I wish I understood Travis Wood, I really do.
How does a pitcher with that much experience go from retiring the first nine Cardinals in order, with five strikeouts, to getting pounded for five hits from the first six hitters he faces in the very next inning? Are the Cardinals that good at making adjustments? Is Wood that bad at making the same adjustments? Will I stop asking questions about Travis Wood now?
I suppose. The Cardinals shut out the Cubs 8-0 Monday night and the game was all over, essentially, within those six batters of the fourth inning. Truth be told, almost all of those hits could have been fielded with slightly different defensive positioning, although I'm not arguing with the way the fielders were deployed. Hits just got through. It happens. Wood, as noted, managed to strike out many of the same hitters in the first three innings and then they hit him. He finishes 2014 with a 5.03 ERA, nearly two runs higher than his All-Star season in 2013, and has much work to do in order to maintain a rotation spot in 2015.
I could end this recap here, because there certainly isn't much to say from the Cubs' side offensively. Anthony Rizzo doubled in the first inning and then the Cubs got no more hits (and just one baserunner, a Luis Valbuena walk in the fifth) until the seventh inning, when Valbuena and Welington Castillo got back-to-back singles with two out. Not even a consolation run scored then, as Arismendy Alcantara grounded out to end the inning. Adam Wainwright pitched as if it were a warmup session, never really in any trouble, and was lifted for a pinch-hitter after seven innings. That was likely to save him for postseason pitching; he recorded his 20th win with the victory over the Cubs and, with 227 innings pitched this year (second in the league to Johnny Cueto), doesn't really have anything further to accomplish in the regular season.
That made two pitchers in the last four days to record their 20th win of 2014 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field (and Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw are likely going to be the only 20-game winners this year). Sheesh. A tip o' the cap to Wainwright, who is really, really good. It was the 16th time the Cubs were blanked this year, matching last year's total.
The Cubs' bullpen did a reasonable job after Wood was removed from the game following the fifth inning. Blake Parker, Carlos Villanueva and Arodys Vizcaino combined for four innings, allowing four hits and a run. Not that it mattered that much with the Cubs down by seven (eventually, eight, after the run off Villanueva). It was useful to get Vizcaino some more work. He did manage a scoreless ninth, although he allowed a bloop single and walked pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso.
Believe it or not, there was a righthander warming up in the Cardinals' bullpen in the bottom of the ninth with lefthander Randy Choate on the mound to face Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Valbuena. Choate got Rizzo on a line drive to center, and then Soler singled. Would Mike Matheny really have brought in the righthander to face Welington Castillo with an eight-run lead and two out in the bottom of the ninth?
We never got to find out, as Valbuena hit into a game-ending double play, but these kinds of pitching changes are one reason games are so long today. The double play ended the game at exactly three hours, which used to be considered long for nine innings, but Monday night's game wound up half an hour shorter than the shortest game of the Dodgers series.
Wrigley Field was more than half empty Monday night for a variety of reasons, and at least a third of those who did show up were in Cardinals red, a pretty good showing for a weeknight series after schools are back in session. The Cardinals must now win both of the remaining games at Wrigley and the Pirates would have to lose both the games they have left with the Braves in Atlanta for St. Louis to clinch the N.L. Central at Wrigley. The Cubs have an incentive remaining, in addition to trying to prevent a clinching; if they can win both of the games that remain in this series, they can still have a winning season at Wrigley Field for 2014.
The Cubs also need to win four of the five remaining games to avoid losing 90 or more for the fourth straight year.
That should be good motivation, and the pitching matchups are at least a bit more favorable than Monday's. Tuesday night, Kyle Hendricks will face Shelby Miller.