Thursday night's game at Wrigley Field had all the signs of a good ending for our favorite team wearing blue pinstripes:
- A big early lead on some timely Cubs hitting.
- Solid pitching from the Cubs starting pitcher; Tsuyoshi Wada had a start that looked decent enough numbers-wise, even though he gave up five hits and a walk and had to be bailed out with a double play, a rundown, and Juan Uribe thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.
- And Logan Watkins, faced with a key defensive situation in the seventh inning, had a ground ball hit at him that had inning-ending double play written all over it...
If you didn't see it, you probably know what's coming. Watkins booted the seemingly sure DP ball, and that was the play that turned everything around for the Dodgers in their 8-4 win over the Cubs, snapping the Cubs' three-game winning streak. Neil Ramirez induced Uribe to hit what looked like a double-play grounder to Watkins, who simply booted it. A run scored and after that, Ramirez just got hit hard, eventually having to be removed in a disastrous five-run inning.
Watkins, who has been given opportunities to play due to the injury to Starlin Castro, is supposed to have strong defense as the biggest part of his game. That might make him useful to a future Cubs team as... well, a late-inning defensive replacement. He might still be able to make the 25-man roster in 2015, but he's going to have to play better than that in the field.
After the Dodgers pretty much put the game away with that big inning, Brian Schlitter came in and forgot how to throw strikes, walking in a run with a pair of two-out, four-pitch bases on balls, and Blake Parker gave the Dodgers yet another run. That one was also unearned due to a throwing error by Javier Baez, as were four of the five runs off Ramirez. Just three of the Dodgers' eight runs were earned; this game was winnable.
This game might have been more winnable if not for an utterly inexplicable decision by Rick Renteria in the first inning. The first four batters to face Zack Greinke reached base, three on hits and Baez on a walk (and that's not easy to do!). Two runs had scored and it seemed possible that the Cubs might knock out Greinke in that inning.
And then... Ricky ordered a bunt.
Really? Really? REALLY? Bunting isn't a great idea pretty much all of the time anyway, and you're going to order a bunt with nobody out and two runs in, in the first inning, by your No. 5 hitter? Leaving aside for the moment that Ryan Kalish really isn't a 5 hitter, still, this is supposed to be a guy who could drive in a run or two.
Instead, Kalish's bunt wound up as a force play at third base and that seemed to deflate the Cubs in that inning; no further runs scored. They did put together four straight hits and a sac fly in the fifth off Greinke, who threw 112 (!) pitches in five really slow innings, for a 4-1 lead. Greinke's lifetime Wrigley Field ERA thus "dropped" from 14.00 to 11.57, in 14 total innings.
That would have, should have, been enough on most nights, until Watkins' error unraveled the seventh inning.
These kinds of things are going to happen, I suppose. It's a learning curve and a process for everyone involved with the Cubs to find out who's going to be good and who's not as we go forward into a hopefully-contending future. That was a winnable game, but the lesser team didn't make the plays and the better team did. It would have been nicer if that didn't take a ridiculous three hours and 53 minutes, too. By the time the final pitch was thrown, just after 11 p.m., only a thousand or so of a pretty decent house remained, mostly Dodgers fans chanting, "Let's go, Dodgers!" There were many more of the visitors' fans than might have been expected for a mid-September series.
I met up with BCB's Erik Peterson, who was in the bleachers along with his dad, before the game. We talked at length about what's going on with the Cubs, now and in the future. Nice to see you, Erik -- hope you can make it to more games next year.
Finally, let the record show that this game featured the first-ever major-league Baez (Javier) vs. Baez (Pedro) matchup. Javier came out the winner with his seventh-inning single, his second hit of the game.
And so, we now await what looks -- on the proverbial "paper" -- to be the biggest pitching mismatch of 2014, Clayton Kershaw against Edwin Jackson. I wrote a bit about that Thursday; it could turn out that way, or not, just because that's the way this game is. We did learn one more thing about the Cubs' rotation for the rest of the year Thursday night:
#Cubs Wada confirmed post game that this was his last start of the season— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 19, 2014
It's already been announced that Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta will start the first two games of the Cardinals series. That would make it likely that Kyle Hendricks will go against St. Louis in the Wrigley Field finale Wednesday. And since Wada has stated himself that he's done for the year, that likely means that Jackson will get one more start, a week from today in Milwaukee, and Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner will start the other games in that series.
That's not written in stone, of course, but given the way the rotation is already listed for this weekend, that's the way it would appear to be for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Kershaw vs. Jackson. It ought to be entertaining, at least, and the weather's supposed to be gorgeous. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.