GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan -- I'm going to write something in this recap that's going to be somewhat controversial and will probably stir all of you up a little bit after the Cubs' seventh straight loss, 7-3 to the Pirates. Thought about whether or not to do this quite a bit after Friday night's game and decided to go ahead with it, so here goes:
It's entirely possible the Cubs won't win another game this year.
You don't think so? Consider this:
- During the current seven-game, season-high losing streak, the Cubs have been outscored 55-13.
- They are playing without their two best players, who, despite brave claims to the contrary, might not play again this year.
- The 15 remaining games are either against playoff contenders or teams that the Cubs have had much trouble with this year (current record against the teams remaining on the schedule: 27-41).
While it's certainly possible that Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and the other prospects who have begun to be sprinkled into the Cubs lineup will become good major-league players, they have struggled at times since their callups. Nowhere was this more evident than in the play that essentially decided this game.
Situation: the Cubs have come back from a 3-1 deficit (Tsuyoshi Wada struggled again, and this time it couldn't be blamed on the heat and humidity, as it was a cool night) to make the score 4-3 in the top of the sixth, in part on home runs by Alcantara and Baez. With two out, Mike Olt was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. Alcantara is at the plate and Pirates starter Gerrit Cole is starting to struggle; he's over 100 pitches and Mendy is almost certainly the last batter he's going to face.
Mendy runs the count to 3-1.
Now why on Earth would any hitter swing at a pitch in that situation? If Cole throws a pitch in the strike zone, well, it's 3-2 and just about anything can happen with the count 3-2, two out and the bases loaded. If the 3-1 pitch is called ball four, the Cubs would have scored a run, tying the game. It's a no-brainer to take the 3-1 pitch.
Mendy swung and popped it up to Chris Stewart in foul territory, ending the inning and essentially ending any chance the Cubs had to win the game. The bullpen, which had been quite good for the last few months, has been awful during this losing streak and was bad again Friday night, turning a one-run game into that 7-3 final score.
The Pirates are playing like a team that really wants into the postseason tournament for the second straight year; the win, their third straight, kept them 1½ games ahead of the Brewers for the second wild-card spot and 2½ games behind the Cardinals in the N.L. Central. The Cubs are playing like it's extended spring training, especially with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro not in this series due to injury and Jorge Soler not back until Monday while attending the birth of his first child (a son -- congratulations!). They're saying Rizzo might come back Monday, too, but not before then, and they've been saying optimistic things about Rizzo playing ever since he first sat out with back problems 18 days ago. It wouldn't surprise me if both Rizzo and Castro missed the rest of the year.
I'm only half-serious about losing all the remaining games. That would make a 22-game losing streak, which would be just one short of the post-1900 major-league record, held by the 1961 Phillies. Since 1900, just five other teams have lost 20 straight; the last such team was the 1988 Orioles, whose 21-game losing streak famously came at the beginning of the season. The longest losing streak in Cubs history is 14, also at the start of the season in 1997. The last time a Cubs team lost more than seven games in a row was in 2012, when they had a 12-game losing streak from May 15-27.
It'd be nice to stop this streak before it gets anywhere near those historic minimums. But with the team trotting out a Triple-A lineup pretty much every day, I'm not optimistic. It'll be a pair of lefthanders in Saturday night's matchup, Felix Doubront against Jeff Locke. If the Pirates win Saturay, the Cubs will be mathematically eliminated from all postseason consideration for 2014 (of course, realistically, they were eliminated long ago; this would just clinch it).