The Cubs lost to the Pirates 8-1 Wednesday evening, and even that isn't a bad sign. It took 20 games into the 2015 season for the Cubs to be truly blown out of a game. These things are going to happen every now and again, even to good teams, and the fact that it took one-eighth of the season to have one tells us, I think, that it won't happen to these Cubs very often.
When you are facing a pitcher as good as Gerrit Cole, you have very little margin for error. Kyle Hendricks breezed through the first inning on just six pitches, even after giving up a leadoff single. He struggled a bit with command in the second, issuing a pair of walks, but still was keeping the Cubs in the game even after giving up a run in the fourth. The game was tied 1-1 at the time, after a pair of errors by Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez allowed the Cubs to scratch out a run in the second. Both errors were commmitted on attempted pickoffs. Alvarez has already made four errors this year, and while that's not the primary way you'd evaluate fielding, a first baseman really has to be able to catch pickoff attempts.
Anyway, that's not the Cubs' problem. Hendricks fell apart in the fifth, when he gave up two hits, hit a batter and issued a walk. A run had scored and the bases were loaded when Alvarez hit a ground ball to Jonathan Herrera, who flipped to Starlin Castro at second. Umpire Lance Barrett signaled "safe." Another run would have scored, but Joe Maddon successfully appealed this close play, which ended the top of the fifth with the Cubs trailing just 2-1.
The next inning was where the Cubs learned their first lesson of the evening, which was: "Now we understand why Gonzalez Germen was let go by three teams since the end of the 2014 season." Germen, who had made two good appearances, was awful Wednesday night. He managed to strike out two of the first three hitters he faced, sandwiched around a double by Chris Stewart. After an intentional walk, the Pirates started hitting him hard. Four runs later, the inning was over, and, essentially, so was the game.
The second lesson, learned in the ninth inning, was: "Now we know why Tigers fans were wishing us so much luck with Phil Coke." Coke was greeted by hard-hit balls from the first three hitters he faced, resulting in two runs, and it could have been worse, but Sean Rodriguez hit into a double play. It's telling that two of the key hits in the innings by Coke and Germen were by Stewart, who really isn't a good hitter at all.
It's still going to be a while before Justin Grimm or Neil Ramirez is back, but when the first one returns, I'd say that'll be the last we see of Germen for a while. It would also not surprise me if the Cubs cut ties with Coke soon and replace him with James Russell, who has been very good at Iowa since returning to the organization (five appearances, 7⅔ innings, three hits and no walks allowed, 11 strikeouts).
Then there's Edwin Jackson. Jackson threw two more pretty decent innings Wednesday night. He did allow two hits and a couple of hard-hit outs, but also registered three strikeouts. Jackson is one of just 15 pitchers in the major leagues this year who has thrown at least seven total innings with an ERA of 0.00. There are some pretty good names on that list, too: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Huston Street and Pedro Strop. His peripherals aren't bad either: one walk, no extra-base hits, FIP of 1.89.
So what do you do with Edwin? Try him in a high-leverage situation again? I'd certainly rather turn to him than Germen or Coke, at least after Wednesday's performances.
You'll note I haven't talked much about the Cubs' offense in this game. That's because there wasn't much of one, just seven hits, three of them by Miguel Montero and two from Dexter Fowler. That's good for those two, not so much for the rest of the team. Singles by Anthony Rizzo and Jonathan Herrera were the rest of the offense, along with a walk drawn by Kris Bryant. Bryant struck out three times for the second time in his 12-game big-league career. Hey, it's going to happen from time to time.
Though weather forecasts had called for slow warming this week, it was much colder at Wrigley Field Wednesday than Tuesday, with a game-time temperature of just 39 degrees and the wind blowing in strongly. The Pirates didn't seem to mind the cold, banging out 14 hits and leaving 11 men on base even with their eight runs scored.
But as I said, these types of games are going to happen. The Cubs still won the series, and as Joe Maddon put it:
"They got us, but any time you 'Meat Loaf' the other team in a series, you'll take it," said Maddon, referring to the 1977 hit "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad." "Meat loaf tastes good all season long. By the end of the season, it might be your favorite meal of all time."
"Meat Loaf" the other team. Hadn't heard that one before, but absolutely, the Cubs will take that if they can do it. They'll try to do it again, or even sweep, the woeful Brewers in a three-game series that begins Friday afternoon with Jon Lester facing Wily Peralta.