybe 1/10 of that number actually showed up, despite gorgeous weather.
That's the kind of thing we're looking forward to. In the meantime, sometimes there are going to be stinkers like this one. As the headline says, it's a process... that's definitely heading in the right direction.
The Cubs will head to St. Louis for a four-game series (doubleheader Saturday, with the day game being the makeup of a rainout in May) and hoping to help knock the Cardinals out of contention. Friday, Kyle Hendricks will face Shelby Miller in a matchup of very good young pitchers. Game time is 7:15 CT.